Listening Log – [Pt. V]- Crawford Seeger, Ruth – String Quartet (1931)

Listening Log – [Pt. V]- Crawford Seeger, Ruth – String Quartet (1931)

Listening Log – [Pt. V]- Crawford Seeger, Ruth – String Quartet (1931). 38 min. Throughout May- July 2020 Listened (streaming) to youtube clip below : Ruth Crawford Seeger – String Quartet (1931) [Score-Video] Apr 27, 2018. Performer: The Playground Ensemble.

From the outset of Movement I the double bass plays pizzicato triplets. This immediately creates a very busy and rhythmical style which I associate more with jazz or Avant Garde music rather than I would expect of a string quartet from the 1930’s. The rhythmical complexity keeps increasing with the use of quintuplets and sextuplets. The texture is extremely contrapuntal, polyphonic and dissonant. At times the independence of the lines is such that it is hard to glean a connection between them and at time it feels like there are several pieces of music playing all at once.  

Movement II starts off contrapuntally with a rising figure being passed around the quartet. It is again a very rhythmical movement, but with recognisable repeated rhythmical patterns which are therefore easier to latch onto and digest, making Movement II feel less experimental than Movement I.

Movement III contrasts completely playing long sustained notes in all instruments and sounds very atmospheric, with constant swells in dynamics and a clear harmonic connection between the melody lines. It sounds extremely beautiful and moving.

We are back to an Allegro tempo for movement IV, with violin I taking the melody, which is answered by the other strings- echoing fragments of the melody with each sentence punctuated by the cello.

This is a truly remarkable piece of music and it must have been totally groundbreaking at the time. I remember going to a Peggy Seeger lecture a few years ago where she mentioned her mother having been a composer but that she had not heard any of her mother’s compositions growing up. The household had mainly been focused on her father’s folk music instead. This seems unimaginable to me now I have heard Ruth’s music.