String Quartet No. 5

Composer: 

Print Edition Price: 

$15.50 score
$34.50 score with set of parts

Year Authored (or revised): 

2005

Duration (min): 

18

Movements-Titles: 

I. PART ONE: Introduction
II. Ragtime
III. Slower with a half-time feeling
IV. With lightness
V. Ritornello I
VI. Tango
VII. PART TWO: Still, with great breadth
VIII. Chorale
IX. PART THREE: With a touch of swagger
X. Interruptions
XI. Ritornello II
XII. Conclusion

Recording: 

Navona

First Performance: 

December 5, 2005. Martinu Quartet. Prague, Czech Republic.

The fusion of jazz-inspired rhythms and complex harmonies returns in McKinley’s String Quartet No. 5. In some ways the quartet is a continuation of the same types of compositional techniques used in McKinley’s previous quartet. However, this quartet from 2005 coheres more closely as an entire piece, despite the twelve indicated movements. This is due in part to the piece being played attacca, or without any pause between movements. Thus the movements, while distinct, allow listeners to contemplate the quartet as a single journey through McKinley’s sound-scape, rather than as separate episodes. Attention to the overall form of the quartet has taken a higher status than before.



Although continuous from beginning to end, the overarching form of the piece is divided into three main parts. The Introduction provides a simple repeated eight-note texture in the lower strings, with a single, sustained melodic line. Particular string techniques, used throughout the quartet, are provided in this simple melody. Listen for the alternation between pizzicato and arco textures, as well as an instance of arco sul ponticello, or bowing “on the bridge,” which produces a thin, glassy sound. These and other techniques are used masterfully by McKinley throughout the piece. The texture of the Introduction returns twice throughout the piece as Ritornelli.



The remainder of the first part of the quartet involves two primary movements, Ragtime and Tango, which are intervened by transitory and contrasting slower movements. Ragtime style originally flourished around the turn of the 20th century in America. One hundred years later, McKinley evokes the Ragtime feel with jagged melodies and syncopated rhythms. Take particular note of the melody, as it continues to evolve throughout the remainder of the quartet. The youthful energy of Ragtime slows down and becomes lighter in texture, eventually abandoning its frivolity with in the first Ritornello. In the following Tango movement, which is no less energetic, the quartet reaches a more serious and grave sound and texture. Occasional interjections of the ragtime melody lighten the mood slightly, yet do not counter the more severe feel of the tango.



The quartet’s middle section shifts from an intimate, outward desires of a tango, to an intimate, inward contemplation. Here, McKinley’s harmonic manipulation from chord to chord offers the listener a warm respite from highly rhythmic melodies. The Chorale is the centerpiece of the entire quartet, and while the motion of sonorities is more relaxed, disquieting chordal dissonances leave might leave the listener anxious, as if the inward thoughts are more troubling than comforting. The private, middle portion of the quartet ends with a return to the more public display of musicality.



Part three opens pompously, felt especially in the cello and viola’s “swagger.” Prior to the final Ritornello, a series of musical back-and-forth interruptions attempt to fuse much of the previous musical material. It proves ultimately unsuccessful, however, until the final movement. This Conclusion is rightfully the apotheosis for the entire quartet. The youthful Ragtime is recalled, yet we might hear it only as merely a memory, as the pensive underlying harmonies bring the central Chorale back to fruition. The experiences throughout the entire quartet have finally matured and fused, ultimately fading into the unseen future.

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PETER SMUCKER, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. FEBRUARY 2011.

 

McKinley: String Quartet No. 5 (2005)

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