Piano Quartet


for violin, viola, violoncello, and piano

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Sample Score Pages
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16 min.
March 13, 2016
Boston Chamber Music Society
Harumi Rhodes, violin
Dimitri Murrath, viola
Raman Ramakrishnan, violoncello
Max Levinson, piano

Sanders Theater
Harvard University

Boston Chamber Music Society Commissioning Club
This piano quartet emerges rather like a mosaic, a series of brightly colored sections with edges that are made to seem sharper through contrast. Two of my very favorite composers are Schumann (whose birthday I share) and Stravinsky; while I may not share their many strengths as composers, I do share one of their limitations: an imperfect understanding of transitions, or even of the value of transitions. So, like they, I simply avoid them. Part of the trick in writing music that eschews growth and change by degrees is to determine which pieces of the mosaic need to stand out by way of brightness or complexity or simplicity; the other part is to determine which contrasts make intuitive sense. The pieces I’ve written in this way usually responded to something or someplace: a poem, a park or skyscraper. This was the first time in years that I began to compose from abstraction.

As I became more involved in composing the quartet, though, the process was distressed by the illness, and on February 14, 2016 the passing, of composer Steven Stucky. Though almost twenty years older than I, he had become over the last decade one of my closest friends and colleagues; certainly he was a mentor, and I feel his loss keenly. Late in the writing of the piece I began to think about how I could memorialize him in music. He would not have liked a dirge, and I wanted the relevant music to be about him rather than my feelings about him. One of his breakout pieces was an orchestral work called Dreamwaltzes, a piece that looks back fondly to the nineteenth century waltz tradition. So I composed a bit of waltz music and embedded it in the work; it sounds like suddenly a music box has opened. In my own backward look to the nineteenth century I overshot: Dreamwaltzes conjures Brahms and Strauss, while mine incorporates the briefest of references, without quotation, to mid-period Beethoven.

The Boston Chamber Music Society Commissioning Club generously commissioned the quartet, and members of the society—violinist Harumi Rhodes, violist Dimitri Murrath, cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, as well as pianist Max Levinson, performed in the world premiere on March 13, 2016 at Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.

Performance History
  • March 13, 2016: Boston Chamber Music Society, Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts