Dialogue with Beethoven, Gordon, Moravec and the Enso

April 7, 2018

Paul Moravec (born 1957)

Dialogue, 2015

Paul Moravec Founded in 1930 and ostensibly the longest running summer chamber music festival in the United States, Music Mountain launched a five-year commissioning project in 2015. For the first year, they commissioned a work for the Enso String Quartet who recommended composer Paul Moravec. The theme for the commission was to create a dialogue with the past, specifically including a connection with the festival’s founder Jacques Gordon, violinist and leader of the Gordon String Quartet. Jonathan Yates, music director for Music Mountain at the time writes:

We knew we had to find someone quite unique for this project, because it involved creating a conversation with the past — literally, a new work for string quartet to be intertwined with the beautiful old recordings of the Gordon Quartet, the founders of Music Mountain ... There is a timelessness to Mr. Moravec’s style that I’ve always admired, and that I knew would be extremely effective in bringing the archival recordings back to life. There was still a further felicity. Mr. Moravec is a member of New York City’s Century Club and was acquainted through that institution with Music Mountain’s President Nick Gordon — who is the son of Jacques Gordon, the first violinist of the Gordon Quartet. So, here at Music Mountain, we eagerly look forward to seeing this musical family affair come to light!

An American composer born in Buffalo, NY in 1957, Paul Moravec elaborates:

Dialogue takes as its point of departure two recorded excerpts from Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 15 (op. 132) in a 1946 performance by the Gordon Quartet at the Library of Congress. The Enso Quartet responds in live performance to the Gordons with my musical commentary on Beethoven’s mastery as well as on the mysterious kinship between artists separated by the passage of time but united in the service of an ideal.

Jacques Gordon For the archival excerpts featured as part of the live performance, Moravec choose two different passages from Beethoven's Op. 132: the opening motif from the first movement and its transformation in the beginning of the “Song of Thanksgiving”, the monumental slow movement centerpiece. The performance begins with the first excerpt: the beginning of Beethoven’s song featuring a rising four-note motif forming imitative counterpoints as each of the four players enter, one at time, but overlapping (from high to low). Beethoven follows this brief but pregnant segment with a somber hymn as players join into a harmonic unity. After this “two-part” sample, the live Enso Quartet joins the fray. Soon after, the second Beethoven excerpt appears: the matching progenitor motif that begins Op. 132, a slightly darker, cramped version of the four-note canon based on half-steps (from low to high). According to many, this hauntingly expressive motif recurs in at least three of Beethoven’s late quartets thematically binding them together into an extraordinary triptych. Here, the Enso will overlap with the recorded excerpt adding dramatic tremolos and contrapuntal extensions right on top of Beethoven’s music in newly composed layers.

Ludwig van Beethoven Moravec’s music seems to grow organically from the Beethoven passages as it assumes longer expanses and engages in dialogue at least four more times with the first and the second Beethoven samples. The result is a striking composite of call and response, old and new, classical and contemporary in a kind of virtual octet that embraces Beethoven’s composition of 1825, the Gordon Quartet’s recording of 1946, Moravec's Dialogue of 2015 and the live Enso Quartet performance in the here and now. The living performance manifests a 4-part dialogue spanning 190 years.

This program note is dedicated to the Enso String Quartet. A fifth dimension has been added to Moravec's Dialogue for me personally while attending two live performances by the Enso in San Jose (April 7/8, 2018), among the last concerts of their farewell tour. Congratulations Enso on 20 years of superb music making. You have enriched our lives with your artistry.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.