by Dr. Ellen Fishman
Photo by Julia Lehman
“The Lark” quartet by Franz Joseph Haydn was one of the ﬁrst string quartets I studied as a music student. In 2009, I was commissioned by Jeanne Ruddy Dance to write an electronic piece loosely based on this quartet. I was excited to pay homage to my classical training as well as interpret this masterpiece through the lens of my musical language. This reimagining would also allow the dancers do the same. We had a wonderful run of performances at the Performance Garage in Philadelphia, and I had the intention of returning to the electronic score to make a version for string quartet but never did. With the pandemic of 2020-21, I, like many people, felt depleted as I wrestled with the shutdown. It was a perfect time to reﬂect on my past and revive this work for string quartet.
When composing the electronic version, I was working with students on a remix project that would become the accompaniment for a digital projection. I took the same remix approach and listened for short mannerisms or phrases from the Haydn which could be reinterpreted. You will hear the “lark” theme but may have to study the score to ﬁnd other references. For example, the harmonic progression of the original “Adagio Cantabile” movement has been stretched over time to explore the complexities of each note of the harmony and the “Minuet and Trio” form was loosely interpreted with an asymmetrical meter in a jazz style. In all, the string quartet version is yet another version of this piece since some electronic sounds originally used were not possible on strings and all tracks had to be distilled down to four voices. As we near the spring of 2021 and the possibility of vaccines, this second reimagining has been a positive companion during a time of uncertainty, and the original string quartet remains a reminder of beauty and grace in our changing world.
Note: The Fairmount String Quartet will be performing the first and last movements of “Lark Dances” on June 16th and 26th, 2021.