• Górecki: String Quartet no.2 (Nonesuch, 1993)


Górecki: Quasi una Fantasia (String Quartet no.2)
Nonesuch 79319 (1993)
Kronos Quartet

• Quasi una Fantasia (String Quartet no.2) (1991)




1.  Largo, Sostenuto-Mesto
2.  Deciso-Energico, Marcatissimo sempre
3.  Arioso: Adagio cantabile, ma molto espressivo e molto appassionato
4.  Allegro, sempre con grande passione e molto marcato

Górecki began Quasi una fantasia in his home city of Katowice on his 57th birthday, 6 December 1990 (St. Mikołaj’s Day), and finished the score three months later on 19 March 1991.  Commissioned by the Beigler Trust and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, and dedicated to the Kronos Quartet, it is the third in a series of major chamber pieces written in the past ten years.  It was preceded by Recitatives and Ariosos – Lerchenmusik, for clarinet, cello and piano, op.53 (1985) and Already it is Dusk (String Quartet no.1), op.62 (1988).  As a group, they represent a renewal of the composer’s interest in instrumental music during a decade of writing mainly for the voice.

Quasi una fantasia  shares some preoccupations with these and other predecessors: the slow pulsing opening is characteristic, as are the monodic fragments that gradually unfold in the first movement.  These back-references to Górecki’s heritage in the Polish Catholic church and its music are matched by his rock-like belief in the values of Polish folk culture.  In this quartet, there are several themes influenced by the folk tradition, but whether they are actually ‘drawn from life’ perhaps only the composer can tell.  In the second movement, these themes are initially developed in a bitonal context.  When, in a passage marked ‘Con grande passione, con grande tensione’, Górecki focuses on the basic tonality, the theme and accompanying drone seem to have stepped straight out of a folk string band, like those which he has heard on his many working sojourns in the nearby Tatra mountains.

The Arioso pits tonalities again, but more bitter than sweet, and the drones and melodies achieve only partial resolution.  The last movement owes much to the effervescent finale of the Harpsichord Concerto op.40 (1980), its basic theme-and-accompaniment once again rooted in folk practice.

This next paragraph was erroneously omitted from the CD booklet.
During the quartet, certain features become increasingly significant, even though their appearances may be spasmodic.  A rocking motif lies behind many of the ideas: sometimes it is a whole tone, sometimes a minor third, sometimes a combination of the two.  A tonal continuum of E natural is established in the first movement, of E and G in the second, and of E and C (alternating with F and C) in the third.  And although the finale breaks with this fundamental scheme, Górecki does return to the quartet’s starting point in the coda.  But not before a few surprises and imponderables.

Why, when the quartet has four distinct movements, is it called Quasi una fantasia?  Is it simply because the thematic ideas are more or less connected movement to movement?  Is it because some of these ideas relate to the only overt quotation in the work, which steals in sotto voce just before the final coda?  And what is the significance of this particular quotation (Górecki is fond of such things: Lerchenmusik quotes Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, the First String Quartet uses material from a Polish Renaissance lullaby)?  Is it seasonal, or related to Poland’s experiences of World War II, or connected in some way (most unlikely) to Penderecki’s more blatant use of the same tune in his Second Symphony (1980)?

Perhaps the mystery lies in the enigmatic cadential phrases that crop up from time to time.  Where have they come from; where are they going?  Do they relate to other composers and their practices?  However we may surmise his creative intentions, Górecki has composed in Quasi una fantasia a stark and passionate confrontation of musical ideas that follows in a long line of potent visions which he initiated over 35 years ago.

© 1993 Adrian Thomas


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