Interlocking Melodies

for String Quartet

Richard Whalley

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for String Quartet

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Composer Richard Whalley
Year of Composition 2007
Duration ca.7'
ISMN 9790570682324
Categories (all composers) , ,
Catalogue ID ce-rw1im1


I wanted to write a piece that pays tribute to the wonderful composer György Ligeti, who died in June last year. It is very dangerous for a composer like myself to get too close to the music of a great composer (think of all the 19th century composers who struggled with the shadow of Beethoven), so I chose a tangential course. When I think of Ligeti’s music I think of infinite space; it seems utterly unlimited in scope, and often appears to have a remarkable property of transcending gravity. I was drawn to a late painting of the artist Willem de Kooning, Untitled XIII, that consists of a number of large curvy shapes in yellow, green red and white that serenely float in some kind of intriguing weightless balance. In music the whole-tone scale defies gravity, as all its intervals are equal, and all its pitches are of equal weight. Therefore it seemed natural to build the interlocking melodies in this piece out of interlocking whole-tone scales. Rather than being content with the traditional 12 semitones (which contain two complementary whole-tone scales), this piece uses four complementary whole-tone scales through judicious use of quarter-tones.

This relatively short, intense movement can be heard as a set of variations, in which interlocking melodies subjected to a number of transformations, resulting in a number of increasingly intricate textures. To complicate matters the “theme” consistently gets faster, yet the rate at which textures evolve does not, so the “theme” appears to accelerate ahead of the texture. It may help to think of the movement as a progression through a life-cycle, from naïvety through an accumulation of experience (which includes moments of crisis and of climax), culminating in serene acceptance.