As far as contemporary string quartets go, Terry Riley's "Salome Dances for Peace" (which technically is a cycle of 5 string quartets) is like no other quartet. It is of epic proportions, clocking in at 2 hours; stylistically it explores practically every musical avenue and genre, which keeps this masterpiece of quartet literature in a class by itself. Whilst it commands complete and uninterrupted attention, I think one must listen to the work in it's entirety to attempt to grasp it (and that can take multiple listenings trust me - there is just so much that happens during the journey - it can be a tad perplexing, which I think is due to its size plus its patchwork brilliance - musically but also ethnically; the quartet interweaves Far-Eastern/Near-Eastern modes with spiky Bartokian counterpoint, bluesy accents, jazzy syncopations and yes.. even some minimalist leanings. It is a seamless, magical integration and really quite intoxicating and beautiful - from the moment bows are raised.
"Salome Dances.." was composed for the Kronos Quartet, whom Riley has been working with for 36 years now. "Cadenza on the Night Plain" was the first full-length album of Riley's music that the Kronos Quartet recorded back in 1985. I posted it in honor of his 80th birthday, here:
Originally conceived as a ballet in which Salome, reincarnated 2,000 years after her run-in with John the Baptist, would use her ''alluring powers to actually create peace in the world,'' as Terry Riley puts it in the liner notes, ''Salome Dances for Peace'' grew into a loosely programmatic string quartet based largely on native American mythology.
According to the composer, such multicultural evocations arise in an entirely natural way: ''It's not something I attempt to do. I guess because I've listened to a lot of music from all over the world for 30 years, these things just seem to come through.''
David Harrington of the Kronos has an even simpler explanation: ''All the kinds of music Terry loves are in that piece.''
Terry Riley on "Salome Dances for Peace":
"The idea for Salome Dances for Peace came out of improvisation
theme from The Harp of New Albion. I realized this was potentially
a whole new piece. Around that time, David Harrington called
me and asked me to write another string quartet.
I thought that it should be a ballet about Salome using
her alluring powers to actually create peace in the world. So
Salome in this case becomes like a goddess who—drawn out of
antiquity, having done evil kinds of deeds—reincarnates and is
trained as a sorceress, as a shaman. And through her dancing,
she is able to become both a warrior and an influence on the
world leaders’ actions.
What I do is to make many, many minute sketches of ideas
and file them away, and at some point as I’m writing, one of
those ideas will be the right one for the time. I trust the fact
that anything that occurs to me is related to whatever occurred
to me before.
All of the kinds of music that appear in my string
quartets are the kinds of music that I personally love, and I
don’t necessarily keep them in separate cabinets. One of the
challenges, in fact, is to bring things you love together to
live harmoniously. It also creates an understanding of how
the notes work. These styles all have their particular flavors
and expressions but they can be united. Notes all work under
certain universal laws, they observe laws just like everything
else in the universe does.
To me it’s all a unified field. It’s the general search we’re
going through now in physics, trying to find a unified theory.
I think for a musician that is also relevant and works towards
evolving new, deeper and richer musical traditions.
I’m always trying to find ways that I can, besides doing
music, contribute to world peace, or maybe neighborhood
peace or home peace. I told David that when we first started
that I thought we ought to create a piece that can be played at
the United Nations on special holidays. It would not be just a
concert piece but a piece that could be played as a rite."
—Terry Riley, from a conversation with Mark Swed
|Terry Riley (or possibly my great grandfather back in Ukraine??)|
|Haha, great photo: Terry Riley celebrates his 50th birthday with the Kronos Quartet|
"Salome Dances for Peace for String Quartet"
Anthem of the Great Spirit 33:00
Conquest of the War Demons 34.47
The Gift 15:24
The Ecstacy 18:21
Good Medicine 13:25
1) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'The Summons' (4:55)
2) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'Peace Dance' (10:57)
3) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'Fanfare in the Minimal Kingdom' (4:29)
4) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'Ceremonial Night Race' (4:42)
5) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'At the Ancient Aztec Corn Races Salome Meets Wild Talker'(2:02
6) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'More Ceremonial Races' (0:50)
7) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'Oldtimers at the Races' (3:48)
8) I. Anthem of the Great Spirit: 'Half Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight' (8:12)
9) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Way of the Warrior' (5:08)
10) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Salome and Half Wolf Descend Through the Gates to the Underworld' (4:35)
11) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Breakthrough to the Realm of the War Demons' (2:37)
12) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Combat Dance' (3:52)
13) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Victory: Salome Re-enacts for Half Wolf Her Deeds of Valor' (0:43)
14) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'Discovery of Peace' (3:36)
15) II. Conquest of the War Demons: 'The Underworld Arising' (10:08)
1) III. The Gift: 'Echoes of Primordial Time' (11:13)
2) III. The Gift: 'Mongolian Winds' (4:12)
3) IV. The Ecstasy: 'Processional' (2:09)
4) IV. The Ecstasy: 'Seduction of the Bear Father' (3:11)
5) IV. The Ecstasy: 'The Gathering' (5:40)
6) IV. The Ecstasy: 'At the Summit' (5:22)
7) IV. The Ecstasy: 'Recessional' (2:02)
8) V. Good Medicine: 'Good Medicine Dance' (13:25)