From Four Papers for String Quartet
This work consists of four movements, each “inspired” by a prolific scientist. The scientists I chose, Stephen Jay Gould, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Charles Darwin, and Carl Sagan, are unique in their ability to convey the wonders of science to the general public and have had a profound effect on my own appreciation of science. I have chosen fragments from each of these “science ambassador’s” writings, hoping to capture, in just a few words, the general attitude of the given movement.
I. "...and with a bang..." - Stephen Jay Gould
With the sharp snap of the string a few notes emerge,
growing more and more agitated until they cannot
be contained. This gesture ends abruptly, then, another
sharp snap and the process repeats. Inspired by the
process of cellular reproduction and the “Cambrian
explosion” Gould refers to in "Wonderful Life,"
what evolves from this meager beginning is first
a rustic, syncopated theme, then later, a simple
and lyrical theme. The movement continues to deal
with these two ideas, developing and occasionally
being interrupted by the agitated gestures that begun
the work, finally ending with the same violent snap
with which it began.
II. "...along cunning trajectories..." - Neil deGrasse Tyson
The second movement is short in duration and light-
hearted in character suggesting a scherzo. The ever-rising
theme contains trills and a driving ostinato that
propels the music onward, signifying the orbital
flight Mr. Tyson refers to in his article “Going Ballistic”.
III. (Passacaglia) "...by short and sure,
though slow steps..." - Charles Darwin
While reading this quote from Darwin’s
"Origin of the Species" I noticed the
similarities between the process of evolution
and the musical form known as the Passacaglia.
A theme usually consisting of 8 bars, is repeated
throughout a work, though can be varied to a seemingly
unrecognizable state, yet is always present.
This movement begins with the theme played in
pizzicato by the cello, though interrupted once
by a forcefully loud trill. This theme is carried
through a series of variations often times broken up
and passed between the different players.
IV. "...a rare kind of exhilaration..." - Carl Sagan
Just as this quote from Broca’s Brain refers to
Sagan’s joy of scientific discovery, this movement
conveys my joy in musical discovery. The work
features both lyrical and rustic themes similar to those
found in the first movement, but with a new kind of
hopeful energy. This movement ends growing softer and
more relaxed as the final “chord” consisting of C and
E-flat (C, Es), musically spells the initials of
Carl Edward Sagan.