"Calligraphies"; Three Persian String Quartets by Reza Vali
The Pennsylvania-based Reza Vali is one of the very few
Persian (Iranian) composers in the West who has had the chance to have his works
performed by prestigious ensembles and orchestras around the world. He was born
in 1952, studied at the Tehran Conservatory of Music, Vienna Music Academy, and
the University of Pittsburgh. Vali has been a faulty member of the school of
music at Carnegie Mellon University since 1988. He was selected by the
Pittsburgh Cultural Trust as the Outstanding Emerging Artist for which he
received the Creative Achievement Award.
The previous CDs of Reza Vali’s works which have been released
in the United States include “Persian Folklore” (performed by Cuarteto
Latinoamericano, Carnegie Mellon Philharmonic Orchestra) and “Flute Concerto” (performed by the Boston Modern
Vali’s latest CD is entitled “Calligraphies” and is released
by the Albany Records. It includes three string quartets which were composed in
1992, 2000 and 2001. The quartets are inspired by Persian traditional as well as
String Quartet No. 2
Quartet No. 2 was written for and dedicated to Cuarteto Latinoamericano and was
first performed in Pittsburgh on April 7, 1992 by Cuarteto Latinoamericano. This
work demarcates a new period in Vali’s music: a departure from the modernist
musical aesthetic which dominated his works during the 1980s and a gravitating
toward a tonal-modal based musical syntax profoundly influenced by Persian folk
String Quartet No. 2 follows the classical quartet form. The
first and the fourth movements are in sonata form. The second movement is a
Scherzo, and the third movement is a slow movement titled Funebre. All four
movements are interrelated. The basic structural element of the entire piece is
a motivic cell of a half step (E-F) which is heard at the beginning of the first
movement. This motive is expanded, transposed, and superimposed upon itself
throughout the first movement.
In the second movement, a perpetual motion based on the basic
cell creates the accompanying background for a folk song played by the first
violin. The solo violin emerges again in the middle section to play an anguished
improvisation on a folk melody.
The third movement, Funebre, is written in memory of the
composer’s father. Persian/Middle Eastern and European/Western concepts of
"grieving for the deceased" are continuously superimposed throughout Funebre.
The solo violin represents the passionate, wailing, and dramatic aspect of
grief, which is common across the Middle East, whereas the string accompaniment
represents the subdued, somber, and inward feeling of grief which is common in
Western cultures. The pitch structure also represents this superimposition of
two cultures. The solo violin lines are continuously Persian/Middle Eastern
whereas the string accompaniment plays "Tristan" harmonies throughout the
The fourth movement is a summary of all the compositional
elements of the quartet. The basic cell E-F is expanded to E-F-G which becomes
the opening motive of the movement. In addition, motives and themes of the
previous movements are presented and juxtaposed throughout the fourth
movement. In the coda, the string instruments ascend to their highest
registers converging on a unison "F" before concluding on the note "E" and
therefore restoring, in retrograde, the basic cell E-F.
and String Quartet No. 3 also denote aesthetic and stylistic shifts in Reza
Vali’s music. In these pieces, the composer has moved away from the Western
musical system (e.g., Equal Temperament tuning and Western forms) and has based
the structures of these compositions on the Persian (Iranian) musical system,
String Quartet No. 3
String Quartet No. 3 was commissioned by the Arizona Friends
of Chamber Music and written for Cuarteto Latinoamericano. The commissioning of
the quartet was sponsored by Mrs. Faria Vahdat-Dretler in memory of the founder
of Tehran Symphony Orchestra, Parviz
Mahmoud. It was first performed by Cuarteto
Latinoamericano in Tucson on February 6, 2002.
The musical material of the composition is derived from
Persian traditional music. The modal characteristics of the piece, as well as
the tuning, rhythm, and form, relate to the Persian modal system, the Dastgah.
The composition consists of three continuous movements (Largo, Molto Allegro,
Lento) played without interruption.
The entire string quartet is based on the Persian mode of Nava
which is one of the oldest modes of the Persian modal system. This mode is
elaborated throughout the first movement by the solo viola.
The second movement is based on a folk dance. The tempo is
fast and asymmetrical. Although the second movement sounds Western, it is
entirely derived from permutations of different segments of the Nava mode.
The third movement is a variation of the first movement. It
refers back to the Nava mode. The quartet as a whole elaborates different parts
of the Nava mode which were stated by the solo viola in the first
Calligraphies was written for Cuarteto Latinoamericano and
completed in July 1999. It was premiered by Cuarteto Latinoamericano in Mexico
City on May 18, 2000 as part of the International Forum for New Music
The musical material of the composition is entirely
derived from Persian traditional music. The tuning, rhythm, form, as well as
polyphonic constructions (such as imitation, inversion, retrogradation) relate
to the Persian modal system, the Dastgah. The basic mode of the Calligraphies is
the Persian mode of Shoor.
Calligraphy No. 1 is based on a short melodic/rhythmic segment
The name of Calligraphy No. 2 (Zand), as well as its modal
characteristics, is derived from the Persian mode of Bayat-e Zand. Calligraphy
No. 3 is based on an asymmetrical rhythmic cycle (called Aksak) which is found
in the folk music of Persia (Iran), Turkey, and other countries across
the Near East.
Latinoamericano, the performer of the pieces in the CD,
was recently nominated for two Grammy Awards. This ensemble performs both
classical and contemporary repertoire, and has specialized in performing the
works of composers from the Americas.
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