PER NORGARD –Late Quartets – Nos. 7 and 10

Modern Contemporary Danish composer Per Norgard [born 1932] has written ten string quartets thus far. There are two recordings available; String Quartets 1-6, and String Quartets 7-10. I reviewed Nos. 1 and 2 from the former in August 2016, I am now going to discuss quartets Nos. 7 and 10 from the latter. These are not long quartets, together they run to about 28 minutes.

String Quartet No. 7, marked andante, opens ever so quietly with a cello and some intermittent violin pizzicato. The cello continues to lead the way, and the violins drift in. Now there is a change, with probing violin interjections, and a serious mood. There is a measured chaos here, as the violins make startling statements. The feeling softens for a moment but then continues with slightly chaotic violins. A brief pause brings about another quiet, random section. The cello contributes positive statements as the violins opt for string sound effects. The violins continue with a hint of pizzicato, then fade out.

The next movement, marked lentissimo, builds from a whisper with sustained tones. This is a very quiet opening, it has no tempo. The sustained notes continue, interrupted by string sound effects. Slowly a violin appears out of the ensemble for a brief interlude, but the sustained notes are soon resumed. Brief pauses abound, and there is very little to be heard here. A violin repeats a motif over the ensemble’s murmurings, and then hints at a melody. It rises in register and intensity and a cello note completes the movement.

The final movement has a strong cello introduction, and the violins wrap string sound effects around it. Again, this music is played rubato. The violins move into glissando and microtonal statements. Then follows an ascending melodic trend, as the viola makes pizzicato interjections. The violins are now playing purely string effects. A cello passage spurs the violins on into their atonality, and the work concludes on a seemingly random violin statement.

String Quartet No. 10, titled Harvest Timeless is in one movement. Violins create a gentle opening, with soft cello statements. The mood is pensive. A change brings about a more optimistic mood, and the violins dance lightly over the ensemble. There is a hint of a concrete melody, but this soon dissipates and we have an extended period of quivering violins. Normality returns and the violins continue in a dialogue, which becomes very subdued. The music edges forward until we have one violin in the high register. This is followed by a pause which leads into another, brisk section, where the violins again examine a pensive mood. Now a very slow tempo occurs, and the viola introduces a melody, with the violins busy in the background. Eventually they prevail and continue with a sparse duet. More string sound effects lead into a brisk tempo, with a slight aggression in the violins. They reach into their high registers and become very agitated. This continues for some time. The mood now moderates into a sparse passage, bordering on silence. The violins become more prominent and their glissandos dominate, until a brief repeated motif brings the work to an end.

Two points about this quartet. Firstly, it spends a lot of time investigating the regions between music and sound. Secondly, it seems much longer that it actually is. I’m not sure how the composer has achieved this, but it is fascinating.

I consider both works to be what I would term Modern Contemporary, and they are significantly more technically and emotionally advanced, compared to the previously discussed Quartets 1 and 2.

Amazon US and UK both have String Quartets 7-10 by the Kroger Quartet and String Quartets 1-6 by the Kontra Quartet is still available. The 7-10 disc is on Spotify, and there are many versions of Norgard’s quartets on youtube here.

Listenability: Fine late works from a Modernist composer.

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