Click to enlargeAir In C (string quartet)

This melody, which is rather unimaginatively entitled "Air in C," was originally written for solo piano. It is a rather haunting tune, and I found myself humming it from time to time as I went about doing whatever.

Eventually, as sometimes happens, I found myself humming fragments of a countermelody. This countermelody was a sort of running eighth note part, rising and falling as the harmonies progressed on by. Eventually, I heard a string quartet in my head, with the viola carrying the rolling eighth note part, the cello playing a continuo-like quarter note sequence, and the second violin playing a series of melodic phrases that fill out the harmony and support the first violin on melody. Surprisingly, it went down on paper about as I had heard it. That is, until the first occurrence of the "B" section.

The "A" section establishes a theme that comes back twice more in the piece. It forms the noodle part of our pasta dish. The sauce comes in the "B" section, a soaring exploration of related keys. Since I think nothing soars quite like a cello, I gave the melody to the cello in the "B" section and gave the three chin-mounted instruments a simple rhythmic pattern on which to play the supporting harmony. Besides which, how often do you hear a soaring cello? You hear soaring violins every day, but a soaring cello-- that's a rare treat.

This piece has the same A-B-A-B-A structure of the piano solo of the same name, and borrows its melody. The harmonies were altered somewhat, and the melody was dropped an octave in the "B" section to accommodate the range of the cello. Rhythmically, only the melody bears any resemblance to the piano piece. If nothing else, it is interesting to compare the two pieces and listen for the differences.

As a low brass player, I have played a great many wonderful pieces that had excessively boring supporting parts. I believe (and I think I am in agreement with one J. S. Bach on this point) that all of the players should have interesting parts to play, so far as it is musically possible. So in this piece, the cellist has the continuo and the solo line to play, the violist gets the juicy rollercoaster eighth note countermelody, and the two violinists get sweet melodic phrases. The three higher voices do have the rhythmic accompaniment during the "B" sections, but at least there is bowing technique to work on. I guess the cellist and violist will love it, and the violinists will be able to take it or leave it. Life is like that some times.

If this piece were merely musicologically interesting there would be no point. I wrote it because I wanted to hear it; possibly other folks would want to hear it as well.

This can be well performed by a competent high school string quartet with the traditional voicing (two violins, a viola, and a cello). It is suitable for a reception, or perhaps could find use as a wedding processional. It will probably work in a worship service, or it could be a concert piece, though perhaps not a very flashy one. There is that soaring cello thing, though.

MP3 sound sample: Entire piece (synthesizer/midi).



AIR IN C for string quartet, by Tom Kirkland, comes in a PDF file of 1528K that contains a five page score, four parts of two pages each, and a license page, fourteen pages in all. Performance time should be around 3:35.


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Last update: 27 September 2017