Hearing It Getting Dark (2012-14)
For String Quartet
Premiered at The Juilliard School by
Alex Shiozaki and Justyna Jara, violins
Leah Gastler, viola
Valeriya Sholokhova, cello
Recorded by the Attacca Quartet
Hearing It Getting Dark is inspired by the world of William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and The Fury, which describes the tragic downfall of a Southern family in the early twentieth century. Central to the decline is Caddy, the only daughter in the Compson family. She plays a major role in the lives of her three brothers (Quentin, Jason and Benjy): Faulkner tells her story through the eyes, mind, and emotions of each of the three brothers, using a stream-of-consciousness narrative technique. The title Hearing It Getting Dark comes from the novel’s first section, where Faulkner depicts the world of the Compson family and especially Caddy through the eyes and mind of mentally disabled Benji. Each movement in the quartet presents a different aspect of the novel.
The first movement’s title Walking Shadow is drawn from the Macbeth speech from which Faulkner took the title of The Sound and The Fury. In this movement, a short repeated-note motif is repeated constantly and put through many kinds of transformations. Many musical figures echo each other in a way that results in a kind of musical shadow, hence the title. The music constantly changes its mood, full of violent outbursts followed by moments of pensive reflection. This movement is meant to depict Jason Compton’s unpredictable moods and his tendency towards violence.
Clocks that Slay Time is a musical representation of the inner world of Quentin Compson. This work represents a sort of musical stream of consciousness as experienced by Quentin Compson on his final day. Quentin’s voice in the novel is that of a decadent poet, neurotic and hopeless, who only wants to relive the past. He is unable to face the future, which eventually leads him to commit suicide. The movement depicts Quentin’s inner thoughts and struggles through the alternation of musical styles and motives. At the outset, the music alludes to Mahler, Wagner, and Debussy, in a somewhat exaggerated romantic style. However, the motive associated with the sister Caddy quickly enters and begins to act as a degenerating factor in the musical narrative:
Every time the motive appears, it threatens and destroys the romantic music, as the piece becomes more dissonant and unpredictable in response to the obsession. No matter how hard Quentin tries to hold on to the purity and beauty of the past, he cannot escape his present anguish. His romanticized perspective comes in and out of focus, crushed under the heavy pressure of his memories of Caddy. Towards the end of the piece, almost all semblance of a traditional musical discourse has been lost in the quiet undulations of a ruminative mind at the brink of exhaustion.
She Smelled Like Trees is the final movement of the work, and this title is drawn from Benjy’s description of his sister Caddy. Benjy often mixes up his senses: his hands “see,” he “hears” it getting dark, and his primary means of identifying with his sister is through his sense of smell. The music attempts to capture Benjy’s idea of his sister Caddy: the beautiful melodies are often obscured because the instruments are not playing in sync with each other. This asynchronous texture represents the disorienting waves of Benjy’s sensory experience. The listener experiences the tumultuousness of trying to capture the essence of Caddy through Benjy’s senses.