The Janus Quartet

Instrumentation: String Quartet
Duration: 12:00
Commission: James Kraft for the Arcata Quartet
Premiere: 01/12/95
Arcata Quartet
The Manhattan School of Music, New York, NY

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Program Note:
The Janus Quartet is named for the Roman god of gates and doorways, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions. I was inspired by this image for several reasons: the piece was to be premiered in January, the festival month of this god; the piece was commissioned in honor of James Kraft’s sixtieth birthday, a time to look back as well as forward; and it fit one of my core compositional interests, the breaking of the taboo against premodern gestures. Rather than avoid the harmonic emblems and textures of tonality, I play with, flaunt, and break them. The piece begins with a long A section built on an Ab-major chord that is transformed from the opening Beethovenian registration by means of distinctively modern techniques. The B section, which opens out harmonically and melodically, stretches towards the present. The development section whirls into a mad dance, a wild scherzo that seizes control until, gradually lightening, it leads to a transformed version of the opening, now focused on an A-major chord. Semblances of the B section and development return as well, the latter interrupted with a sidestep to C-major that ends the action with a coda that suggests a new beginning. The underlying Ab-A-C chord motion features a skewed version of the flat-II (Neapolitan) and flat-VI relationships that were favorites of romantic composers. However, these chords have been pulled from their traditional positions to serve as pillars of a new sonic architecture. –JS

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