ELEANOR CORY – Contemporary Works – SQs Nos. 2 and 3

American composer Eleanor Cory [born 1944] has written three string quartets. Only Nos. 2 and 3 have been recorded; unfortunately they are on different CDs. Her music is quite contemporary, but it does contain some poignant passages.

These are short works, together they run about 30 minutes.

SQ No. 2 was written in 2000. The first movement is quite challenging at times. It opens in a dissonant manner with no recognisable pulse. The violins are rhythmically intense and wander about in an atonal manner. It slowly develops into a feeling of abstract beauty; the violins very sparse and measured, even though the note selection is dissonant. The intensity rises ever so slowly, with violins playing on top of each other. There is some rhythmic punctuation but the violins continue the feeling to a conclusion.

The second movement begins with a slow, lamenting chordal passage. Out of this comes a short solo violin statement before it returns to the opening mood. This pattern is repeated until the ensemble join the violin. The sound is ever so peaceful with the first violin offering up dissonant but satisfying melodies. A pause returns to the opening, with the cello becoming prominent. A section of mild chaos ensues but the violin cuts through to calm proceedings. Chord patterns emerge, only to dissipate and the violin takes the movement out.

The final movement is very short and is twitchy from the start. The violins gently spin out atonal melodies. The mood eventually moves into a rhythm and the violins contribute some stabbing chords which remain to the end of the movement. Like I said, these are short works.

SQ No. 3, written in 2009, opens with a mournful solo violin. It reaches skyward for its melody. A short solo cello statement is complemented by the violins. The cello moves into its upper register. Now a rhythmic motif is established by the violins; the cello returns. A pause brings back the two violins for an extended passage occasionally interrupted by cello interjections. The cello now finds its own motif and, together with the violins, takes the movement out.

The second movement opens with a sparse cello and violin passage. The second violin enters, adding texture. Now string sound effects come into play for a very delicate section. The cello and violin return to create a most interesting soundscape. The texture thickens again and the intensity lifts as the violins push forward. More string sound effects are heard, very gentle and the movement ends.

The final movement opens with a train-like ostinato. Violins scatter random notes about. TheΒ  motif changes key and the cello starts to express itself with vigour. Now the key changes occur more often and, suddenly, it stops. A section of string sound effects, together with the cello part, paint a skittish picture. Then the ostinato returns, with many key changes. The cello joins in with the motif, the intensity rises and the violin is left on its own to express the final moments. The rhythm stops dead and that’s it.

Having just heard these pieces for a second time, they certainly don’t seem as difficult as I first thought. In fact, they are mostly harmless atonal romps with passages of fine abstract beauty.

As for availability, SQ No. 2 is on a CD titled Chasing Time featuring the Atlantic Quartet. SQ No. 3 is on a Naxos release, Cory: Things Are & String Quartet No. 3 played by the Momenta Quartet. As I listened to the pieces on Spotify I only checked out a small sample of the other works; they generally seem quite modern. Both of the discs are on Amazon US and UK, Spotify and on youtube.

Listenability: Shame about the two CDs, but very interesting works individually.

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2 thoughts on “ELEANOR CORY – Contemporary Works – SQs Nos. 2 and 3”

  1. I was just thinking about contemporary styles over the last few days. It seems to me that, except for the hard-core school, most other contemporary string quartets are pretty mild, you might even say bland (in the nicest possible way) πŸ™‚


  2. Another nice find, thanks to your blog!

    I can’t say Cory’s work is the most original I’ve ever heard, but she’s conjuring up some of my favorite 20th century sounds: probing dissonance, chromatic melodicism, and insistent minimalism. I loved hearing her other chamber work (like the Mirrors: Prisms suite) after checking out her SQs. I noticed she studied with Charles Wuorinen, one of my favorite living composers; she definitely learned some lessons in abstract sound-painting from that arch-serialist.

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