Composer: Shulamit Ran (b. 1949)
Performance date: 02/07/2017
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 2012-13
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category:String Quartet
Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello]) -
Third String Quartet was composed at the invitation of the Pacifica
Quartet, whose music-making I have come to know closely and admire
hugely. Already in our early conversations Pacifica proposed that
this Quartet might, in some manner, refer to the visual arts as a
point of germination. Probing further, I found out that the quartet
members had special interest in art created during the earlier part
of the 20th century, perhaps between the two world wars.
was my good fortune to have met, a short while later, while in
residence at the American Academy in Rome in the fall of 2011, art
conservationist Albert Albano who steered me to the work of Felix
Nussbaum (1904-1944), a German-Jewish painter who, like so many
others, perished in the Holocaust at a young age, and who left some
powerful, deeply moving art that spoke to the life that was
unravelling around him.
title of my string quartet takes its inspiration from a major exhibit
devoted to art by German artists of the period of the Weimar Republic
(1919-1933) titled Glitter
and Doom: German Portraits from the 1920s.
Nussbaum would have been a bit too young to be included in this
exhibit. His most noteworthy art was created in the last very few
years of his short life. The exhibit’s evocative title, however,
suggested to me the idea of Glitter,
Doom, Shards, Memory as a
way of framing a possible musical composition that would be a homage
to his life and art and to that of so many others like him during
that era. Knowing that their days were numbered, yet intent on
leaving a mark, a legacy, a memory, their art is triumph of the human
spirit over annihilation.
to my wish to compose a string quartet that would exist as pure
music, independent of a narrative, was my desire to effect an
awareness in my listener of matters which are, to me, of great human
concern. To my mind there is no contradiction between the two goals.
As in several other works composed since 1969, this is my way of
saying ‘do not forget’, something that, I believe, can be done
through music with special power and poignancy. The individual titles
of the quartet’s four movements give an indication of some of the
emotional strands this work explores.
That which happened
– is how the poet Paul Celan referred to the Shoah – the
Holocaust. These simple words served for me, in the first movement,
as a metaphor for the way in which an ordinary life, with its daily
flow and its sense of sweet normalcy, was shockingly, inhumanely,
is a shorter movement, mimicking a Scherzo. It is also machine-like,
incessant, with an occasional, recurring, waltz-like little tune –
perhaps the chilling grimace we recognize from the executioner’s
guillotine mask. Like the death machine it alludes to, it gathers
momentum as it goes, and is unstoppable.
If I perish – do not let
my paintings die; these
words are by Felix Nussbaum who, knowing what was ahead, nonetheless
continued painting till his death in Auschwitz in 1944. If the heart
of the first movement is the shuddering interruption of life as we
know it, the third movement tries to capture something of what I can
only imagine to be the conflicting states of mind that would have
made it possible, and essential, to continue to live and practice
one’s art – bearing witness to the events. Creating must have
been, for Nussbaum and for so many others, a way of maintaining
sanity, both a struggle and a catharsis – an act of defiance and
salvation all at the same time.
is a direct reference to my Quartet’s title. Only shards are left.
And memory. The memory is of things large and small, of unspeakable
tragedy, but also of the song and the dance, the smile, the hopes.
All things human. As we remember, in the face of death’s silence,
we restore dignity to those who are gone.
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