Quintext I-V: Five Textures (1972)

James Tenney

string quartet, and double bass


  • 1. Some Recent Thoughts for Morton Feldman
  • 2. Clouds for Iannis Xenakis
  • 3. A Choir of Angels for Carl Ruggles
  • 4. Parabolas and Hyperbolas for Edgard Varèse
  • 5. Spectra for Harry Partch

Program Notes

The five movements of Quintext are individual studies in the abandonment of melody and drama, the exploration of certain "essential" characteristics of string instruments, and in the creation of static textural environments in which microstructural motion is undetermined, but whose macrostructure has a clear, precise, and powerful unification. Each is dedicated to a different composer and reflects some aspect of that composer’s ideas. Quintext I, Some Recent Thoughts for Morton Feldman, takes its title and much of its texture from Feldman’s own pieces. Through vastly different techniques, Tenney is aiming for an evocation of the soft, static, vertical, and almost inexplicably beautiful harmonic structures that are somehow peculiar to Feldman’s music. Quintext II, Clouds for Iannis Xenakis, is structurally one of the simplest of the set with the second half being the exact retrograde of the first. It is, though extremely simple, quite an exhilarating work. The pitches are only approximately indicated and are plotted randomly along what seems to be sinusoidal paths. Quintext III, A choir of Angels for Carl Ruggles is a textural parody of Ruggles’s short masterpiece Angels. The timbre of Quintext III is quite unusual and ethereal (sul ponticello throughout), possible another reference to Angels, which calls for muted brass. #3 is in the end, a simple kind of poetic remembrance of a great American composer. Quintext IV, Parabolas and Hyperbolas for Edgard Varèse is similar in form and simplicity to Clouds. Not only the title, which is a paraphrase, but the sound itself is reminiscent of Varèse, especially of his early and revolutionary use of instruments like the siren and the natural occurrence of industrial sounds in his music. Quintext V, Spectra for Harry Partch, is at once the simplest and most complex of the five and is also the longest in duration. It makes the most extensive use of harmony and the ability of strings to produce complex just intonation in a simple way (by natural harmonics), yet aurally, it is the most free and formless. (program note by Larry Polansky)