STRING QUARTET NO. 5 (THE TRANSFORMING) 2019. Commissioned by the Toronto Summer Music Festival for the New Orford String Quartet. Duration: 41 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.
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[excerpted from the essay: “String Quartet No. 5 (The Transforming): An Anthroposophical Approach”]
String Quartet No. 5 (The Transforming) was commissioned by the Toronto Summer Music Festival for the New Orford String Quartet. Together with its slightly older sibling, String Quartet No. 4 (The Suffering,) they represent a psychological hermeneutic of the story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection. I use the language of music to reach where I am denied entry by ordinary language. (Difficult as this is to convey, I am beginning to understand ordinary and extraordinary things directly as music; it is only after this kind of understanding emerges into consciousness that I can find the language to express what it is that I have understood.) By “psychological” I mean the strong resonance that radiates from these well-known events, which I believe have indelibly marked the spiritual transformation of humankind. It is this particular story and its reverberation across space and time which to me define the epicenter of our species’ much needed imminent transformation and my understanding of our planet’s prehistory, history and destiny. It infuses all the other seminal points in our evolution, spiritual or otherwise, with meaning and purpose, and holds all of them together like a transcended Harmonia. To call my musical undertaking of this event “hermeneutic,” particularly considering the subject’s enormity, complexity and cosmic splendor, can easily be construed as arrogance. To my defense, I am not claiming to provide an absolute interpretation of the physical law-bending events of my subject—what we currently understand as physical law that is. It is far beyond my capacity, anyone’s current capacity, to do so. My music is my entry point to a personal understanding, and it only represents a musical record of this entry and the insights it has made possible. It may be a completely different experience for a different individual. Here I am only documenting mine.
There was also another consideration in the back of my mind as I was composing this quartet. The East-West theme of the 2019 Toronto Summer Music Festival was something I was asked to consider. Although in our days “East” is most often identified as East Asian, for the two millennia of European culture that gave us string quartets among other cultural treasures “East-West” meant the contest and cross-fertilization between two prominent forces: the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman. Having been born and raised in Greece, studying Greek philosophers by day and steeped in Christian mysticism by night, this dualistic heart of European thought was a polarity that I struggled to understand throughout most of my adolescent life and since. My musical mind is predominately nocturnal and subordinates analytical incisiveness to holistic understanding. I have tried from early on to reconcile this sharp east/west polarity of lateralized consciousness by searching its pre-dawn roots: in the inquisitive but secretive mysticism of Pythagoras and also in the Essenic roots of Christianity, which have been preserved in the monastic recesses of Mt. Carmel from the time of the early Hebrew prophets long before the advent of Yeshua of Nazareth. (According to his biographers, Pythagoras too sought enlightenment at Mt. Carmel.) It was during a recent visit to this majestic mountain, where five different religious traditions coexist peacefully today, that it occurred to me how the sharply delineated and counterpoised ideas in the daylight of consciousness, can blend and share common roots in the darkness beneath the cognitive surface. After considerable meditation, I concluded that:
Bringing all these elements into a single musical canvas can only happen when the composer becomes a contemplative listener and resists the temptation to actively interfere with this ongoing dark archetypal dance tantalizing his/her extrasensory antennas. Every time I tried to superimpose a sense of logical continuity to the creative process, the archetypal images of this dance quickly dimmed and vanished. No amount of conscious effort could bring them back: only a kind of willful resignation was able to encourage their return, entirely on their own terms and timing. Frustrating as it was at times, this process enabled an ineffable (non-language-based) understandings of my subject. Once these vague sensations were musically formulated, they can become effable but not before. This essay has been written incrementally, following the compositional process several steps behind. Nothing discussed here has been deliberately inserted in the composition; quite the contrary. Some of the sudden and unexpected turns in the musical discourse were unthinkable to me before they happened spontaneously in the music. The sense that I was able to make afterwards, however, has convinced me that they were not random turns at all: they were all aspects of a larger matrix which my mind was not able to recognize non-musically. I have never doubted the primacy of the language of music when it comes to formulating profound understandings but, up until now, this certainty had only been conceptual. This was the first time, and only in key moments during the composition of this quartet, that this certainty has been transformed into lived experience.
Cast in three movements, String Quartet No. 5 (The Transforming) continues from where the previous quartet leaves off. The external storyline is the segment of the Jesus’s Passion from his death sentence by the Roman ruler to the morning of his Resurrection. The internal storyline is a meditation on the meaning of human suffering, which began with the previous quartet and deepens significantly in this one.
[For a more thorough guide to the music, you can read the complete essay here]
One of the early practitioners of equal temperament in the mid-16th Century was Vincenzo Galilei, the father of Galileo Galilei, who in turn was one of the early practitioners of “objective” science—equal temperament’s rationalist sibling. To me, the connection between equal temperament in music and rationalist science is a profound one, lying deep below mere surface correspondence. Both are reflections of the spirit of dissonance and rebellion against the undifferentiated (and hence consciously unknowable) Harmonia.
Premiere performance: July 12, 7:30 PM. New Orford String Quartet. Toronto Summer Music concert. Venue TBA, Toronto, Ontario.
Commissioned by TSM for the New Orford String Quartet, Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 “The Transforming” is “a deeper view of crucifixion and resurrection as metaphors for everyone’s life and the future of the world,” the composer said in a 30-minute lecture an hour before the concert. His initial reaction to the commission when he heard the name New Orford was that it would be a licence to be “difficult” – such was his admiration for the quartet’s remarkable music-making skills. Hatzis talked about how chamber music can create interpersonal relationships through putting everyone’s ego aside, because a quartet as a whole is a person in its own right; how Beethoven’s late quartets owe much of their power to that characteristic; and how this latest quartet is the culmination of a 25-year cycle that began with his first quartet in 1994. The first movement, Pesach, came across as complex and mesmerizing, with intense silences and dramatic chords reduced to repetitive three-note phrases. The second, La Pieta (Jerusalem), was inspired by Renaissance paintings but is defined by Hatzis’ use of Hubert Parry’s anthem of the British Empire, Jerusalem, its beauty declaimed by pianissimo descending notes and the inscrutable hymn based on the text by William Blake. “Every time I hear that hymn I get chills,” Hatzis said in his lecture. Regeneration, the final movement, with its celestial arpeggios tuned in just intonation in C, begins with a quiet sul ponticello pizzicato that passes through an intensely calibrated build-up to a new order. The use of quarter tones introduces a new vocabulary. Kudos to the New Orford String Quartet and first violinist Jonathan Crow for their definitive performance. Paul Ennis, Concert Reports, The Whole Note, July 17, 2019.