Small Infinities

I.  Old Cassettes and Broken Records
II. Scherzo
III. “I’m Sorry for Your Loss”
IV. Night Ocean, with Interruptions
V. Reset

string quartet

(Small Infinities was written to be premiered on classical period instruments; though it was originally written with gut strings in mind, instruments of any period may be used to play the work.)

duration: 24 Minutes

Small Infinities was commissioned by the Diderot String Quartet. It was premiered on the Second Movement Series, May 14th, 2016 in New Haven, followed by performances on May 19th at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in NYC and May 24th at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Program Notes

I was listening to a lot of Schubert, particularly his late string quartets, as I wrote “Small Infinities.” There is an obsessiveness in these pieces that Schubert transforms into music that feels both intimate and transcendent. He wrote these pieces during a sickness that would ultimately take his life, and it is tempting to think of them arising from a deep contemplation of our place in the infinite. I am older than Schubert was when he wrote these pieces but I don’t feel like I have much to say about death or our place in the cosmos. But as I worked on this piece, I thought about small moments of obsession, however mundane—ordinary little moments in which I lost a sense of time through some repetitive stimulus or activity, and perhaps for a fleeting, magical instant had a sense of something infinite.

The five movements of the piece are each inspired by a different memory: listening to music as a child (playing tapes on repeat until they wore out and being captivated by the bumpy repetitions of a broken record); my brother practicing violin in the room next to mine, hypnotically (and frustratingly) repeating passages; the lyrical funeral parlor director at my grandmother’s funeral who kept blandly but musically intoning “I am sorry for your loss”; the experience of sitting next to the Pacific Ocean at night on a trip home from college, the entrancing rhythm of the waves opening my mind to a swirling series of thoughts; and the adrenaline joy of childhood video games: playing, dying, restarting and playing again. Each movement is a sort of obsessive poem based on these initial memories, a search for meaning in a series of repetitions before the music inevitably decays and breaks apart, or perhaps just drifts away.