Sessions, Wolpe & Babbitt: Quartets
Liner Notes   Cat. No. NWCR587     Release Date: 1990-01-01

The Juilliard String Quartet: Robert Mann, violin; Joel Smirnoff, violin; Samuel Rhodes, viola; Joel Krosnick, cello


Pity those composers who are victimized by the vagaries of musical taste. During the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of the avant-garde, atonal serialism was proclaimed as the path to the future, while tonal Americanists were viewed as hopeless anachronisms. But during the 1970s and 1980s, a revival of tonality saw neo-Romanticism and minimalism take center stage, while serialism was dismissed as arid and academic.

One of the unfortunate side-effects of this reaction against serialism has been a tendency to see the movement as monolithic, as if all those composers who wrote twelve-tone music sounded alike. But nothing could be further from the truth. For serialism is only a method of composition; it presupposes no style, and can embrace everything from the Bach chorale in Berg's Violin Concerto (1935), to the wide- open sonorities of Copland's Piano Fantasy (1957), to the boogie-woogie of Tobias Picker's Keys to the City (1983).

Nor are the mechanics of the method resistant to personal choice. In fact, serialism, despite its reputation for mathematical constraint, is hardly more restrictive than the tonal system, which dictates innumerable harmonic and melodic conventions that a tonal composer is obliged to accept. Roger Sessions, who did not adopt serialism until he was well into his fifties, often stressed that the method was anything but confining. "Serialism is neither the arbitrary nor the rigid set of prescriptions that it is often supposed to be," he wrote. "Precisely because it is a living process and not a dogma, it means something different and shows a different aspect in every individual personality."

And nothing better proves the flexibility of serialism than the three composers represented on this disc. Each reinterpreted serialism in a highly personal manner, and each turned the method to the service of a vastly divergent style. In our era, when serialism has seemingly gone out of fashion, their music makes a passionate case for the continued viability of an often maligned musical movement.



This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available for order from New World Records as an on-demand CD (CD-R). It can also be downloaded in MP3/320, FLAC and/or WAV format(s).

Juilliard String Quartet

Sessions, Wolpe & Babbitt: Quartets

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Track Listing

String Quartet No. 2: I. Lento
Roger Sessions
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String Quartet No. 2: II. Allegro appassionato, Alla breve
Roger Sessions
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String Quartet No. 2: III. Andante tranquillo
Roger Sessions
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String Quartet No. 2: IV. Adagio
Roger Sessions
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String Quartet No. 2: V. Adagio
Roger Sessions
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String Quartet: I. Quarter Note = 92
Stefan Wolpe
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String Quartet: II. Quarter Note = 44
Stefan Wolpe
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String Quartet No. 4
Milton Babbitt
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