Programme notes


Writings on music by John Fallas







Matthias Pintscher (b. 1971):

Study IV for Treatise on the Veil (2008) for string quartet


‘Treatise on the Veil’ is the overall title of a series of drawings and two large paintings by the American artist Cy Twombly (1928–2011), with whom Pintscher shares, among other things, both an admiration for Mallarmé and an interest, partly filtered through Mallarmé, in classical mythology. Perhaps what attracted him here, though – in a sequence of four chamber works of which this quartet piece is the most recent (Studies I–III being for violin/cello duo, string trio, and solo violin respectively) – were the intriguing possibilities of the title, its suggestion of a complex chain of thought about different media: a musical ‘study’ on a work of visual art titled as if it were an academic manuscript. Even its last term, ‘veil’, turns out to be richly polyvalent, suggesting various forms of both auditory and visual distancing but also (crossing media, or domains of knowledge, yet again) referring to the velo, a drawing instrument developed by Leonardo da Vinci to analyse and represent perspective.


Against this complex background of ideas the work’s musical effects are startlingly immediate. Perspective is evoked by whispered scurryings set against magically sustained harmonic tones, the constant hyper-detailing of very quiet, mobile sounds given extra depth by Pintscher’s characteristically ‘extended’ playing techniques (making the occasional normale note or phrase stand out almost like a sudden figurative element in a Twombly painting). The sound of the instruments is further altered – veiled – through two actions applied before performance: the viola’s C and G strings are retuned down a fourth and a major third respectively, and all four players ‘prepare’ their lowest two (or in the case of the viola three) strings with metal paperclips attached near the bridge.


© 2012 John Fallas


[from the booklet notes to JACK Quartet plays Ligeti – Pintscher – Cage – Xenakis (Wigmore Hall Live, 2012)]




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