String Quartet No. 1
Such specific instructions for the abovementioned and other “manners of performance” or instrumental “actions” were studied by the members of the excellent LaSalle Quartet in 1962, preparing for the premiere of Penderecki’s Quartetto per archi in Cincinnati. David Harrington, leader of another famous ensemble performing this Quartet, termed the piece a kind of lexicon or encyclopaedia of sonorism. The composer’s inventiveness manifested itself mainly in the choice of articulations for string instruments. In this area, he had no equals. The visually attractive notation, complete with clock-time signatures, defined the durations of individual sounds by means of lines attached to notes or to other signs. (During Kronos Quartet’s performance in New York City, the score was projected on a huge screen.)
Though timbre is the key element in this piece, micro-scale acoustic events are also carefully designed, arranged in series or in increasing and decreasing arithmetic sequences, or embedded in large harmonies, as with the cluster forte fortissimo, repeated nine times. On the macro scale, however, the form is highly condensed.
After the opening, in which the string quartet transforms into an orchestra of percussive sounds and then gradually regains its “usual” character, there comes a long linear section built out of varied articulations that form continuous, sometimes loud types of noise. This sound aura is contrasted with the initial pointillist texture. The final section or coda (from 3’30”) recapitulates that initial type of texture and ends by recalling linear structures from the central part, with hushed dynamics.
In his first string
quartet, Penderecki appears as
an ingenious composer of a virtuoso piece that at the time of the LaSalle’s
premiere posed a completely new type of challenge to string musicians’
sensitivity and creative drive.