JUDITH LANG ZAIMONT: String Quartet, The Figure – Movement 1, “In Shadow”

The Harlem String Quartet
from the world premiere performances, September 15-17, 2007.

Figure — shape or contour — is a term used in several of the arts:
“figure of speech” in literature, and the human form, or just the
countenance, in drawing. In music, a figure is an identifiable
sequence of pitches with a characteristic rhythm. Longer than a
motive yet shorter than a theme, the musical figure need not be worked
out or varied upon its returns; if the composer wishes it can simply
remain itself.

Everything in String Quartet — The Figure derives from the three-part
figure of the opening bars — a “sighing” chromatic two-chord unit,
motive of four quick notes then a longer one, and a forceful downward
progression. The first movement, In Shadow, is an essay in three
parts. Dramatic and rhetorical in its outer sections, its mid-section
scurries in fast compound meters and calls for foot-stamps as added
energizers, arriving eventually in the highest registers.
In that “shadows” can conceal or reveal, the movement is marked
“With Passion”.

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