Four Pieces for Accordion and String Quartet (2003)

  • Instrumentation: accord, vln, vln, vla, vc
  • Duration: 22’00
  • Performers: Accor­dion – Alexan­der Sev­as­t­ian, Violin I – Mary-Beth Brown, Violin II – Kata­rina Kin, Viola – Alex McLeod, Vio­lon­cello – Kirk Starkey, Con­duc­tor – Gary Kulesha

Program Notes

Four Pieces for Accordion and String Quartet was written between the summer of 2002 and the fall of 2003. It was inspired by a series of poems called Swerve, by Canadian poet Sarah Lang. There are four poems in the series, which tell the story of a woman watching her lover die of cancer. Four Pieces is dedicated to my grandmother, Antoinette Schulte, who was an accordionist and died of cancer when I was a child.

What interested me about Swerve was the sensation of the passage of time conveyed by the narrator’s emotions. I felt this had strong correlations with musical form, and I wanted to try to translate the emotional form of Lang’s series into an instrumental piece. Therefore, each poem in the set corresponds to a movement in Four Pieces, and each movement closely follows the content of the corresponding poem in Swerve.

Four Pieces was also my first successful attempt at the purposeful juxtaposition of disparate harmonic systems. I wanted to be able to draw from a palette of functional and non-functional sonorities ranging from popular music and jazz, to medieval, classical, and twentieth-century Western music. I achieved this goal by placing harmonic and melodic ideas in new local contexts or by using the function of one harmonic system with the material from another. Examples include the ostinato 6/3 chord in the first movement, transposed up a quartertone, and the functional cadence that ends the piece, disguised by dense pitch clusters and non-triadic sonorities.