American composer Paul Cooper [1926-1996] wrote six string quartets between 1952 and 1977. Only two quartets, Nos. 5 and 6, are available. I reviewed No. 5 in November, 2016 so I am now going to have a look at quartet No. 6. The work is in three movements.
It opens ever so quietly with inauspicious string sound effects. However they do get louder before they pause, and immediately start up again. There is a hint of a melody from the violins and the cello is prominent but there is no tempo. Then follows some stabbing atonal chords; now it’s back to sound effects, quite powerful really. A pause leads to a fine abstract mood with plenty of spaces. The first violin brings forth the first real melody and the ensemble paint an introspective background. This doesn’t last long and a more abstract background follows. The violins pursue a dialogue with occasional atonal flourishes. After a time the introspection returns with sparse melodic violin phrases, mostly in the high register. The mood is sustained until a fade into the end of the movement. This is some fine writing, leading to a variety of textures, some of which are quite dense.
The next movement again begins with mild atonal string sound effects, coupled with a cello motif. There is an attempt by the viola to establish an ostinato but the composer settles for another, inward-looking mood. The music is quite random here; it’s a very interesting abstract soundscape. The violins increase the intensity with atonal sparring before dropping into a brooding feeling. Nearing the end of the movement the violins gently present melodic ideas over a very quiet background.
The short final movement has a sparse atonal opening. The ensemble pulsate while the first violin sketches a long melody. A deeply resonant solo cello has a role before the violin moves into a louder section. As this fades away a violin repeats a motif over an ostinato until it fades into the distance. It’s over.
As you will have noted, there is quite a bit of atonality but this leads to some wonderful soundscapes. I rather wish that more than two quartets of Cooper were available. Perhaps they will come in the future.
This piece is on the same CD as the previously discussed String Quartet No. 5. Titled Cooper: Chamber Works, String Quartet No. 5 & 6 on Composers Recordings, performed by the Shepherd Quartet – it also contains a number of shorter works.
Listenability: Intriguing, slightly academic.