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Complete String Quartet No. 1 in D Minor


Joshua Ng
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Hi everyone! After 9 months, extensive editing and reworking, I have finally finished my full quartet! I tend to compose based on motifs and melodies, so I tend to reuse my motifs and musical ideas throughout the piece with the intention of a coherent flow throughout this quartet. The order is as follows:

1. Allegro Con Spirito in 12/8 time (7'45")

Form: Conventional Sonata Form

Introduction in D Major -> 1st Subject in D Minor -> 2nd Subject in A Minor -> Development and New Material in A Major -> Recapitulation of 1st Subject in D Minor -> Coda using fragments of 2nd Theme in D Minor

The opening movement of the piece, the first movement sets the tone of the piece with its flowing nature, seamless transitions and exploration of its two subjects, with motifs used to keep its coherent flow. The piece starts off with a slow introduction further elaborated on in the 4th movement. I decided to use a early Romantic style of composition with 20th century elements. Dialogue was emphasised throughout the movement with a lot of imitation and antiphonal texture between instruments used throughout the piece. In addition, I explored the varying planes of tones throughout the piece, from choral-like segments to more polyphonic areas. 

Motifs used: 1-quaver-4-semiquaver rhythm, Melodic pizz. motif, offbeat quavers, Chromatism

2. Adagio Molto Rubato in 2/4 time (11'32")

Form: Free Form

The slow movement of the piece, the second movement sets out by exploring the contrasts between varying emotions and textures and the use of solo instruments in the scoring of a string quartet, where every instrument has their own cadenzas and solos dotted throughout. Each instrument was given its time to shine and play its own solos and melodies, with interspersing those moments with polyphonic  instrumentation and texture typically associated with the quartet. Each main melodic phrase starts off with the fast lively piu mosso section before going into more sentimental, slower sections of the piece. The theme of the piece and main melodic material in the movement recurs periodically throughout the piece with variation and changes in instrumentation and tone colour. I also used a relatively contemporary technique where different parts of the melody and countermelody are played by different instruments in the same phrase.

Motifs: Tremolo, Dotted-crotchet-2-semiquaver rhythm, Solo cadenzas and melodies, offbeat semiquavers

3. Scherzo, Molto Vivace in 3/4 and 4/4 time (4'59")

Form: Rondo Form

A Section in D Minor -> B Section in F Major/B-flat Minor -> A Section in D Minor, -> C Section in F Major -> Cello Cadenza in D Minor -> A' Section in D Minor -> Coda in D Minor

The Scherzo of the quartet heavily makes use of quartets and further explores the fugue and unconventional choral-like textures for the quartet. With heavy use of the  lively and catchy theme, interspersed with the chromatic fugal style of the other sections, it creates sharp contrast and variety in sound. I utilised very lyrical and easy to latch onto melodies to make this rondo much more memorable and enjoyable, with its fiery unison main theme and its fast liveliness especially accentuated by its running notes as countermelodies. 

Motifs used: Chromatism, quaver-2-semiquaver rhythm, ascending scales

4. Adagio - Allegro Con Fuoco in 4/4 time (8'07")

Form: Rondo Form

Introduction in F Major-> A Section in D Minor -> B Section in D Minor -> A Section in D Minor-> C Section in D Major -> D Section in A Minor -> Brief Recap to Introduction -> B Section in D Minor -> Combination of C and D Section in A Minor -> A Section in D Minor -> Coda in D Minor

Th final movement of the quartet is very virtuosic and technically challenging with its fast running notes and sudden tempo changes, with the emphasis of unpredictability, rage and contrast as I was composing in mind of the COVID pandemic. The theme throughout remains constant to provide a sense of grounding in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable piece, with the 3 other main melodic ideas varied through variations and instrumentations. It heavily uses cyclic form in its introduction and coda, bringing ideas from the first and third movement into the forays of the final movement.

Motifs: Chromatism, Running Note Scales, Quaver-Crotchet-2-semiquaver rhythm, quaver pizz., melodic motif bridging sections, Arppegio running Notes

 

I would greatly appreciate any feedback given towards the composition as it helps me improve my skill in composing. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments. Thank you!

 

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I'm happy to give feedback regarding the first movement, hopefully will analyze the others as time allows.

First off, I have to congratulate you on achieving something of this magnitude! It's evident you know your way around the strings, and successfully writing a string quartet is no small thing. It is, in fact, a form I've not yet attempted because it seems so daunting. Hats off to you, sir!

Now to my comments...

One of the things that grabs my attention immediately, even before listening to the work, is your use of polyphony with these instruments. There is nothing wrong with double- and triple-stops, of course, but I daresay you overuse them, mostly to double notes in chords. (The opening chord, for example, spans 4 Ds, with both the cello and V2 also hitting an F, when the same chord could be achieved without the use of polyphony.) Because of the attack angle required, striking more than one string and sustaining the note lessens the force—not a problem with softer dynamics, perhaps, but it's good to bear in mind that strings are not a piano: more notes don't always equal more volume. Incorporating stops into a work for strings increases the technical difficulty tremendously, particularly if the players are required to hold out such stops. This is not to say that your work isn't playable—I believe it is, for the most part—but it might deter someone from giving your work the live rendition it deserves. Just my thoughts, and I could very easily be wrong about all this.

The score has been very carefully engraved; the amount of time you've spent on this and the level of detail you've achieved are astounding, really. Very, very good! In terms of spacing, it might prove more useful to add just another inch or two between systems. I got lost several times in the score because I jumped one too many staves.

Your articulations might be a little overboard. For example, in meas. 7 (and beyond), you have the cello playing both staccato and accented while at p dynamics. The effect you're looking for could be better realized with just a staccato technique, since the continual accented notes will make the cello a bit louder than p. A similar thing happens with the viola in meas. 9, where you have both a tenuto and an accented note. I think one or the other should suffice. Anyway, these double articulations continue throughout the work. As a conductor or musician approaching this, my impression is that the composer doesn't understand the subtleties of the instruments he's writing for. Plus, it tends to clutter up the score with superfluous markings. These are not egregious issues, of course. But it might behoove you to dial back in future works. 🙂

Your bowing looks good. Slurred passages seem to be carefully considered for playability. Good going!

In meas. 17, you employ both upbow and downbow markings for a single note. I've not seen this device used before, and it seems to defy intuition. (However, I'm not the most knowledgeable person out there, so if it's an established notation, forgive me for bringing it up.)

Musically, this work is amazing! You've created some very good and catchy melodies and strung them together seamlessly with transitional passages that are both challenging and fun to play. Plus, you've spread out the "fun" for all the instruments, not just the violins (as is usually the case). My single complaint with this movement is the recapitulation. It looks to be a verbatim replica, and I would've preferred it be in a different key than the original, or at least changed up a little. The coda is nice and exciting, a perfect ending (in my opinion) to your opening movement.

I know I've pointed out a lot of potential problems, so I want to finish out by emphasizing what a phenomenal job you've done. This is quite an achievement, and took (I'm sure) hours and hours of dedication and perseverence. I am very impressed.

Hopefully, I'll have time to look at the other movements later...

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2 hours ago, Tónskáld said:

I'm happy to give feedback regarding the first movement, hopefully will analyze the others as time allows.

First off, I have to congratulate you on achieving something of this magnitude! It's evident you know your way around the strings, and successfully writing a string quartet is no small thing. It is, in fact, a form I've not yet attempted because it seems so daunting. Hats off to you, sir!

Now to my comments...

One of the things that grabs my attention immediately, even before listening to the work, is your use of polyphony with these instruments. There is nothing wrong with double- and triple-stops, of course, but I daresay you overuse them, mostly to double notes in chords. (The opening chord, for example, spans 4 Ds, with both the cello and V2 also hitting an F, when the same chord could be achieved without the use of polyphony.) Because of the attack angle required, striking more than one string and sustaining the note lessens the force—not a problem with softer dynamics, perhaps, but it's good to bear in mind that strings are not a piano: more notes don't always equal more volume. Incorporating stops into a work for strings increases the technical difficulty tremendously, particularly if the players are required to hold out such stops. This is not to say that your work isn't playable—I believe it is, for the most part—but it might deter someone from giving your work the live rendition it deserves. Just my thoughts, and I could very easily be wrong about all this.

The score has been very carefully engraved; the amount of time you've spent on this and the level of detail you've achieved are astounding, really. Very, very good! In terms of spacing, it might prove more useful to add just another inch or two between systems. I got lost several times in the score because I jumped one too many staves.

Your articulations might be a little overboard. For example, in meas. 7 (and beyond), you have the cello playing both staccato and accented while at p dynamics. The effect you're looking for could be better realized with just a staccato technique, since the continual accented notes will make the cello a bit louder than p. A similar thing happens with the viola in meas. 9, where you have both a tenuto and an accented note. I think one or the other should suffice. Anyway, these double articulations continue throughout the work. As a conductor or musician approaching this, my impression is that the composer doesn't understand the subtleties of the instruments he's writing for. Plus, it tends to clutter up the score with superfluous markings. These are not egregious issues, of course. But it might behoove you to dial back in future works. 🙂

Your bowing looks good. Slurred passages seem to be carefully considered for playability. Good going!

In meas. 17, you employ both upbow and downbow markings for a single note. I've not seen this device used before, and it seems to defy intuition. (However, I'm not the most knowledgeable person out there, so if it's an established notation, forgive me for bringing it up.)

Musically, this work is amazing! You've created some very good and catchy melodies and strung them together seamlessly with transitional passages that are both challenging and fun to play. Plus, you've spread out the "fun" for all the instruments, not just the violins (as is usually the case). My single complaint with this movement is the recapitulation. It looks to be a verbatim replica, and I would've preferred it be in a different key than the original, or at least changed up a little. The coda is nice and exciting, a perfect ending (in my opinion) to your opening movement.

I know I've pointed out a lot of potential problems, so I want to finish out by emphasizing what a phenomenal job you've done. This is quite an achievement, and took (I'm sure) hours and hours of dedication and perseverance. I am very impressed.

Hopefully, I'll have time to look at the other movements later...

 

ok thank you! Will take note of your feedback and make some changes! Really appreciate your critique!

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1 minute ago, Joshua Ng said:

@TónskáldAlso regarding the m. 17 upbow and downbow, it was intentional haha I'm a violinist myself both upbow and downbow means to use 2 bows for a single held and it's an indirect way to make the last beat on the down bow more forceful because one can use the full length of the bow

Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for the info!

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Second movement:

Some of the same issues in the first continue here—i.e., the multiple articulation markings. I do note that you have cut way back on the double and triple stops, which I think is a good thing! I will say that putting staccato markings on pizz passages seems a bit redundant, since pizzicato can't be sustained much, anyway.

Your più mosso passages have some quick pizz-arco change-ups in the 1st violin and cello. Is this truly possible?

As in the previous movement, you've taken great care to painstakingly notate each part, and I'm very impressed with your ability to write for these instruments idiomatically, each part having a distinct voice that you weave together very effectively. I believe this to be the strength of your quartet. The moving parts build upon one another and nobody is bored. Great job!

Stylistically, while I quite enjoyed the interplay between the instruments, the second movement suffers from lack of development. It seems to meander with no real goal in mind, with various passages that take up listening space rather than contribute to the music's overall message. It wasn't bad music, not by a long stretch. It just felt as if I were listening to someone tell me 12 different stories and never quite put them together for me. This is just my opinion, of course, so do with it what you will.

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