ZBIGNIEW BARGIELSKI – String Quartets Nos. 2 and 4

Polish composer Zbigniew Bargielski  [born 1937] wrote six string quartets. He composes in a contemporary style and some of the quartets are quite modern. I have selected Nos. 2 & 4 which are both in one movement and relatively short. They are also some of his more conservative quartets. Let me know if you would like me to take him a bit further, into the more radical works.

SQ No.2 is titled Spring and was written in 1980. It opens with a pensive solo violin which begins in the lower register. There are occasional interjections from the ensemble; they become more frequent as the movement unfolds. Now the music moves into a slightly stilted tempo. The violins duet and descend into string sound effects at times and, eventually, into chaos. A pause brings a solo cello which is soon joined by a frantic violin that drifts in and out of the piece. The viola now complements the cello. Save for the violin, this passage is very peaceful. The intensity gradually increases and the cello and viola pattern continues. A new section has a solo violin feeding small phrases to the ensemble which replies with a chord. Again, this a quiet passage as the violin becomes more busy. Slowly a feeling of angst is attained as the ensemble support a sparse violin passage. The ensemble fall away and we are left with two atonal violins and some punctuating chords. The piece concludes with a solo violin section.

I definitely wouldn’t call it program music. There very few sections that you could identify as being related to Spring. All the same, it is an interesting work.

SQ No. 4, written in 1994, titled Burning Time, takes a while to get going, with quiet, intermittent sustained violins being presented. A solo cello enters and throbs as the violins put forward sustained notes. Now the cello becomes more prominent and the violins move to fast, insistent phrases. One violin repeats a phrase and soon it is on its own, but for increasing ensemble thrusts. A change in harmony brings about a different texture in a quiet violin over string sound effects, which slowly disappear and are replaced by a duet between the two violins. This is actually quite alluring and lasts for some time. The passage then dissolves into chaos with more string sound effects. The cello begins its throb again, this time with some agression. The first violin spins out sparse melodies over a quivering second violin. A fadeout has the violin playing sparse phrases to the end.

These two quartets have several elements of a certain modern style. These include: frantic sections; no recognisable melody; no development of melodic material; and ‘silent openings’, by which I mean that no real music is heard for 25-30 seconds. Arnold Schoenberg stated in the early 1900s that in 100 years we would be whistling serial or 12-tone melodies. I doubt whether it will be these melodies. I intend to continue to discuss modern quartets because there are so many different styles, some of which take me to amazing musical places.

These works are available on a 2-CD set titled String Quartets by the Silesian String Quartet, on the CD Accord label. It is available on Amazon US and UK, although it looks slightly shaky as it is available on download as well. The set is on Spotify and several movements are on YouTube. All works can be heard on earsense.

Listenability: I wouldn’t give it to my grandmother, but I find it interesting. It’s modern!


2 thoughts on “ZBIGNIEW BARGIELSKI – String Quartets Nos. 2 and 4”

  1. You really like the noisy ones, don’t you Steve? I like it too. It’s probably getting near to the edge of my taste. I used to listen to a lot of free jazz but found I’ve backed off from that a little too. Having said that, sometimes a roaring John Coltrane just hits the spot.


  2. The Spring quartet is amazing! Maybe I’m just desperate for winter to be over here in cold Massachusetts, but this is hot stuff. The changes in mood and texture are sometimes extreme, but there’s a real cinematic quality to it.

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