Quatuor II by Betsy Jolas/Sound Energy featuring Emily Thorner

Sound Energy

“Quatuor II” (1964) by Betsy Jolas, recorded live from Seully Hall at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee as part of New Music Gathering IV on May 18th 2018.

Sound Energy
Micah Brightwell, violin
Samuel Kelder, viola
Benjamin Swartz, cello
with special guest Emily Thorner, soprano

From composer’s notes:
“This is a quartet ‘with voice’ in the same way that in the eighteenth century quartets were written with flute or oboe – that is, for three instruments belonging to the same family and one that is fundamentally different. This does not mean that, in the present case, the voice is used to suggest any other instrument than itself, but only that its functions are instrumental ones.
“The result is a new relationship, that of equals, between the stringed instruments and the singer, who no longer assumes the role of a soloist.
“This relationship will quite naturally govern the placing of the four performers at the concert. The singer, who carries the upper part in the quartet, will occupy, seated, the place of the first violin, and be given a music stand for her score, while the three instrumentalists complete the traditional seating arrangement.
“Such a conception did not seem to admit of a text, the meaning of which, even supposing that it were at times intelligible, would be perceived as ‘superprinting.’
“In the absence of a text, the indispensable vocal articulation is obtained through a flexible set of phonemes representing the vocal equivalent of bowings and tonguings.
“Their basic sounds usually imply French pronunciation, consequently French spelling. But in order to avoid meaningful associations in any language, these phonemes are subjected to constant variations of form and color.
“It is therefore recommended that the singer, throughout the work, cultivate what are called faults of diction, i.e., hardly distinguishable and insufficiently articulated consonants and barely formed, constantly fluctuating vowels.”