Polish Modern Contemporary composer Krzysztof Baculewski [born 1950] has written at least four string quartets. The first three were composed over a short period from 1984-1986. I am going to discuss the Fourth, which didn’t appear until 2014, a considerable gap really. I found some fascinating information on the composer at a website, Polish Music Centre at the University of Southern California here. I would like to share a 1986 quote from the composer:
In 20th century music the aesthetics of beauty ceased to function and while the category of beauty could be applied to certain particular sounds, in general the aesthetics of beauty belongs in the past. It is in the Renaissance or the Baroque periods that the primary task of an artist was to create beauty or truth. Now, the purpose of art is not to provide beauty nor truth, but rather evoke certain emotions which are intellectual more often than artistic.
I certainly don’t agree with much of this statement, although I realise my opinions are of little importance. I can certainly notice the concepts expressed in his music, especially this quartet. Interestingly, this quote is from 1986 and after the first three quartets, which occupy modern, but more emotional sound spaces.
The Fourth Quartet commences with a series of iterations of a long solo violin tone, followed by a pause. The length of the tone, and of the pauses, is varied each time. On the fifth iteration, the ensemble move in with staccato chords, however the first violin continues with its held note. Seemingly random chordal interjections are sparse until a passage of jerky, pizzicato notes announce a change. During this, occasional interjections of the opening violin theme are heard. There is certainly not much music to be found here. Now a further change has a flurry of dissonant chords introducing a slightly agitated atonal sound. This is more like it and the section is replete with sometimes random, sometimes consonant melodic phrases. The journey to the end is a pastiche of random notes and chords, together with some beautiful violin expression. I must admit to finding the pizzicato middle passage way too long for its content.
An adagio movement again features a solo violin introduction, however the cello soon steps in with jazz-like walking bass lines. The music begins to resemble the previous movement’s middle section but with considerably more musical interest. A fascinating ascending harmonised melodic line is repeated before a peace comes over the music. Sporadic string sound effects are followed by the harmonised melodic line. The end is a glissando cello, probably the longest glissando I have ever heard.
The third movement, marked animato, begins with a series of long, dissonant chords, which are anything but animated. After a time, some ascending melodic lines are heard, making for a fascinating musical mood as the instruments seem to function independently of each other. Another walking pizzicato section ensues, which then moves into a double-time meter, with notes aplenty. The demise of the pizzicato brings about a jaunty section, albeit brief, before the cello positively moans with the violins in a rather abstract passage. The moaning becomes a pleading and the whole ensemble seems to struggle to a conclusion.
A series of glissandos dominate the opening of the final movement, which is strangely conversational, until a rhythmic passage emerges. The glissandos then return but a section of pizzicato creates a pulse for a time. Now glissandos compete with rhythm, for a mildly chaotic effect. A brief section of entropic sounds lead to a racing tempo, with harmonised lines creating a rhythm. I now feel the music is revisiting earlier passages, without much sense of purpose. An intense rhythmic section leads to some strong, dissonant chords which then give way to a shrill violin and one loud cello tone to close.
I have listened to around a dozen Contemporary composers lately, and I believe that Baculewski’s approach is just one of the many disparate threads that form part of the Contemporary string quartet landscape. I don’t personally find him confronting, it’s just that his music doesn’t appeal to me. Although I do appreciate some of the more confronting works around, I don’t believe that they are suitable for this place. If anyone would like to discuss some of these composers, that are all available on Spotify, contact me via email here.
The review CD, Baculewski: String Quartets performed by the Tana String Quartet on the Dux label is available on Amazon US as a CD and Amazon UK as a download.
Listenability: Difficult works.