Researcher: Dr. Matthew Schreibeis
City Lights, a 7-minute string quartet, was composed for the Mivos Quartet, who premiered the work at the 2018 Valencia International Performance Academy and Festival in Spain. Inspired by the frenzied energy of great urban centers, the work seeks to capture the physicality of movement through such spaces, in particular the way sights and sounds change in rapid and unpredictable succession. These visual or tactile ideas are conceived of as changes in musical densities and investigated through precise development of motive, pitch, harmony, and rhythm through the work’s two broad sections. The central point of research of the work concerns the idea of “frozen pitch space”—a foundational element in the music of Varese and Dallapiccola, among others—and its connection to form: how can individual pitches, intervals, and larger harmonic collections be isolated in specific registers to create compelling narrative structures? In the case of City Lights, the answer lies, in part, in the gradual expansion of a dyad. The perfect fourth between E and A, which starts the piece, develops and expands into an 8-note collection by bar 21. This same 8-note harmony serves as the basis for the music of bars 49 to 81. A final expansion of the harmony, this time in the form of a 12-note fully chromatic collection, occurs between bars 104 and 117. The fact that this fully symmetrical collection occurs only once—at the climax and transition between the two main sections—highlights the significance of carefully controlling harmonic segments to achieve maximum drama at key structural moments. Although Schreibeis interrogated these factors in other recent work, in particular the 2018 solo piano work, Inner Truth, City Lights is characterized by a much higher degree of restraint and restriction of materials, creating an overall terser language throughout.