PAUL COOPER – String Quartet No. 6

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.

This disc is currently available on Amazon US as a CD, and Amazon UK as an MP3 download. It is also on Spotify and there is one quartet on both YouTube and earsense.

Listenability: Intriguing, slightly academic.


3 thoughts on “PAUL COOPER – String Quartet No. 6”

  1. I haven’t heard the other ones yet, and the scores are even harder to find (unless you happen to at least be at Rice University in Houston (where he taught)).

  2. Oh, thank you for the commentary. I thought I was the only person on this planet who has listened to this regularly. I have known this work since 1983 when I blindly procured this LP through CRI. I would love to start some sort of “crowd sourcing” to get the other quartets by Paul Cooper recorded, in addition the fifth and sixth.

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