Shadows & Light (String Quartet No. 3)


"The first movement digs into an energizing strum not unlike the cutting-edge repertory typically played by the Kronos Quartet or even Ethel, the amplified quartet, though Beck’s piece is all acoustic. The second movement of the work … starts with slow, intense music[.] … The buildup of tension breaks into a syncopated presto, … [but the slow music] keep[s] undercutting the faster music, with which it struggles and intertwines[.] … With wrenching power, the [opening] hymn pulls the music into a remote, peaceful ending."

- Mark Sebastian Jordan, MusicWeb International

"Jeremy Beck's two-movement Shadows and Light ... was unique in its juxtaposition of sustained, lyrical elements, fragmentary motifs, and eerie tremolos all cast in a compelling but highly individual form."

- Jonathan Chenette
Iowa Comps. Forum
(Apr. 1994)

I began the composition of Shadows & Light in the fall of 1993 while I was teaching in St. Petersburg, Russia, on a grant from the American Council of Teachers of Russian.  The sacred music of the Russian Orthodox Church had originally inspired me to write a choral piece, but the lack of a suitable text for this music led me to recast it as the beginning section of this string quartet’s second movement.  Once this decision had been made, the music seemed to almost write itself and I completed this work in February of 1994 after I had returned home to Cedar Falls, Iowa.  While there are no direct quotations of any Russian melodies or harmonies, this piece (for me) is infused with the spirit of the people, places and events – both contemporary and historic – that I encountered there.

Formally, the first movement is in the character of a scherzo and is based on gradually developing cells organized in groups of four (notes, rhythmic units).  The longer, second movement begins with what had been the choral music. The climax of this music is followed by a transition which suggests improvisation – this then leads to a Presto. The forward motion of the Presto music is interspersed with recollections of one of the first movement’s melodic ideas; later, it is also interrupted by sharp juxtapositions of a disjunct recapitulation of the “improvised” transition music (like flickering shadows and light through the branches of a tree on a sunny day).  Near the end of this movement, there is a return of the opening choral material, but this time it is presented as a series of overlapping, truly-improvised cells in each of the four instruments.  The viola’s entrance in this closing section reintroduces the main melodic idea from the Presto and so provides a link between the different musics of this movement.  Rather than leading to a rousing return of the Presto, the music which emerges from this improvisation is drawn from the choral music, the spiritual center and impetus of the entire piece.

Shadows & Light is my third string quartet.  It was premiered 17 April 1994 by the Faber Quartet (Fred Halgedahl and Julie Hinson, violins; Kathleen Sihler, viola; Jonathan Chenoweth, violoncello) on a concert jointly produced by the Beethoven Club and the Iowa Composers Forum at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Recorded by the Nevsky String Quartet in St. Petersburg, Russia (Tatiana Razoumova and Anna Tchijik, violins; Vladimir Bistritsky, viola; Dmitry Khrytchev, violoncello), it appears on my 2008 CD, Never Final, Never Gone (innova 696).

2 violins, viola, cello
Date completed:
ca. 14:00

Featured Recording

Never Final, Never Gone

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