String Quartet No. 1 ‘Shades of Night’

String Quartet No. 1 • Shades of Night (2018)

Duration ca. 27 minutes

Purchase the score and parts here

Preview the score here.

Commissioned by the Grand Teton Music Festival

Premiered on August 2, 2018 at the Grand Teton Music Festival’s Walk Festival Hall by

Angela Fuller-Heyde, Violin

Marta Krechkovsky, Violin

Susan Gulkis Assadi, Viola

Charae Krueger, Cello


Program Notes:

String Quartet No. 1 • Shades of Night (2018)

I. Al-Ghurub  الغروب


II. Al-Shafaq الشفق

Twilight “The beginning of the darkness of night. When the darkness becomes confused & obstructs the view of the aspects of things.”

III. Al-Ghasaq الغسق

“Fully dark. The night poured down upon the small mountains & covered them with darkness.

IV. Al-Sudfa السدفة

“The commingling of light & darkness. Meaning the ‘light’ or ‘the darkness’; or the darkness and the light are called by one and the same name because each of them comes upon the other”.

V. Al-Fahma الفحمة

“The most intense blackness of the night: so called because of its heat; for the first part of the night is hotter than its last part.”

VI. Al-Buhra البهرة

Midnight. “The night reached the point when all its stars shone.”

VII. Al-Sahar السحر

“The last part of the night. The time of the departure of the night and the coming of the day. The time of the breathing of the dawn.”

VIII. Al-Fajr Al-Katheb الفجر الكاذب

False dawn. “That which rises without extending laterally. Which appears black presenting itself like an obstacle.”

IX. Al-Fajr Al-Saadeq الفجر الصادق

True dawn. “That which appears rising, and fills the horizon with its whiteness. The day commences.”

When a composer writes his/her own program notes there is always the risk of imposing a ‘meaning’ of a work on the audience.  Perhaps it is better to describe what inspired the work at hand.  In the case of my first string quartet (aside from the triple string quartet I composed for Kronos Quartet and Providence, RI based Community MusicWorks), I was inspired by night and darkness. Also by the words used to describe night time. Specifically, the words of the Arabic language, my first spoken language, which are incredibly detailed and give us a sense of an era that preceded time keeping devices. I chose nine of those words to represent/inspire each of the nine sections of this string quartet.  Not only was I inspired by the Arabic words but also by their translations into English which are from the Arabic Lexicon; commonly known as Lane’s Lexicon as it was compiled by Edward William Lane (1801 – 1876). Lane was an English born Arabic language specialist who dedicated almost 20 years to the production of his Lexicon. He managed to capture the subtlety, complexity, and multifarious meanings of the Arabic language in an almost poetic way. In some of his translations, as in the title of movement III, Lane quotes a line of poetry to further expand upon the definition that he provides.  Lane died after completing the translation of up to the nineteenth of the twenty eight letters of the Arabic alphabet. The Lexicon was completed by his grand-nephew and biographer Stanley Lane Poole. Lane’s Lexicon is still considered one of the best ever produced.  I feel that this work is the third work in a trilogy that is preceded by “Clarinet Concerto: Adrift on the Wine-dark Sea” (2017) for clarinet and orchestra, and “Rage Against the Tyrant(s)” (2018) for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra. Both of these works are to be issued on CDs in late 2018 and early 2019, respectively. The three works in this trilogy are connected through both musical materials as well as an awareness of the restless tides of history.  However, Shades of Night is a work that is much more intimate as it meditates on night as both a metaphor and a fact of nature.  The harmonic material is based on a melody that is peppered throughout the work in fragments, but can be heard in its full form in the first violin during final section of the string quartet. Rhythmic elements of the work utilize poly-rhythms (two different rhythms performed simultaneously as in 9 beats over 3 beats). The poly-rhythms represent two different time zones which are separated by seven hours. As night begins in one time-zone, morning approaches in the other. With our hyper-connected world it is possible to inhabit an emotional space within these two time zones.  Shades of Night for string quartet was commissioned by the Grand Teton Music Festival and is dedicated to the festival’s music director, Donald Runnicles.

© 2018 Kareem Roustom, Layali Music Publishing.