String Quartet No. 3 ("Im Innersten")

This work was composed in 1976; the title "Im Innersten" translates to "In the Innermost". The music is one of extreme expressive forces and contrasts. There is enormously agitated, rough, harsh, even angry and violent polyphony at a high dynamic level, sometimes with strands of disparate speed, rhythm and gestures. Numerous sforzando attacks are heard, also on notes that are then sustained. As notes fade, sometimes renewed dynamic surges on them towards the end emphasize the vigor of expression. The agitation vacillates between broad, energetic phrases and fast moving nervousness, or they are both simultaneously present. On the other hand, there are intimate moments, and even lonesome ones with, for example, thin chords in the high registers of violin or bleak ‘con sordino’ playing. Contrasts can follow one another abruptly. For instance, in the middle of the first movement the agitated music fizzles into nervousness, quickly quiets down and soon settles into a single, soft held chord. From there it suddenly resumes its agitated ways, following a brief swift ‘upward’ figure.

The music is highly subjective to an extent that structure is subjugated to the expression and moods of the moment. The work features not just an open structure, as in much of modern music, but a number of times there are relatively abrupt appearances of passages that are not born out of context with previous ones, or that are not an obvious musical reaction to them; the music appears disjointed. Yet there tend to be quick transitions of sharp efficiency that create cohesion nonetheless. Often they are initiated by local disturbances that are then exploited or, on the other end of the spectrum, new musical seeds are born from, sometimes sudden, pullbacks into a quiet withdrawn state. An enormous tension in the music is also instrumental in successfully holding the narrative together that is mostly just driven by the expressive forces. Paradoxically, however, in the gesturally more unified fifth movement the tension created by its feverish, strained agitation on dissonant harmonies almost tears the music apart.

Among the intimate moments there are even romantic ones. These clash the most with the world of harsh avantgarde sounds. The most prominent romantic passage is found at the end of the second movement, which had started out in a similarly rough manner as the first one. It features something of the Weltschmerz of the Finale of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony and the Adagietto of his Fifth, including their harmonic and melodic worlds, without copying either. It is music of great immediacy that possesses genuine warmth. It sounds truly heartfelt, far from being just a gimmick, inserted into the music as a foreign object.

Warm romantic sounds also begin the third and fourth movements, but moods change. In the short third movement, harsh and fast music returns, and in the middle of the slow fourth movement, the string instruments cry out in anguish on sustained dissonant chords.

In the slow seventh and final movement, with a duration of more than 9 minutes also the longest, the music appears to resign into desolation and despair. Yet about two minutes before the end, a pizzicato ‘storm’ is heard, followed by faster ostinato figures, reminiscent of the second movement. These lead to a new awakening of energy, which is then sustained in broader notes. In the end, however, the music dies with a polyphony of slow scratching with the bow over the strings.

© Albrecht Moritz 2011