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Elegy for String Quartet (1978)

Juilliard School, April 1979. Rolf Schulte, Curtis Macomber, John Graham, Marcie Rosen. Winner League-ISCM National Composers Competition, 1980. Subsequent performances by the League-ISCM and Speculum Musicae. 14'.

Comment: This is written as a viola concerto and was magnificently played by John Graham who arranged for a performance when everyone else at Juilliard declared the piece unplayable. The prize was icing on the cake.

Review: ”This season’s first concert by the League of Composers-International Society for Contemporary Music, presented Thursday night at Carnegie Recital Hall, produced a recent work of exceptional interest: David Schiff’s Elegy (1979) for string quartet. According to the composer, a New Yorker whose teachers included Elliott Carter, the piece originated as a viola solo.  And in fact the viola dominates throughout, sustaining a 13-minute lament, by turns brooding and turbulent.  The other instruments, however are only sometimes accompanimental; their unpredictably shifting roles constitute one of the score’s distinctive features.  Early on in Elegy, for instance, the feverishly eventful viola line acquires a pointilistic backdrop.  But gradually intensified, this seeming accompaniment moves vehemently to the fore.  Shortly afterwards, the cello breaks apart for a tense, dislocated solo, foreshadowing exchanges between the two lower instruments.  Mr. Schiff’s shapely ending is typically provocative.  A furious motoric passage is shared by all four instruments.  Suddenly with no loss in velocity the two violins switch to pianissimo harmonics, starting a detailed process of deceleration and decay. John Graham’s gripping viola playing anchored the superb league performance which was a New York premiere.” Joseph Horowitz, The New York Times, 11 October 1980.