A Voice Exclaiming (2013) for triple string quartet

A Voice Exclaiming (2013)

Instrumentation: Triple String Quartet
Duration ca. 27′


Listen to the April 28th, 2017 U.K. premiere at the Royal Academy of Music by The Behn Quartet, the Fitzroy Quartet, and the Kirkman Quartet :

A Voice Exclaiming I. Divisions

A Voice Exclaiming II. Consolation

A Voice Exclaiming III. Dabke

Buy score & parts here.

Commissioned for the Providence, R.I. based Community MusicWorks Chamber Players and students, and the Kronos Quartet, by Community MusicWorks and FirstWorks. A Voice Exclaiming was premiered on November 8th 2013 in Providence, R.I. Details to follow.  Photos from the first reading of ‘A Voice Exclaiming’ here.

I think that with A Voice Exclaiming, Kareem Roustom has made a vivid, thought-provoking new piece that reflects hope in the time we live in, and the immense possibility for positive change as well as its awesome uncertainties and dangers.” David Harrington – first violinist and founder of the Kronos String Quartet

Watch a video of the live performance at Waterfire in Providence, RI of Mvmt. III Dabke (Line Dance) by CMW Chamber Players and students.


Program Notes:

A Voice Exclaiming (2013) for triple string quartet

By Kareem Roustom

Kareem Roustom’s A Voice Exclaiming was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet and Community MusicWorks Players by Community MusicWorks and FirstWorks.

A Voice Exclaiming takes its title from the opening lines of “The Quatrains” of Omar Al-Khayaam, a celebrated 12th century Persian poet. I knew Al-Khayaam’s text best in the form of a song from the late nineteen-forties by Egyptian composer Riyad Al-Sunbati that he composed for the great Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. This song, titled Rybaiyaat Al-Khayaam, begins with the following lines.

I heard a voice exclaiming out in the darkest hours of the night,
calling from the unknown, to those in the deepest sleep.

“Arise! And fill the cup of hope,
before the hand of fate fills the cup of life.”

Al-Khayaam’s deeply contemplative poem opens with language that urges the reader to wake up and actively seize the moment before life passes by.  The voice in the text can perhaps be associated with the divine, but it could also be a calling to seek in life something greater than the mundane, deep sleep being a metaphor for blind acceptance or willful ignorance of greater things. However one chooses to interpret the text, it says to me that this is an urgent call and one that must be heeded. This is the inspiration that I sought to bring to this work — the rejection of ignorance and the mundane, and the passionate seeking out of deeper meaning.

1. Divisions – This movement resulted from a challenge that I posed to myself to combine two languages, Near Eastern Arabic music and Western concert music, into a cohesive and balanced musical work that avoids clichés. In my work I try to avoid shallow combinations of disparate musical elements. To put it in culinary terms, rather than sprinkling a little ‘exotic’ spice after the meal has been cooked, I prefer to have these ingredients in the original marinade. In other words, it is the very structure of the piece with which I seek to fuse Arabic and Western elements. To that end, I decided to work with a loose sonata form for this movement. Though this framework is not new, it allows a familiar form to become a vehicle for an unfamiliar melodic and harmonic language.

The title of the movement refers to a common, almost ubiquitous, rhythm in Arabic music called maqsoum (divided). The maqsoum rhythm, which is used popular, folk and classical musics of the Near East, has many varieties but it is essentially a four beat rhythm divided as such: ‘short – long – short – long – long.’ Given the daunting task of composing a work for three string quartets with a wide range of abilities, I chose this simple rhythm because it could inspire many intricate and ornate variations.

2. Consolation is based on Eastern-Orthodox Christian hymn, titled ana al-‘umm al-hazina (I am the grieving mother), that is typically sung during the Easter season, specifically on Good Friday. The imagery is that of Mary mourning the loss of her son. The hymn is typically sung in a call and response style with a chorus responding to a soloist. I chose to include some of the text in the score in order to inspire the interpretation of the performance (the soloists’ lines are in quotes below):

I am the grieving mother and there is no one who can console her.”

May the death of your son give life to those who seek it.

“Thus the daughter of Zion cried, causing all those who looked

upon her to cry.”

May the death of your son give life to those who seek it.

“I fear for the nation that has killed its shepherd.”

May the death of your son give life to those who seek it.

Since the spring of 2011, which marked the beginning of peaceful protests in Syria and then devolved into a brutal crackdown by the government, every piece of music that I have composed, with the exception of film music, has reflected on the destruction of my homeland and the subsequent suffering of millions of civilians. This powerful and moving hymn has been a source of solace to me and I was particularly inspired by the rendition that was recorded by Syrian mezzo-soprano Ghada Shbeir. If you are in any way moved by this performance, I urge you to give to organizations working with Syrian refugees in and around Syria. Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps and A Heart For Syria are a few that are providing badly needed aid.

3. Dabké is a folk dance and a type of Near Eastern line dance that is typically performed at joyous occasions. The leader of the dance line, called a hawaash, directs the movements of the dancers behind him. There are many variants of this dance that involve men and women and I felt that this ideal of a communal, inclusive dance best supports the inspiration behind this project with the ideals of Community Music Works and the Kronos Quartet. This movement is based on a six beat dabké rhythm called

If you are in any way moved by my work and feel the urge to help please consider making a donation an organization working with Syrian refugees. Three such organizations that are doing excellent work in the region are:

Mercy Corps 

Doctors Without Borders

A heart for Syria 

© Kareem Roustom & Layali Music Publishing 2013