French Modern Contemporary composer Pascal Dusapin [born 1955] has written at least seven string quartets. According to Wiki, ‘His music is marked by its microtonality, tension, and energy’. I don’t know about the microtonality, but the other two attributes are definitely evident in this work. String Quartet No. 6 was written for String Quartet and Orchestra, and titled The Hinterland. It is in one movement on my version. Strangely, the orchestra is not particularly prominent in this piece.
The Sixth Quartet opens with a propulsive, machine-like rhythm, together with string sound effects which are at times reminiscent of bird calls or flutes; there are plenty of glissandos here. The orchestra can barely be heard, although it may be that they provide some of the persistent rhythm. It is quite a dense passage and it is a little difficult to distinguish individual instruments. The intensity rises, with cello phrases interjected. Next, double basses enter, leading to a brief quiet passage; however, the rhythm soon returns. I hear the orchestra now, in the background, purely textural, playing sustained chords. The dynamics fluctuate regularly; some of the violin flourishes reappear as bird calls. A chaos now comes over the piece, turning it into a cacophony; it’s very intense. Sounds of the orchestra appear, with double basses being prominent.
A brief pause brings a meditative feeling to the work as two violins play sparse, emotive melodies. A cello makes an extended solo statement, replete with string sound effects; this signals the return of the rhythm and further chaos. The violins break free and concoct a passage of an almost frenzied nature. A rhythm again ensues, this time it is more orchestral. The two violins return and, for a moment, there is absolute silence. The quartet then continue to play in a chaotic, but not frenetic manner. Another violin-dominated phase unfolds but it is soon joined by the ensemble in a long section. Presently, some orchestral rumblings can be heard. Now we have a return to the opening feeling; this time it is pure rhythm, featuring mostly string quartet.
Another pause brings in a sweeping orchestral section, which doesn’t last. It reminds me of a mellotron, which is a keyboard instrument containing tape recordings of orchestral string sounds. The string quartet returns, filled with extreme energy. The texture is reminiscent of some of Elliott Carter’s later quartets. This is an extended section of dissonance. Orchestral interjections bring incredible tension to the music, which soon dissipates. The end comes with soft flute-like violin sounds, together with other abstract murmurings. The very last note sounds like a flute, but it may be a violin.
About ten years ago, I went through all of the string quartets that I possessed, either as CDs or downloads and rejected around 200 composers for various reasons; usually because they were too angry for my taste. I have since added another 50. Dusapin was one of them, but whilst browsing my hard disc recently, I decided to give him another listen.
This piece is a journey, a wild ride, and very modern. It is filled with musical notes, but that doesn’t necessarily make it music; it is more a rhythmic soundscape where the rules of music do not apply.
The only available version, on the Aeon label, performed by the Arditti String Quartet, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, is in five movements, and runs the same length as mine. It also contains String Quartet No. 7, which runs for almost 39 minutes – this too appears to be more sound than music, featuring many silences, together with seemingly random interjections. It has no tempo.
Listenability: Difficult for some – a very Modern Contemporary work.