Three Canonic Quartets

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For Four Violins


These Three Canonic Quartets are part of a larger 12-movement work called FORM. The music is inspired by the artist Nasreen Mohamedi (1937 -1990). Her work is best known for its line-based drawings, and today she is considered as one of the essential modern artists of India. In her diary I found a collection of words she had assembled under the title FORM. They comprised Order, Option, Opposite, Retrograde, Returning & Receiving, Recoverable, Mineral, Masculine & Feminine, Motion. From these words I created musical scenarios, short meta-compositions or plans for a series of quartets of equal instruments.

The artist Nasreen Mohamedi was particularly interested in music, and she often worked to the accompaniment of Indian Classical Music. Her favourite raga it seems was the Maya-ki-Todi. This raga is associated both with the late morning and a folk tale:

Todi is nearly always shown as a gentle, beautiful woman, holding a veena and standing in a lovely green forest, surrounded by deers. The Sangita Darpana says of her “She had a fair erect body like the white lotus, and delicate like the gleaming dew drop, Todi holds the vina and provides fun and frolic to the deer deep in the forest. Her body is anointed with saffron and camphor.”

The decision to use the device of the musical canon along with Maya-ki-Todi was a happy coincidence and persuaded me that the canonic device is still a vital technique in today’s music. Witness the music of Thomas Adès and Gyorgy Ligeti.

The three canons for four violins are presented in full-score, although the second is probably easier to play from the canonic subject with indications of 2nd, 3rd and 4th entries. A reference or guide score is provided. Canons 1 and 2 are straightforward canons at the unison, but Canon 3 has two canonic subjects, the second being an inverted retrograde canon at the fourth of the original.

Three Canonic Quartets full score [pdf]Reference recording: I [mp3] II [mp3] III [mp3]