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"Epitaph For A Dear Friend"

Title Epitaph For A Dear Friend
ComposerF.G.J. Absil
Instrum.String Quartet
DateNovember 2004
DurationTotal: 26'50 (4 movements: 5'55 + 6'40 + 7'20 + 6'55)
StyleAtonal - tonal
KeyD major, F# minor, A major, D major
TempoVarious (slow - fast - slow - fast)


A musical score excerpt
  • Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Violoncello.


This string quartet, entitled Epitaph for a dear friend, is dedicated to the commemoration of our dear friend Jan-Willem, who stood no chance against fate. A literary motto is taken from William Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 81:

Or I shall live your epitaph to make, ...
From hence your memory death cannot take, ...
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead.
You shall live - such virtue hath my pen -
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.

The quartet has four movements and is in mostly atonal style. Each movement characterizes a stage in life.

Mvt. 1: Living in Innocence, Andante tranquillo (64 BPM), Meter: 4/4, Key: D major, 109 mm (5'55).
This gentle movement, picturing childhood and played with mutes, opens in D major with the main theme in a homophonic setting. After a 2nd statement with imitation, in m. 34 the secondary theme appears in Bb Mixo-Lydian mode, leading to a climax in m. 59. After a parody on the main theme, the key returns to D major and the main theme is stated as a maestoso in m. 86. The movement closes peacefully with harmonics in all parts.

Mvt. 2: Living in Excitement, Vivace (138 BPM), Meter: 3/8, Key: F# minor, 293 mm. (6'40).
The 2nd movement is about adolescence and the excitement over discovering the world. After a dominant pedal introduction, the main theme in m. 33 is played by unisono viola and cello, followed by an inverted statement in the violins. A transition leads to a chromatic counterpoint pizzicato section in m. 84, the secondary theme introduced by the cello with a quarter tone background from the other strings. This theme is developed starting from m. 116, interrupted by two multiple stop climaxes in mm. 161-169 and mm. 198-204. Then there is a number of statements combining the two themes in various keys and tempos, before concluding with a coda, starting in m. 260.

Mvt. 3: Living in Harmony, Adagio molto espressivo (60 BPM) - Moderato (80 BPM), Meter: 3/2, Key: A major, 162 mm. (7'20).
The 3rd movement pictures adulthood and starts with a slow, molto espressivo introduction. A mocking motive, the first sign of turbulence ahead, in the key of C minor appears in m. 33 and, after a transition, leads to a solo theme for cello against tremolo background in m. 68. From the climax in D major in m. 88 onwards there is a return to the mocking motive in m. 99, now in G minor, and the solo cello in m. 123. With the second multiple stop climax in m. 134 the key of A major returns, and a coda harmoniously closes the movement.

Mvt. 4: Living in Agony, Adagio (60 BPM) - Allegro (126 BPM), Meter: 3/2 - 4/4, Key: D major (modal), 204 mm. (6'55).
The final movement has fate striking without remorse. A slow counterpoint opening yields the first dissonant climax in m. 13. Then the grim reaper enters the scene with a 'danse macabre' (allegro energico). After a number of statements of a modal motive there is a sarcastic bridge in m. 60, leading to a climax in m. 82. Insiders will understand the cynical reference to the Latin mambo phrase (mm. 88-101 and later mm. 153-166). The diabolic setting returns in m. 109 and increases in tension up to m. 147. A transition leads to the sudden, dissonant fatal blows in m. 175 and the final death cry.