Duration ca. 27 minutes
Instrumentation: Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello
Commissioned by the Grand Teton Music Festival
Premiered on August 2, 2018 at the Grand Teton Music Festival’s Walk Festival Hall by
Angela Fuller-Heyde, Violin
Marta Krechkovsky, Violin
Susan Gulkis Assadi, Viola
Charae Krueger, Cello
I. Al-Ghurub الغروب
II. Al-Shafaq الشفق
Twilight “The beginning of the darkness of night. When the darkness becomes confused & obstructs the view of the aspects of things.”
III. Al-Ghasaq الغسق
“Fully dark. The night poured down upon the small mountains & covered them with darkness.”
IV. Al-Sudfa السدفة
“The commingling of light & darkness. Meaning the ‘light’ or ‘the darkness’; or the darkness and the light are called by one and the same name because each of them comes upon the other”.
V. Al-Fahma الفحمة
“The most intense blackness of the night: so called because of its heat; for the first part of the night is hotter than its last part.”
VI. Al-Buhra البهرة
Midnight. “The night reached the point when all its stars shone.”
VII. Al-Sahar السحر
“The last part of the night. The time of the departure of the night and the coming of the day. The time of the breathing of the dawn.”
VIII. Al-Fajr Al-Katheb الفجر الكاذب
False dawn. “That which rises without extending laterally. Which appears black presenting itself like an obstacle.”
IX. Al-Fajr Al-Saadeq الفجر الصادق
True dawn. “That which appears rising, and fills the horizon with its whiteness. The day commences.”
When a composer writes his/her own program notes there is always the risk of imposing a ‘meaning’ of a work on the reader/listener. Perhaps it is better to describe what inspired the work at hand in order to avoid this. In the case of my String Quartet No. 1 – Shades of Night, the title alludes to a nocturnal source of inspiration. Specifically, the somewhat quite old and relatively archaic words in classical Arabic that describe the times of the day and night. Not only was I inspired by the original Arabic words but also by their translations into English. These translations are from the Arabic Lexicon, which is commonly known as Lane’s Lexicon as it was compiled by Edward William Lane (1801 – 1876). Lane was an English born Arabic language specialist who dedicated almost 20 years to the production of his Lexicon. He managed to capture the subtlety, complexity, and multifarious meanings of the Arabic language in an almost poetic way. In some of his translations, as in the title of movement III of this work, Lane quotes a line of poetry to further expand upon the definition that he provides. Lane died after completing the translation of up to the nineteenth of the twenty-eight letters of the Arabic alphabet. The Lexicon was completed by his grandnephew and biographer, Stanley Lane Poole. Lane’s Lexicon is still considered one of the best Arabic to English dictionaries ever produced.
I feel that this work is the third work in a trilogy that is preceded by “Clarinet Concerto: Adrift on the Wine-dark Sea” (2017) for clarinet and orchestra, and “Rage Against the Tyrant(s)” (2018) for mixed chorus and chamber orchestra. Both of these works were released on commercial recordings in late 2018 and 2023/24, respectively. The three works in this trilogy are connected through both musical materials as well as an awareness of the protracted Syrian civil war and its ripple effects. However, Shades of Night is a work that is much more intimate as it meditates on night as both a metaphor and a fact of nature. The harmonic material is based on a melody that is peppered throughout the work in fragments, but can be heard in its full form in the first violin during the last movement. Rhythmic elements of the work utilize poly-rhythms (two different rhythms performed simultaneously, creating a hybrid of the two). The poly-rhythms represent two different time zones which are separated by seven hours. As night begins in one time-zone, morning approaches in the other. With our hyper-connected world, it is possible to inhabit an emotional space within these two time zones despite actually being in only one. For this work, I chose nine Lane’s translations to represent/inspire each of its nine movements. The journey from dusk to dawn is as much an inward one as otherwise.
String Quartet No. 1 Shades of Night was commissioned by the Grand Teton Music Festival and is dedicated to the festival’s music director, Donald Runnicles.
© 2018 Kareem Roustom, Layali Music Publishing.