Karim Al-Zand: Music: String Quartet No.2 ‘Etudes’

String Quartet No. 2 ’Etudes’

for 2 violins, viola & cello

The piece has the subtitle ‘Etudes’ since each movement forms a study of a single string technique. The movements’ descriptive titles have double meanings: they refer to both the technique being used and to an instrument which the ensemble as a whole evokes.

Sourdine is an 18th century Italian ‘pocket’ violin. The body of the instrument was smaller than the regular violin and it had a relatively soft sound the word sordo literally means ‘mute’ in Italian. Sordino, as a musical indication, refers to a device which dampens the sound of an instrument, a mute. In the first movement the quartet uses mutes throughout, both the common orchestral type and a softer ‘practice’ variety.

imageArpeggione is the name of an early 19th century instrument (pictured left) which was a hybrid of guitar and cello: it had six strings and frets but was played with a bow. The instrument was short-lived, perhaps because it was quite difficult to play and had a relatively small dynamic range. The only well-known piece written for this instrument is a Sonata by Schubert—the so-called ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata—which is now usually performed on cello. One strength of the arpeggione, and the source of its name, was its facility with chord-like passages played in a ‘broken’ fashion, rapidly articulated. The second movement focuses on this string-crossing arpeggio technique.

Armonica was the name given by Benjamin Franklin to one of his musical inventions: a mechanized version of the glass harmonica. The glass harmonica is an instrumental form of the wine-glass trick. A thin, delicate pitch can be produced by rubbing the rims of graduated glass bowls in a circular motion. The third movement uses the distinctive sound of string harmonics to create a soft, glassy texture.

Of the four instruments, Guitarra is the only one still in common use. This last movement uses plucked strings (pizzicato) to evoke the sound of the guitar.


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11 minutes

string quartet

1. Slowly; rustling [Sordina]
2. Moderately; shimmering [Arpeggione]
3. Slowly; delicate [Armonica]
4. Quickly; humorous [Guitarra]

April 28, 2002, Rothko Chapel, Houston TX
Flux Quartet: Tom Chiu & Jesse Mills, violins | Max Mandel, viola | Darrett Adkins, cello


1. Slowly; rustling [Sordina]
2. Moderately; shimmering [Arpeggione]
3. Slowly; delicate [Armonica]
4. Quickly; humorous [Guitarra]