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) " 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.

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Past Performances:

Eva Marie Barlaan, Matt Carson, violin
Beeri Moalem, viola
Cole Tutino, cello
Friday, February 13, 2009
Music Concert Hall
San Jose State University

Members of the San Jose 
Chamber Orchestra
Monday, May 10, 2010
Theatre on San Pedro Square
Duration: ca 18 minutes

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