Composed by Saad Haddad.
Premiered by the Callisto Quartet.
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In writing my second string quartet, I looked back to a movement of my first string quartet, Fugha, which superimposed the Arab maqamat (modes) over the harmonic motion of a fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier by J. S. Bach. As I composed, I quite enjoyed this process of ruminating on what Bach might have done if presented with the rich tapestry of possibility from the microtonally inflected Arab modes coupled with his ingenious sense of counterpoint and harmony.
For this work, I went further back in time for inspiration, turning to the often-overlooked Nicola Vicentino, an Italian composer and theorist from the Renaissance period. In his 16th century treatise, “L’antica musica ridotta alla prattica moderna,” he devised a 31-tone system (our “standard” Western system has only 12 tones!) which includes his four-part madrigal, “Musica prisca caput,” where he put his ideas into practice. I used this work as a harmonic template for my own musical exploration. This madrigal is organized into three parts that are distinguished by their pitch content: (1) diatonic (7 possible tones), (2) chromatic (12 possible tones), and (3) microtonal (31 possible tones(!)).
In my work, every chord in “Musica prisca caput” is chronologically represented: almost all of them with their original voice leading, many of which are solely in root position! They vary from the original by the extension of range (beyond what is possible with human singers), expansion of timbral possibilities (i.e. glissandi, tremolandi, harmonics, etc.), and the implementation of the maqamat to establish a new melodic context for Vicentino’s contrapuntal writing.
By focusing on this distinctly Western point of departure, I hope to provoke a renewed awareness of the richness of Arab traditions and how their facets can coexist within our global cultural landscape.
This work was commissioned by the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts for A String Quartet Library for the 21st Century. The World Premiere was given by the Callisto Quartet at Caramoor, Katonah, NY on July 1, 2021.
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