Chamber Music for Strings

As instructor of music theory and history and composer-in-residence at the Greenville Fine Arts Center, I have been privileged to work with many fine teachers and student performers in our strings chamber music classes. Many of these pieces were composed for them, and more are sure to follow. These are exceptional students, and I try simply to write them music that is truly new and interesting, yet within their technical grasp-- not "teaching music." Some of these pieces are clearly intended for professional players.

The style is variable—sometimes Bartok-ish, sometimes jazzy, sometimes these elements and others in combination. I like to make textures colorful, and special effects are fairly frequent. Though I regard every piece as "serious," I have sometimes enjoyed cloaking serious musical materials with humor. Some of these pieces have programmatic content, but I like to think that the listener can ignore the program without compromising the listening experience.

Solos
  • Present Affections (2000-2003)
    Instruments: Violin and Piano
    Duration: 25 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $15

    Six movements, all deriving their melodic material from the first, played without break. In the Baroque, composers generally restricted a movement of a work to the expression of one state of the human mind, or affection, resulting in the single-mindedness typical of a movement in the Baroque style. Present Affections, loosely modeled on a Baroque solo sonata, takes a similar approach-- evoking, with a touch of humor, some common contemporary human states that have earned colorful mass-media labels. The complete program notes are here.
  • Polka Diabolique (2001, rev. 2008)
    Instruments: Viola and Piano
    Duration: 8 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $7

    Rendered with all the kinetic enthusiasm of an ordinary polka, this piece inconspicuously incorporates several humorous quotations (The Rite of Spring, Beer Barrel Polka, Night on Bald Mountain, The Twilight Zone, The Chicken Dance). A couple of sips from a strategically-placed beer stein, before, during or after the performance, will help set the mood. The demo is of the version for clarinet, which is virtually identical.
  • An Afternoon in a Striped Balloon (1998)
    Instruments: Cello/Violin/Viola and Piano
    Duration: 3 minutes
    Difficulty: Easy
    Price: $5.95

    A dreamy piece in moderate tempo. Piano part also designed for a young musician. Available from Sheet Music Plus.
  • Excerpt
    Hannah's Waltz (1996)
    Instruments: Cello and Piano
    Duration: 3 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $4

    A jazz waltz/lullaby for a young soloist with piano accompaniment. Alternates between even 8ths and "swing" 8ths; some pizzicato. Available from Manduca Music Publications (#50269). www.manducamusic.com/Cello&Keyboard.htm.
Duets
  • Symbionts (2010)
    Instruments: Violin and Viola
    Duration: 22 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $10

    A symbiont is any organism involved in a symbiotic relationship. In mutualistic symbioses — such as the combination of fungus and algae in lichens, the honeybee and the clover it pollinates, or the clownfish and the anemone — the two organisms have evolved to the point that one can scarcely survive without the special services of the other. Here, the violin and viola sound closely related parts, often imitative and in the same general range, neither complete without the other. The degree of importance of the parts is equal and balanced throughout. There is a symmetry to the whole: movements I. and V. are different takes on the same material, as are movements II. and IV. Movement III. is unique - the one in which the two instruments combine to sound a single voice. Nice recording available. The complete program notes are here
  • Contra-Dances (2002)
    Instruments: Cello Duet
    Duration: 12 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $10

    Though not stylized dances, these pieces are are vaguely suggestive of dancing in their motoric and somewhat repetitive rhythms; they are "contra" in that the two players frequently exchange roles. All are in rondo-like forms and employ various sorts of ostinati. I. Bow-Tied (3:15) is an all-pizzicato movement with A sections in a lopsided 3/4-7/8 meter and contrasting B sections with a somewhat Middle Eastern flavor; II. Multi-Plied (5:55) is a slow and pensive ABA moves in a more balletic fashion. In the outer sections, diatonic melodies float over colorful accompaniment patterns; the movement's title is suggested by the manner in which the various tone colors and disjunct ranges give the illusion of more than two layers, or "plies." In the middle section the two instruments discuss their relationship in a number of brief, lyrical canons; III. High-Fived (6:20) has an abundance of perfect fifths and a generally rough-hewn sound that lend this sonata-rondo the character of a rustic folk dance. Ending is humorous-- an actual high-five by the players. Nice recording available. The complete program notes are here. Available from ISG Publications.
  • Significant Others (1994)
    Instruments: Viola and Bass
    Violin and Cello
    Duration: 14 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $15

    In 4 programmatic movements (the viola part is female, the bass part is a male jazz player): Written as a wedding present for friends, the sounds and the content invite the use of appropriate facial expressions and body language in performance. Awarded Honorable Mention in the 1997 International Society of Bassists Composition Contest. Nice recording available of performance at the 2000 Southeastern Composers' League Forum at UNC Greensboro. Available from Ludwin Music, www.ludwinmusic.com/10l.html. Version for Violin and 'Cello available from the composer only. The complete program notes are here.
Trios
  • Excerpt
    Too Many Notes (2006)
    Instruments: Cello Trio
    Duration: 6 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $5

    This is a sonata with the usual order of exposition events reversed in the recapitulation. In honor of Mozart's 250th birthday and his always elegant treatment of sonata form — which I have tried in my small way to emulate in this piece — the retransition quotes the opening theme of the last movement of his 41st symphony. There are a number of rock-inspired motoric sections and a wide range of textural colors are included; solos for all players. Performed by the Fine Arts Center group for whom it was written at the 2006 Converse College High School Chamber Music Competition, where their performance won 1st place; a recording of this excellent performance is available.
  • Ménage à Trio (1994)
    Instruments: Standard String Trio (W-089)
    2 Violas and 1 Cello (W-087)
    Duration: 5 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $19.95

    Fast, turbulent, octatonic scales, textures and dynamics extremely varied. Good showpiece for all players. Available from Frank Warren Music Service. To purchase, go to few-music.com/buy.html. To view this publisher's catalogue, go to few-music.com/2009Cat_FewMusic.pdf.
Piano Trio
  • Times in a Place (2013)
    Instruments: Piano Trio
    Duration: 14-15 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $20

    These sounds were loosely inspired by (mostly) fond reminiscences of my youth in rural Michigan, with the school year as the time scale. October was one of the most beautiful times, with crisp air and brightly leaved birch, maple, and beech trees, a great time to be outdoors. February brings another sort of beauty, with its cold, white blanket of deep quiet conducive to solitude and flights of fancy;it concludes with a brief quotation of My Funny Valentine. June is spring, which by then feels well earned; it’s more a time of beginning than ending. It begins with a sassy paraphrase of the well-worn Pomp and Circumstance march, and also quotes an ostinato from a piece I wrote for my college rock band. Toward the end is a drifting rendition of Auld Lang Syne. I’d rather not offer more detail than that, and there is little more anyway. I hope listeners will mine their memories and sentiments to find some nice ones from their own Octobers, Februarys, and Junes.
  • Nostalgias (1991, revised 1997)
    Instruments: Piano Trio
    Duration: 21 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $15

    Commissioned by the Kandinsky Trio. Three programmatic movements: "Cantankerous" about my first car (moderate tempo, motoric, humorous, 4:35); "Cavernous" about an early teenage visit to Carlsbad Caverns (slow, lush and atmospheric, 6:15); and "Calamitous" about the torture of high school generally (turbulent, polyphonic, 9:00). Movements are somewhat interrelated. The complete program notes are here.
  • Death, Taxes, and Tristan (1992)
    Instruments: Piano Trio
    Duration: 6 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $5

    A send-up of the famous 1859 Prelude to Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner. The melodic material is derived (i.e., stolen...) from Wagner, and set in jazzy harmonies. Slow, romantic (duh), mostly in 3. Solos for all players, no swing rhythms. Available from Manduca Music Publications, www.manducamusic.com/ChamberTrios.htm.
Piano Quartet
  • Locriana (2007-2008, IV. rev. 2011)
    Instruments: Piano Quartet
    Duration: 25 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $40

    A set of highly contrasting studies on the Locrian mode, both exploiting and tempering its inherent qualities. The performance here is by the Kandinsky Piano Trio, with guest violist Hilary Herndon. The 4th movement was revised in 2011 to refine and condense its form. The complete performance/program notes are here.
Piano/Harp Quintet
  • From Balsam Bells and Leaves (2014)
    Instruments: String Quartet and Harp
    Duration: 6.5 minutes
    Difficulty: Advanced
    Price: $20

    From Balsam Bells and Leaves takes its name from a line penned by John Muir, founder—in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—of the Sierra Club and America’s first conservationist. The piece incorporates melodies of the Native Americans he encountered in the region of Yosemite, as well as a melody of his native Scotland. Read the complete program notes here.
  • Excerpts
    Overcoming (2009)
    Instruments: Piano Quintet
    Duration: 9 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $20

    A semi-programmatic rhapsody on We Shall Overcome, which follows very loosely the arc of the civil rights movement. Begins with the playing of a 1-minute field recording of We Shall Overcome from the March on Selma of 1965. The complete performance/program notes are here. This is also available in a version for clarinet, violin, viola, 'cello, and piano.
  • Diverse Variations on A-C-P (2009-2010)
    Instruments: Oboe, Violin, Viola, 'Cello, Piano
    Duration: 18 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $30

    Winner of the first Rapido! Composition Contest sponsored in 2009 by the Atlanta Chamber Players. The three movements are all based on the notes A-C-B, the "B" serving as a stand-in for the letter "P." The "B" is derived by going through the musical alphabet of 7 notes (i.e. letters) two times, plus one more A and B, so that this last B lands on the 16th letter of the English alphabet, P. This little pattern is the essential DNA of the entire work. Virtually all melodic and harmonic material is somehow generated from it, and it makes possible a whole that is at once highly variable and intensely unified. The complete performance/program notes are here. This is also available in a version for clarinet, violin, viola, 'cello, and piano.
String Quartet
  • Edigitudes (2005)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Synthesized Sounds
    Duration: 11 minutes
    Difficulty: Advanced
    Price: $30

    Three Hollywood Stereotypes for String Quartet and Synthesized Sounds. I frequently complain about the effect that typical movie scores have had on much of the audience, conditioning them to react in a practically Pavlovian manner to hackneyed combinations of sounds. It seemed a good way to mock this whole state of affairs by indulging in exactly this sort of stereotyping, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Requires an on-stage stereo system to play a CD of electronic sounds with which the group plays along; 2nd movement requires a large rain stick. Package includes performance CD and parts, rehearsal CD and parts, and score with set-up instructions.
  • Excerpt
    Scherzophrenia (2002)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Duration: 5 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $10

    This piece is generally turbulent, with frequent and sudden variations in texture, color, and mood. There are no literal repeats of any portion, though the melodic material adheres to a strict diet of minor 2nds and major and minor 3rds throughout.
  • A Skeleton in the Closet (1999)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Duration: 4 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $14.95

    A comical Halloween-ish piece, with lots of special effects and stage antics. Halloween dressing-up is encouraged. Available from Sheet Music Plus and many other outlets.
  • Excerpt
    September Blue (1999)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Optional Bass Part
    Duration: 3.5 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $10

    A bluesy piece in moderate tempo, designed for younger players. Some swing rhythms.
  • String Quartet #3 (the "Automotive," 1998)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Duration: 30 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $25

    Five sometimes ironic character pieces, describing automobiles (and one bulldozer) named after animals: I. Impala (fast, 7:18), II. Caterpillar (slow and ponderous, 3:00), III. Beetle (waltz, 4:06), IV. Jaguar (slow and lyrical, 8:37), and V. Mustang (fast, 6:06). There are some stage antics involving stomping feet, balloons, and a set of wrenches. The complete program notes are here. Professionally recorded (Recordings).
  • Excerpts
    Holiday Jazz (1993)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Duration: 3-4 minute pieces
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $17.96

    11 traditional Yuletide melodies in jazz. The collection covers a wide variety of jazz and related styles. Titles include "We Wish You a Merry Tango," "Yeah, Joy," "Somebody Jingled My Bells" (includes a sleigh bells part for 2nd violin), "We Three Kings in 3 Be We," "Fiddlin' on the Housetop" (bluegrass), "Auld Lang Syne," and so on. Very suitable for December gigs. Some of these will also work with larger groups. Available from Amazon and many other outlets.
  • String Quartet #2 (the "Nautical", 1991, revised 1995)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Aqua Harp
    Duration: 15 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $20

    Three character pieces: Outer movements exploit ostinati and humor. 2nd movement, slow and atmospheric, includes use of an unusual percussion instrument - played intermittently by the 2nd violin - called an Aqua-harp. Score includes instructions for ordering the Aqua-harp (about $160, very cool sound, a bit like whale song), or, alternately, using a kitchen pot partially filled with water (cheap, but less cool). Cellist also occasionally plays a simple egg shaker (about #2.50) in this movement. The complete program and performance notes are here. Professionally recorded (Recordings).
  • String Quartet #1 ("Brieflets", 1989)
    Instruments: String Quartet
    Duration: 12 minutes
    Difficulty: Intermediate
    Price: $10

    This is a set of 4 character pieces: Fidgeting, (2:20) about an audience member trying to get comfortable and stay awake; Mourning, (4:14) about a child who loses a beloved pet; Badgering, (2:01) about a nagging wife and her insensitive husband; and Panicking, (2:21) about a young musician waiting for an audition. Not computer notation, but very neatly manuscripted. The complete program notes are here. Professionally recorded (Recordings).
Violin or Viola Quartet, 'Cello Quartet
  • Nightsongs (2011)
    Instruments: 'Cello Quartet
    Duration: 10 minutes
    Difficulty: Advanced
    Price: $15

    Three jazzy pieces for cello quartet. Good parts for all; nothing higher than C5 in first 'cello. 3rd cello adds percussive knocks on the body of the cello in Wadin' and does finger snaps in Walkin'.
  • Take Me Out to the Ball Game (arr. 1998)
    Instruments: 4 Violins or 4 Violas
    Duration: 4 minutes
    Difficulty: Intermediate
    Price: $13.45

    A comedic theater piece that includes various silly quotations. Performers dress like three baseball players and one umpire; foam rubber baseballs are hit with a viola; the 4th viola is eventually thrown out of the concert for protesting the umpire's call of three wrong notes in a row. Not for anyone who thinks such things should be formal. Published by Latham Music, Ltd., and available through Amazon and many other outlets. NewerTube Link
Larger Chamber Groups
  • Excerpt
    Passacaglia & Gigue (2000 / 2007)
    Instruments: 2 Violins, 2 Violas, 2 Cellos
    Duration: 5 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $10

    A neoclassical work. The passacaglia is based upon the simple the 8-7-6-5 minor mode Baroque passacaglia bass ostinato. Mostly polyphonic, with a few coloristic passages; moderate tempo, parts very independent. The gigue is in imitative polyphony and in the typical rounded binary form. Both sections employ very contemporary harmony. Each section can be performed independently if desired. A video of an excellent chreographed performance is here.
  • The Number of Things (1999)
    Instruments: Alto Saxophone and Marimba
    String Quartet
    Duration: 11 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $15

    Along with our natural inclinations to enumerate and categorize, we humans have a way of regarding certain numbers as important milestones of our progress or symbols of our persistence. This piece commemorates the 25th Anniversary of the Greenville Fine Arts Center through the incorporation of the notes F, A, and C (with chromatic alterations), the street number of the Center's address (1613), and the numbers 5 and 25. Mostly fast and motoric, with a slower, lyrical section near the end. Includes some 4-mallet playing in marimba. Clarinet substitution for alto sax is very workable. Available also in arrangement for Chamber Orchestra, adding percussion and bass parts and changing the solo part to clarinet. Dedicated to all who devote their energies to the cause of arts education.
Voice and Strings
  • Waka Songs (2005)
    Instruments: Soprano and Viola
    Duration: 14 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $10

    A waka is a traditional 31-syllable Japanese poem, the precursor of the haiku. As befits the concise character of the poems, these songs are brief. The expressive range is deliberately narrow and restrained in hopes of complimenting the understated elegance of the poetry. Modes and pentatonic scales are used extensively as modest references to traditional sounds. Performances of Waka Songs will be most effective in intimate venues. The complete program notes are here.
  • Four Are in the River (2011)
    Instruments: Soprano, String Quartet
    Duration: 25 minutes
    Difficulty: Professional
    Price: $40



    In these settings of Sarah Blackman's poems I have made a straightforward attempt to underscore the character of each organism of the title and its relationship with her/his/its environment. The River binds them all together dramatically and musically. The complete program notes are here.
  • Museum Pieces (2013)
    Instruments: String Quartet, Alto Sax or Clarinet
    Mezzo Soprano
    Digital image projection (optional)
    Duration: 20 minutes
    Difficulty: Challenging
    Price: $25


    These youth-friendly songs grew out of the larger initiative to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Emrys Foundation, a support group launched in 1982 by writers, for writers, in Greenville, South Carolina. Helen Dupré Moseley (1887-1984) had earned a Masters' degree in History and had been a mother, widow, insurance businesswoman, and postmaster when - without training of any sort - she took up painting at the age of 60. Her style shows some influence from Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse and Hieronymus Bosch, but ultimately her whimsical and largely untitled works are the products of her fertile and uninhibited imagination. Moseley's family made a generous donation of a large number of her works to the GCMA in 2000. In the summer of 2012 sixteen Emrys poets were invited to compose brief poems on selected works of Moseley's from the GCMA collection. These songs set six of those poems; as the paintings in question are untitled, the song titles are my own, derived from the poetry. In addition to the score and parts, a CD for projection of the images is provided. A live performance in which the paintings serve as a backdrop can be viewed here. The complete program notes are here.
String Quintet/String Orchestra
  • A Stitch in Time (1992)
    Instruments: 5-Part Strings
    Duration: 5 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $14

    A moderate tempo etude employing jazz rhythms and harmony, with numerous special effects, including col legno battuto and some unpitched vocalizing. The 2nd part could be played by violin or viola, and the bottom part by bass and/or 'cello. Also performable by a larger string orchestra. Available from Frank Warren Music Service (W-120).
  • A Moment's Notice (1990)
    Instruments: 5-Part Strings
    Duration: 5 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $5

    Adagio, espressivo, some jazz harmony. Mostly in chorale texture; pensive, reflective. 1st violin carries the most of the melody, with a solo for the 3rd and 4th parts in the middle. Flexible instrumentation: 3rd voice playable by violin and/or viola, 4th voice by viola and/or 'cello, and 5th voice by 'cello and/or bass. Can be performed as a chamber piece or by a larger string orchestra.
  • Allegretto Animoso (1985; revised 1987, previously titled String Thing)
    Instruments: 5-Part Strings
    Required Bass
    Duration: 3 minutes
    Difficulty: Moderate
    Price: $10

    Can be done as chamber music, or with a larger string orchestra. Brief sonata form, fast, syncopated, loosely tonal, emphasis on perfect intervals and tritones. 1st theme in 1st violin, 2nd in viola and cello. This was published in 1988 by Warner Brothers, but is out of print; as of now you can only get it directly from me.
newertunes@hotmail.com
Ordering Information
© 2014 newertunes.com. All rights reserved.
Site designed by Daniel Grier