Roger Bourland: String Quartet No.1, “Four Poets”

April 3, 2007

String Quartet No.1, “Four Poets” (2006)

1. Ezra Pound


2. Friederich Schiller


3. James Merrill


4. William Carlos Williams


Performed by Ives Quartet
Bettina Mussumeli, violin
Susan Freier, violin
Scott Woolweaver, viola
Stephen Harrison, cello

Recorded by Bob Schumaker


Program notes

Of late I have found musical portraits stimulating to my compositional flow. I have a piano quartet called “Four Painters” and collections of songs in sets of four called “Four Endsongs” and “Four ApartSongs” and “Four XmasSongs”. In the early eighties I had a propensity to write pieces in three movements. In the late 70s I wrote pieces in seven movements. (I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s true.)

The poets I’ve chosen are poets I seem to be incapable of setting as songs. Their poems are just fine as they are and don’t need music to amplify them.

1. I love the obsessive mad genius of Ezra Pound. Pound, like Arnold Schoenberg, was aware of his “place” in the history/tradition of poetry. Many times the literary references in his poetry are beyond mortal comprehension — at least this mortal. Nonetheless, I love the mad proclamation in his work. Pound proclaimed that artists are the antennae of society. Amen!

2. Friederich Schiller was the poet who supplied Beethoven with “alle menschen werden brüdern” in his 9th Symphony. Again, I think it’s the Dionysian proclamation in Schiller that I find so musically stimulating.

3. James Merrill was a personal friend, as well of one my favorite poets. My problem in trying to make songs out of his poems, is that when I read his poetry, I hear him reading them. And that’s enough. I don’t feel compelled to sing it, or cause it to be sung. But the magical world he opens up in his poetry is one I would love to explore musically. So I did in this movement. A work in the tradition of Philip Glass, but mine has better tunes than his ever has. It’s a long magical movement I encourage you to close your eyes and go where it takes you. It is the druggiest of the movements. I won’t jab you if you fall asleep.

4. William Carlos Williams is a poet many of us know and love. His work emanates the joy of being alive in a very down to earth way. Again, his poetry speaks to me as music, but not as song. His overall “up” nature seemed a good way to cap off this set of portraits.

The work is dedicated to the Ives Quartet and my aunt and co-commissioner, Ardis Bourland.


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