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My second String Quartet was written in 2014. It is in five separate movements and lasts around 24 minutes.
The five movements relate to each of the five aspects of Spirit, namely vegetable, animal, human, Spirit of Faith and the Holy Spirit. These are based on the descriptions of these various aspects given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in ‘Some Answered Questions and ‘Bahá’í World Faith’. Below, I will summarise the link between these descriptions and the music, although I encourage listeners to determine their own conclusions.
All five movements are based on a 5-note motto theme heard at the outset, and this signifies the Oneness of Spirit in all its aspects. The first movement, ‘Vegetable Spirit’, opens with a chordal representation of the motto and three variants. The main theme is a 6/8 melody which expands the second of these variants. The general spirit is lively, and expresses ‘the power of growth’ brought about by the mingling of chemicals, such as water and air as well as elements such as heat and light. Once these chemicals and elements are separated, the power to grow ceases to exist and the vegetable dies.
The second movement, ‘Animal Spirit’, opens with a melodic variation of the motto with instruments in pairs: two bowed and two plucked. An inverted variant of the motto forms the major theme of the movement, also expressing power of growth brought about by the mingling of the same chemicals and elements, although more complete as the animal kingdom is also possessed with senses. The music includes two violent outbursts which suggest how certain animals hunt to kill for their food. The movement ends with the second of these outbursts, signifying – in time – the extinction of a species.
The third movement, ‘Human Spirit’, opens with a more harmonic version of the motto. The main part is a very fast melody in irregular rhythms, showing how the human spirit is distinguished from the others by means of a ‘rational soul’. This enables creativity, discovery and emotion. As the music progresses, we see that human spirit is capable of being the most noble of existing beings, by acquiring virtues; but it is also capable of acquiring vices and imperfection resulting in the most degrading existence. The movement ends, however, as though in prayer, reaching upwards to a higher state of consciousness.
The last two movements appear to enter into much more holy territory. The fourth movement, ‘Spirit of Faith’, represents the Spirit that assists the Human Spirit to become acquainted with Divine Secrets and heavenly realities. This can be achieved by the Human Spirit acting as a mirror to the light from the Spirit of Faith, this being represented by means of the motto theme appearing with its inversion at the start of the movement. An atmosphere created by means of tremolos indicates that this Spirit is the cause of eternal life, and is capable of transforming imperfect man to perfect and the earthly man heavenly.
The final movement, ‘Holy Spirit’, is extremely slow with a very slightly faster central section in triple time. This Spirit is the mediator between God and His creatures. It is adorned with all the Divine perfections and it renews the world of humanity, giving new spirit to the human realities. Being the Holiest of the Spirits, the movement is based on harmonics made up from the motto theme and, when these return after the central section, they seem to rise to a higher state, culminating in complete silence and contemplation.
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Reviews of String Quartet No. 2
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