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Music By Members => Works in Progress: Junior => Topic started by: Jerry Engelbach on November 18, 2019, 09:17:06 AM

Title: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 18, 2019, 09:17:06 AM
I came across this interesting site:
A "String Quartet Smackdown" in Texas.
It's a competition open to anyone, for a four-minute piece for string quartet.
I dug out some old ideas and came up with this.
The deadline for submission is December 1, so any timely feedback you can give me will be much appreciated.

Dropbox has a bug in it. The audio may show as more than four minutes, but the playing time is four minutes exactly.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: sandalwood on November 18, 2019, 02:10:51 PM
Jer, such contests are absolutely unfamiliar to me. on the website, I listened to the vids on the previous contest(s?), fragments of competing pieces etc. I also tried to listen to the works the House has commissioned. As I understand, the "House"  is into electronic-spiked, sort of avantgarde stuff...and apparently it is they that make the preliminary screening down to 16 contestants, so the submitted piece should better sound modern which I think yours does. Then, an "audience" votes in a tournament style show-down. So, the winning work probably has to have crowd-pleasing charms, as well. We know, from the recent Variations for instance, that you can communicate to people's emotions but it sounds to me  that you have chosen to somewhat restrict yourself in this work.

The piece sounds well-crafted with no rough edges as I hear it. I noticed the 2:00 minute line conveniently aligns with a phrase end but before that it is like at 1:04, not 1:00. Best wishes for the contest!
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 18, 2019, 02:29:00 PM
Of course.
I don't care about winning. Nor do I have a prayer.
I just like the opportunity to show it to people and measure my progress.
Thanks for checking it out.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: whitebark on November 19, 2019, 10:45:18 AM
Nice little string quartet, Jer. I liked the crunchy modern harmonic language that you used in it. Good use of the motive melody announced at the beginning of the piece. It was fun to listen for the various occurrences and variations of the motive later on.

The three part  slow-fast-slow structure worked well, although the ending seemed a bit abrupt. Perhaps draw out the end a little bit with more of a coda and stronger ending cadence of some sort?

It sounded like  the different voices in the quartet were used well.  Writing a string quartet will test your counterpoint skills!

I didn't examine the score for technical problems - maybe I'll do that later.

Good work all in all!


Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 19, 2019, 10:47:17 AM
Jer, avoid using the "arp." line for a multistop. it will be played arpeggiated anyways. it you want to specify that the two bottom notes are played simultaneously, then write those as a doublestop grace note, tied to the same notes in the chord.

Now, you have a barred triplestop at measure 2 (F# C# G#) that will be awkward. why not give the G# to the viola?
And again at measure 5 you have 5ths, which would require barring the chord with one finger. Not the most idiomatic writing.

While they aren't "impossible" or necessarily very difficult, 5ths as doublestops remain, to a certain extent, awkward. What precedes and what follows has to be carefully thought out as far as fingering is concerned.

examining the opening measures, it seems more suited to having the melodic material that is presently in the cello, played by the viola.
measure 8 could be a viola doublestop, with the open G string (marked with a tiny "0" next to the note) while the C - B could be played on the C string.
OR, give the2nd violin that C - B, and let the viola double stop open string G with the F above.

No slurs on pizzicato notes. ever.

sfz or accents, not both. I'd use the marcato articulation (looks like a little triangular hat. there is also a version with a dot in the hat that is for sharply accented and shortened notes.)

at D, why make that a single line? let the cello double the viola on its entrance, choose nicely crunchy notes (not a unison doubling). Then continue, letting the viola AND cello play 16th notes that bring them down to the next measure. gives it the potential for a nice crescendo.

at E, do you really want the viola playing all those notes single-bowed? while the cello and violins are slurring everything?
just a question. if that IS what you want then there's no problem.
some suggestions for colour at that particular spot: for the viola, have it play sul pont. or in double notes (a single slash mark through each stem). or as a tremolo (triple slash marks through the stems). just ideas to toss around.

measure 46, that dynamic change needs to be more clearly specified. if it is a subito change, then the 2nd violin needs to be notated as two half notes. I would recommend changing the bow marking in 1st violin to cover half a bar then half a bar on the dynamic change.

measure before F, again, either sfz or accent, not both.
since it's a pizzicato, I'd suggest just marking it as ff. Pizz is, itself, a form of accent when played loudly.

at 57-58, in the viola, considering the dynamic I'd recommend dividing that into two slurs. the same goes for the violins at measure 60.

at 59, you won't get a good result out of sfz AND slurred notes. if you really want strong accents then remove the slur and let each note be individually bowed. you can specify "non-detachez" if you really need those to be not separated. though to my eye and ear it would go against the desired effect.

at 65, consider placing a cresc hairpin on beat 3. that will give a really nice effect.

68-70... again, accents or slurs, not both.

overall there are interesting ideas here, but you aren't treating the instruments as a "quartet". you're treating them as 4 individual instruments.
consider that 2 instruments can overlap, superimpose, share material.
the 2nd violin with the viola, the viola with the cello.

consider that you want the 2nd violin to dominate every once in a while, be above the 1st violin. The same goes for the viola, and the cello.
all of these instruments can VERY comfortably go an octave above their highest open string. and for professionals, this extends to 2 octaves up (though one has to be more careful with the viola, as it has a shorter neck, proportionately, than a violin, and very quickly reaches uncomfortable hand positions in high registers. the thickness of the body of the instrument is also an impediment to playing higher notes).

The cello can comfortably, and beautifully, play up into treble clef, up to the F 5th line, and higher. Though this high register has to be approached with care since a hand position change is necessary. (so no hopping from a very low note - unless it's an open string - to a very high note)

The viola can easily play the A above that, and then up to the C above that. though the viola doesn't lend itself quite as well to those extreme high notes as the cello or violin (because of the physics of the construction of the instrument). It rapidly loses tonal beauty.

Violins can very easily go two octaves above their high E string. The thing about the violin is that it never loses tonal beauty, even in very extreme high registers.

Wishing you the best of luck with this competition.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 21, 2019, 12:19:43 AM
Thanks much for your input and appreciation.
I like the idea of a coda. However, the competition requires a more or less exactly four-minute length, so I would have to shorten it elsewhere.
Still, I have a little over a week, so it may be worth a shot.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 21, 2019, 12:23:39 AM
Whew. Iím overwhelmed by the amount of valuable detail in your post.
Itís the middle of the night now. Tomorrow Iím going to start work on your suggestions, and hope to be able to post a revision by the end of the weekend.
Many thanks.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 21, 2019, 06:38:57 AM
to give you an idea of hand positions (and why playing more than one 5th interval at a time is near impossible), I took some pictures of my hand on my viola.
I'm holding the instrument on my knee, in the direction a cello would be, but the string numbers, and finger positions are the same, whether help under the neck or between the legs.

The first image indicates the numbers are tuning of the strings. Numbers are the same for all instruments (with the rarer 5-string basses having one extra string marked... you guessed it: V). Numbers go from highest string to lowest string I - II - III - IV - (V)

The upper notes show the tuning of the strings on a violin: G - D - A - E
The lower notes show the tuning on both viola and cello: C - G - D - A
(contrabass, not included here, is a case in particular, as its strings are tuned a 4th apart.)

This image also shows what you would have to do to play consecutive 5ths on a string instrument (other than contrabass). One finger would have to cover multiple strings (like one would "bar" a chord on the guitar). This is not idiomatic on string orchestral instruments, however. Guitars have frets, which guarantee that no matter where you press you will get the right note, in tune. Orchestral strings do not have frets, and thus are victim to the vagaries of finger placement. A fraction of an inch can demolish the unity of an entire string section.

The 2nd image shows the most comfortable hand position the 4th finger (pinky) is on the highest string, and the 1st finger (index) is on the lowest string. The intervals give approximately a 6th apart starting on the highest string, work your way down, 6th by 6th. The result is more or less (on a violin) high C, E, G, B.
One reason the hand position is comfortable is that no finger crosses a string that is unfingered. In other words, the fleshy part of any finger doesn't risk hitting a string that needs to vibrate freely.

The 3rd image shows the less-comfortable inverted hand position, with the 1st finger (index) on the highest string, and the 4th finger (pinky) on the lowest string.
THIS is one of those examples where the fleshy part of a finger, crossing over an upper string to finger a lower string, could inhibit that higher string from vibrating freely.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 21, 2019, 02:18:12 PM
Yes, I see clearly how difficult some fingerings would be.
It was good of you to take the photos.
I have some revising to do.
Many thanks again.

Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 21, 2019, 04:51:56 PM
the reversed hand position isn't "impossible", but it's probably best to speak to a string player of the right caliber if you intend on using a chord in that position.
sometimes a chord can be easy to play by itself, but within the context of the phrase it's impossible.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 22, 2019, 05:58:28 PM
Got it.
Iím new to this and have no contact with live classical musicians, so Iíd better keep it simple.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 23, 2019, 12:57:04 PM
a quick trick when calculating multistops:

count the steps from the open string from highest, down to lowest.
the intervals should get smaller and smaller as you go down the strings.
So for example
E string: largest interval (for example, a B a 5th above the open string)
A string: 2nd largest interval (for example, a D, a 4th above the A string)
D string: smaller interval (for example, an F# above the open D string)
G string: smallest interval (for example, an A above the open G string)

This hand placement means the hand position is as natural as can be.
But you don't want a chord where on one string, there is an octave above the open string, and where the next strings down are a 4rth, a 3rd, and a 2nd.
This would mean stretching between the 4th finger (pinky) and the 3rd finger (ring finger) that requires too large a hand.

Also, if you're writing a violin 4-note chord, and the highest note is a major 3rd above the open E string, then you have to understand that you have VERY little space to maneuver. there will have to be an open string somewhere below that, or two strings a 5th apart, fingered with one finger on both strings.

For example, starting from high to low: A, C#, E, and low A.
The highest A could be played with the 3rd or 4th finger.
The C# with either 3 or 2.
And the low interval A - E (a perfect 5th) would be fingered with the index (placing the finger between the strings, which would stop them both. This works in low positions because the strings are close to the fingerboard, and close to each other... HOWEVER, this does not work in higher positions as the strings get higher off the fingerboard and further apart.)

So overall, I'd stick to simple doublestops.
6ths are ideal, very easy to play.
8ves can only really be comfortably played on the violin. they are very playable, but still more demanding of advanced skill than a 6th.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 24, 2019, 09:24:23 AM
Yes, I understand. I have charts of the fingerboards of the four instruments, which together with your information should help.

The Forsyth book illustrates many multistops. Do you think those are a reliable guide?
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 24, 2019, 10:48:36 AM
absolutely those will help.

just be aware that depending on the structure of the phrase, where the multi-stop is in that phrase (if you're including it as part of a phrase) it will affect the playability.

for example, chances are a 4-note chord, where every string is fingered, you would try to avoid having the highest note continue with a rising phrase. or at least understand that there WILL be a sort of "cut" in the sound as the whole hand will shift to place a lower finger on that string.

on the other hand (well, the same hand!) if your phrase drops from that highest note, either with a leap down, or a scalar passage, it will be more natural.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 26, 2019, 09:53:31 AM
Here is the revised version of my string quartet.

I incorporated many of Michel's suggestions, but no major ones as I'm too slow a worker and the December 1 deadline is looming.

I used workarounds to fix the impossible-to-play multistops.

I couldn't write a real coda as Jay suggested but I did slightly extend the ending.

Many thanks to Reha and Jay for your responses, and especially to Michel for his lengthy critique and valuable advice.

I have not yet gone through the score to make the accidentals consistent and other tweaking.

Score: (
Audio: (

Once again, the DropBox bug may show the piece to be 28 minutes long, when in actuality it is exactly four minutes.

Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: mjf1947 on November 26, 2019, 01:17:56 PM

Very enjoyable ..... lots of energy and diversity in the work as well as drama!

Good luck on your submission to the jury.

Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: sandalwood on November 27, 2019, 12:23:38 AM
Yes,really enjoyable, it sounds like the story of a fun journey to me with plenty of bells and whistles. It further sounds tight and well-finished and makes sense to me throughout. Melodies, harmony, rhythms etc all support the narrative, to my ears, at every moment. The departure and arrival are more dreamy and wandering but are still tight and fun, imo.  You must've had quite some time with the bowings and fingerings!

Best wishes again.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 27, 2019, 02:00:33 AM
a quick comment: starting at measure 38, you can't slur a bunch of repeated notes like that. so remove that phrase marking.
remember that in string writing a phrase marking has a VERY different meaning than in woodwind writing.

At E, in the viola, I presume you mean beats 2-4 to be a trill/tremolo. if that's the case, then you must break the beam from the half note stems. I WOULD advise against writing it that way though. instead, write beat 2 as tremolo, then beats 3 and 4 together as a half note tremolo.

the thing is, are you writing that as a short-hand for all 8th notes? if so, don't. write out ALL the 8th notes.
if it's unmeasured, then write a trill instead.

the slurs starting at E in the cello are way too long. those are impossible to play. again, remember that a slur/phrase marking in string writing does NOT mean "phrase this music together". It means "play this in one bow stroke".
I'd instead suggest writing "sustenuto" and slur the notes 4 by 4.

Go over all those slurs. if there are any repeated notes within a slur, then you must break the slur. If you have more than one measure under a slur, I'd recommend breaking that into more manageable chunks.

A good rule of thumb is that the louder the dynamics, the fewer notes you can fit into one bow stroke.

If possible, try to restrict slurs to one measure or fewer, unless the tempo is relatively fast, or the dynamic very soft.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Michel.R.E on November 27, 2019, 02:07:25 AM
when you start going over your accidentals, try and avoid flats (string players tend not to like playing passages in flats because it alters the fingering in odd ways). At 53 in violin 1, the Cb should be a B natural.

avoid augmented 2nds. for example, measure 54 in violin 1. that Dd should be a C#.

sometimes, because of the harmonic language you can't avoid writing passages that contain slightly awkward enharmonics, but still, try to at least remove those that are not awkward.

so at measure 64, make that Ab a G#. it will be a more logical progression for the viola, and easier to read. It will also avoid those dreadful flats  ;)

I presume you haven't gone through the score yet for collisions and whatnot, don't forget those... especially hairpins colliding with dynamics.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on November 27, 2019, 06:14:05 AM
Thank you Mark and Reha. Your input is much appreciated.
Thank you again, Michel. You're helping me to avoid many faux pas.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Patrick O'Keefe on December 08, 2019, 02:34:34 PM
Does anything happen now, or do you just hold your breath until February?
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on December 11, 2019, 05:49:26 AM
Does anything happen now, or do you just hold your breath until February?
They donít acknowledge anyone except the sixteen finalists, so Iíd probably turn blue if I held my breath.
Anyway, entering the competition against so many good composers was a lark, so I donít expect to make the cut.
Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: smartysocks on January 25, 2020, 06:57:50 AM
Hey Jer

Totally dug the piece and how you revised it. I am remiss  this morning to articulate why I like your revisions, but I do.

I hope it goes well at the competition. Keep us in the loop.

Curious, because it is a competetion,  I am sure peoples' sounds are being processed after the fact, and am curious if your work judged solely by the playback? Or is it the written work as well? If it is soley playback, what playback program do you use?

I use NOTION and like it because it allows me to tweak the dynamics of the parts, add effects if I wish, and randomize some of the note values making it sound more human. However, I was listening to Mark's " Parade of the Vagabonds " the other day and was impressed by Noteperformer. It really adds to Finale or Sibelius.  Are you familiar with it?

Like always, Thanks for sharing, and best of Luck in the competition.


Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: Jerry Engelbach on January 29, 2020, 08:42:39 AM
Hi Mark,

Sorry to take a while to respond. Thanks much for your comments.

No, I didn't make the finals. They choose only 16 finalists out of hundreds of entries. But I enjoyed working on the piece. I learned a lot. I like to work with deadlines and with restraints such as length.

I don't know how they judge. They don't say. Perhaps they use the sound file to screen the entires on the first pass, and use the scores of the remaining pieces to evaluate playability.

I'm running Finale with Note Performer 3 on a Mac.

Title: Re: String Quartet
Post by: smartysocks on January 29, 2020, 01:30:43 PM
Hey Jer,

Sorry you didn't make the finals, but doing the work is like money in the bank ! It will pay off.

I am sort of the same..... I sometimes need a gun to head, in the form of a deadline, in order to make the final push  to finish a piece. Show dates and rehearsal schedules definitely do it for me. Also I need limitations in order to create else I am only spinning my wheels.

Right now Note performer does not work with Notion, the program I use, and it may never. So for now I guess I will stick with Notion.

Again thanks for sharing I guess now you have time to work on a piece for next year's competiton !!!

Ciao for now,

Mark aka Mr Mark