My Quartet for Oboe and Strings is modeled on Mozartʼs only oboe quartet, which he composed in 1781 for the virtuoso oboist Friedrich Ramm. Both works are in three movements totaling roughly 15 minutes of music in which the oboist plays a concertante role.
I am often inspired by literature when I compose. Novels are my go-to inspiration, but this piece references three works of non-fiction, made explicit by the title of each movement. “A Sense of Banditry,” my first movement, paraphrases a line from Anne Carsonʼs essay “On the Sublime in Longinus and Antonioni” from her 2005 collection Decreation. She writes how it is “exciting and dangerous” to “loot someone elseʼs life or sentences and make off with a point of view.” Of my three movements, this is the one most closely modeled on Mozartʼs, and sounds a bit as if Mozartʼs music were reflected in the aural equivalent of a broken mirror.
“Exciting and Peaceful” is Gertrude Steinʼs assessment of Paris in her delightful autobiographical Paris, France. A kind of love letter to her adopted home town, it was published in 1940 on—this quotation notwithstanding—the day Paris succumbed to Nazi Germany. In the case of my second movement, “exciting and peaceful” evokes the expectant stillness of night and is reminiscent, in character though less in detail, of Mozartʼs slow movement, with its combination of baroque-inspired reserve and operatic pathos.
The third movement of Mozartʼs quartet features a famous and curious passage in which the oboist plays in 4/4 while the strings persist in the movementʼs general time signature of 6/8. This rare occurrence of polymeter in a classical work lasts only 13 bars, but in my third movement I make polymeter its raison dʼêtre. Throughout, the strings play in 5/8 while the oboist, most often notated in 2/4, dallies with measure divisions of 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and even 16. My title, “Slide,” is taken from a musical game that Kyra Gaunt describes in her musicological study The Games Black Girls Play. Gaunt says that Slide (the game) trains girls “to perform at least two different rhythmic orientations at once,” and that such games “are as much a social and phenomenological formula as they are motor-rhythmic formulas that contribute to musical events.” Although my “Slide” is only vaguely related to the specifics of the game, Gauntʼs description feels like a lovely summation of what we do as musicians in general—play (often) complex “games” that encourage social adhesion as well as provide aesthetic pleasure.
Quartet for Oboe and Strings was commissioned by Lois Lehrman Grass for Erin Hannigan and the Dallas Symphony Chamber Players.