1998 — String Quartet No. 2 (1999)

Gerald Barry

string quartet

Program Notes

After writing 1998 I was trying to find a way of describing it. I then happened on Arthur Schnitzler’s novella, Lieutenant Gustl (1900), and saw a parallel. Lieutenant Gustl feels insulted by someone of such low rank he cannot challenge him to a duel and so must kill himself. He considers the ramifications of the encounter in a feverish stream of consciousness, a form which seems to mirror the approach to sound in the quartet.

It’s not that they correspond in any conscious way, but perhaps that the contents of 1998 are so wide-ranging they support most interpretations. They may have this feeling because the sounds are taken from so many musical worlds and are filled with resonances. In whichever direction you are facing, they and you are likely to coincide. You could say that a drama is being enacted here which will always be hidden because of the completely enigmatic nature of the sounds. But as with Lieutenant Gustl there is a constant weighing of arguments and rushes of blood. (In fact Gustl and 1998 could be performed simultaneously; it would be intriguing to see how they fall out.) Because there are no signposts it is very difficult to foresee the music’s destination at any point - it is resolutely inconstant. If it were a painting it would be abstract with occasional figurative imagery - a thigh, a calf, those sounds which reassure - but these are illusory and unreachable.