The Kronos Quartet has released everything you need to play Trey Spruance’s work for a String Quartet, including an interesting interview. Find out how here.
Three of Trey Spruance’s pieces being released last week by the Kronos Quartet. The Kronos Quartet has now released everything you need to perform this work as a String Quartet.
First and foremost there is the score itself, which is available as at PDF.
Secondly is Spruance’s rehearsal notes, likewise in a PDF.
And finally, an instructional video that describes some of the unique features in the notation and performance.
Watch the Trey Spruance Séraphîta Instructional video
Here’s how Trey describes the work Séraphîta.
Séraphîta sets its roots in the work of three Eranos-era colleagues: Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, and Gershom Scholem. The quartet is a meditation on a specific complex of works bound together by the common interest of these three colleagues, and its raison d’être is in the overarching theme common to all the works. Concrete historical links and associations exist between all of the elements drawn together by the piece, and these give the impression of a very specific inter-textual hermeneutic going on behind the scenes. Due to the broad aperture required, things of this nature resist quick unveiling in open and direct language, so perhaps the musical means of approaching the subject is all the more apropos.
The primary work in the canon is Honoré de Balzac’s metaphysic prose Séraphîta (1834), namesake of Movements I and III. Also directly referenced is Pierre Klossowski’s Le Baphomet (Movement II). As a binding agent, mention must also be made of “the Prologue in Heaven” from Goethe’s Faust. Eliade never finished his proposed book on Balzac and Séraphîta, but did complete his study Méphistophélès et l’Androgyne. Corbin, who writes at length on Goethe, and on Méphistophélès in Ahrimanic terms in particular, referenced Balzac’s Séraphîta often, and wrote of Méphistophélès and Séraphîta together in his Configuration of the Temple of the Ka’aba. Corbin and Eliade were both personally acquainted with Klossowski, who publicly praised their works.
Movement I, ‘Séraphîta,’ is based on the apparition of an angel/androgyne in Balzac’s novel. The character Wilfred perceives the semi-divine Swedenborgian entity as his gendered female daēnā and falls into an agitated state of otherworldly yearning. In the quartet we hear Séraphîta’s answer to Wilfred’s tragically obsessive, misplaced, romantic, and ultimately unconsummatable human love. Her solemn theme travels downward through the angelic hierarchies, acquiring more mass as it descends through a series of conjunct and disjunct tetrachords & time dilations. Her trajectory terminates in an earthy dirge, recapitulating the by-now familiar theme in graven tones.
Movement II is an ‘Arabesque’ in the strict sense of the word. The content is derived from a method I call ‘Tessellation,’ a rhythmic/melodic pattern permuting in this case in quarter turns. As with tessellation tile work, the ears might hear patterns like the eyes register a tile array. A listener studiously following one of many nodal paths in a larger network of superimposed rhythmic arrays will eventually find themselves hearing everything else ‘upside-down.’ The conjunct and disjunct tetrachords from Movement I are revisited, only now in a more ‘modal’ form, with expansions and modifications of the original theme.
The piece finishes with a mirroring of polarities in Movement III. ‘Séraphîtüs’ appears to Balzac’s female character Minna, who perceives the identical entity as her gendered male daēnā. Musically there’s an echo of courtly medieval dance forms, referring to none of them specifically. It’s fitting to take a cue from Lou Harrison’s Estampie and use the cello as a drum. The two main motifs here play off each other in a tension between the zest of the less formal aspect of dance, against the ‘over-determination’ of dance in more formal courtly forms.
You can read an English translation of Seraphita by Honore De Balzac.
Also as part of the release is an interview with Trey on a number of topics, including his influences and inspiration, why the Kronos Quartet invited him to Fifty to the Future, eastern and western music and ancient and new music working together, and a bit of a background to how he composes music. As usual, Trey is his most humble self.
Watch Trey Spruance’s Fifty for the Future Composer Interview