String Quintet ‘Splendid hopes’

Composer: Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)
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Composer: Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)

Performance date: 03/07/2017

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 2016

Duration: 00:21:24

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:String Quintet

Artists: Johannes Moser - [cello]
Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello]) - [quartet]

Splendid Hopes’ refers
to Schubert’s emotional words, near the end of his short life,
written in a letter to a friend. Though the letter is incredibly sad,
the idea of ‘splendid hopes’ somehow shines out and gave me
pause to think about the idea of hope. The piece does not quote
Schubert (whose Quintet follows late night) but reflects the reach,
desire, optimism, and struggle so often a part of hope.

Splendid Hopes was
written for cellist Johannes Moser and the Pacifica
– inspired by the power and depth of their playing.

Note by Julia Wolfe

Wolfe, of Bang on a Can fame, quotes from Schubert’s famous letter
when he described himself as
most unhappy and wretched creature in the world whose most splendid
hopes have perished.
was four years before his untimely death but he was already suffering
terribly from his ultimately fatal disease. She picks on the phrase
despite the hopelessness of Schubert’s situation, bears a strange
sense of aspiration that became the central metaphor for this piece.

of the work focuses on two ideas – a surging, glowing
and a gentle chorale. The first two-thirds of this substantial work
is a long exploration of the different possibilities of these two
ideas. This process has been well described as
study in different flavours of tremolo within a complex web of
dissonant chords.
music keeps reaching out for some kind of resolution but it keeps
swerving away and the tension remains unresolved. Despite the
composer’s reputation for iconoclasm, there is no aggression in
this work and its most striking moments are the quiet ones when the
music lingers on a single note.

work’s final third does explode into a whirlwind of spectacular
arpeggios, which at their peak transform into a chorale-like coda,
whose abrupt conclusion is the most frightening moment of all. In sum
this is beautiful and affecting music that paves the way for the same
musicians’ late-night performance of Schubert’s last word on his