String Figures is a set of four, short pieces for string quartet. My early sketches for this piece reveal a series of slow movements exploring very simple ideas: open strings; natural harmonics; largely consonant pitch relationships; and long, static melodies. Gradually, all but one of these sketches was abandoned. This remaining sketch, which has become the first of the String Figures, is a distillation of these simple ideas into a highly compact form.
The slow, first movement creates an atmosphere of openness, resonance and relative simplicity. This atmosphere is interrupted in a number of places by elements that become the source of development for the rest of the work. Movement two, which begins without a break, is a contrasting fast movement. This movement is more orchestral in concept with each member of the quartet engaged (and busy) almost all of the time. Single, independent strands of accumulating melody characterize movement three. The fourth movement, the shortest of the set, has the air of an afterthought with much unison and octave playing and rapidly fluctuating tempos. The entire work is just under 8 minutes long.
String Figures was commissioned in 2000 for the Molinari String Quartet with funding assistance provided by the Canada Council for the Arts.