Wandering Worlds

Wandering Worlds is a piece for String Quartet in three movements.

Movement I: The piece opens with a ‘wandering’ chorale- a distant, ethereal passage for tremolo strings that feels constantly adrift in the emptiness of space. This ‘wandering’ chorale links several different ‘worlds’ of sound, each based on the main motif- a leap of a sixth followed by a leap of a seventh. The ‘worlds’ are incredibly varied, yet all seem mysterious and alien- a desolate world with high harmonics and ‘wind’ sounds from bowing the bridge of the cello; an ominous world with microtonal glissandi and fast, rustling gestures; a mysterious and calm world where the musicians sing a lonely melody at different speeds; a distorted microtonal version of a fragment of a Bach-like fugue on the theme, and a landscape of long glissandos and bright harmonics. At the very end of the movement, the opening desolation returns, but this time the viola plays the main motif on top of it- the first time a melody has been clearly presented, being like the first familiar voice in an alien world. The wandering chorale does not return, so it is as if finally we have found a world to stay in.

Movement II: A few echoes of the chromatic bassline of the ‘wandering’ chorale quickly build up to a fast folk-like dance, with the main motif from the first movement becoming a driving triplet accompaniment in the bass. After several minutes of the dance, it repeats a microtonal cadential figure over and over, speeding up into a frenzy of notes, and then transforms into a different dance- this one where the quartet mimics a percussion ensemble, fixing each instrument to a set sound and only using rhythmic ideas from the dance. This continues for a while until suddenly the first dance jarringly intrudes. The accompanimental figure, now in the second violin, gradually slows down as the dance dissipates, and for a brief moment takes on a beautiful, romantic form, but then is cut off. Now the violin begins a gypsy folk dance transformation of the dance theme, speeding up faster and faster until the theme disappears into a whirlwind of notes. This accelerando happens three times, and each time more instruments join melodically, and it gets more and more dissonant, until finally, all four instruments play the dance theme in four different keys simultaneously, playing faster and faster until the dance breaks down and becomes a blur of random notes, and collapses in one final thud to end the movement.

Movement III: As a response to all the violence and dissonance of the second movement, the third movement takes the main motif from the first movement and transfigures it as a romantic Adagio, alternating quickly between hymn-like solemnity and outbursts of passion. The second theme is a recitative for the second violin in free time, again an intensely romantic transformation of the theme. The dance from the second movement attempts to return, briefly picking up, but it swept away as the hymn returns. However, as it builds to its climax, the hymn becomes twisted with the microtones from the earlier movements, and explodes into a massive tremolo, with the viola repeating the main motif of the whole piece over and over again. Suddenly the rest of the instruments disappear, and the viola collapses slowly downward. Now the hymn returns, but quietly, without the fiery passion that it once had. Twice it tries to restart, but each time all the instruments drop out except for one, playing the main motif as a lone voice against the infinite emptiness of the tremolo strings behind it. The opening of the movement returns in skeletal form- just the top and bottom voices, with no harmony, and with the middle voices replaced by ‘wind’ sounds on the bridge of the instruments. As this disappears, we hear the ‘wandering’ chorale again from the first movement- as if it is finally time to move on from this ‘world’ of sound. However, the wandering chorale stops, unable to continue, and then the cello plays a low Db, and in a vision of fragile peace the upper instruments spell out a Db major chord, rising continuously based on the main motif, until their high harmonics dissipate into the air.

Score (pdf): 

Recording of the 3rd Movement (performed by the Corda Quartet: Judith Kim, violin; Heather Borror, violin; Emmeran Pokorny, viola; Yang Lu, cello):

For additional information, questions, or parts requests, contact Aidan at aidangol@usc.edu.