The Elements Quartet



The Elements Quartet will commission 15 composers who will each write a 2-5 minute piece inspired by a photo they own. A personal photo is preferred but a photo in the public domain that has a personal meaning to the composer may also be used. Like a good snapshot, each selection will capture a fleeting feeling or moment in time. The photograph will be displayed while the piece is performed, adding another dimension to the audience’s experience of the music and helping to increase their understanding of the themes or emotions explored in the piece.

Unlike a conventional concert, Snapshots will be presented in a modified cabaret format. Audience members can attend the first "set" of pieces, the second or both. In between each set there will be an opportunity for audience members to purchase light snacks and view the photographs more closely. Both the setting and the short segment format are designed to appeal to a more diverse and possibly younger audience.

This commissioning project will be an ongoing signature activity of the quartet, eventually developing a rich and exciting repertoire of short pieces by a diverse group of contemporary composers, including some who are not associated with "classical" music.

Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse was a game invented and played at the turn of the century by the Parisian avant-garde painters, writers and associates, a.k.a. the Surrealists, who sought to use the Unconscious as their resource against the materialism and militarism, among other isms, that distressed them. Three or more players would sit around a table at a café, each equipped with paper and pen. One would write a particular grammatical structure, then fold the paper over and pass it on to the next person. The general rule of thumb was that one was only allowed to see the previous "fold," and did not know sequence he or she was writing into and could not control where the piece was to go. Once all the parts were written, the paper was unfolded and read. At times they agreed upon a human body (or a corpse), and each artist drew a part of the body until the entire body was drawn. Playing the game with a group for a number of rounds, they believed, would produce increasingly good results as the group learned how to affect the outcomes.

Today there are a number of Internet sites devoted to the creation of "exquisite corpses." Although the notion of art created by collaboration is a natural metaphor for music played by a string quartet, to our knowledge, our project will be the first time this technique has been applied to musical composition in this way.

The basis of our Exquisite Corpse will be a trio of Bach chorales (see below). One chorale will be assigned to each group of five composers. They will be told where their contribution will be placed within the piece and will be responsible for about 20 bars, or 30 seconds to 60 seconds of music. The completed work will not be heard by any of the composers until it is played by the quartet. This musical experiment will yield three pieces that will total approximately 17 minutes in length. In addition to having a different Chorale as its basic musical reference, each piece also has different amount of the previously written section (or "fold") the composers are allowed to see:

  1. Es ist genug
    Each composer is allowed to see the entire previous section.
  2. Ach wie fluchtig, ach wie nichtig
    Each composer is allowed to see a half of the previous section.
  3. Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
    Each composer is allowed to see a quarter of the previous section.


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