Amy Miller

Kevin Puts

Credo (2007)

Five- Movements for String Quartet

            As a classical cellist, I have had the opportunity to play in many string quartets and experience how the music differs from other ensemble settings, such as participating in an orchestral, or in soloing performance. In a string quartet, you get to make music with three other people in a more intimate setting and still have the opportunity to bring your own musical creativity into it. When I first listened to Kevin Puts’ string quartet, Credo, I was instantly drawn to it with its lyrical melodies and contrast with more energetic and wild unexpected changes. The pauses in music act a way for new material to begin separate from what previously was played. In the first movement, Puts immediately introduced stacked false harmonic fifths based on the harmonics of each of the instruments in string quartet. This gave off a modern feeling, as pieces nevr start on false harmonics, before going into more colorful homophonic textures. The use of moving fifths appears throughout the movement creating a sort of separation between the new lyrical themes. Another feature of this first movement that surprised me was his brief use of Vivaldi’s Concerto No.1 in E major, Spring. To me this demonstrated his want to keep a small connection to classical music in a remix kind of way and showcase the violins contrast of past to present technical abilities.  

What was different about this quartet was how the structure of the movements were organized. The first and fifth movements paralleled the same theme of alternating between fast and more sporadic, atonal harmonics and homophonic lyricism by the solo violin.  While the solo violin played, the other voices held drone like chord tones underneath, creating a thicker texture but nothing to distract from the melodic line. Similarly, the second and fourth movement did the same shadowing of timbres, but with faster rhythmic layering that was passed between all the voices. As for the third movement, although it did fit into the context of the complete work, it brought new melodies and musical ideas that were highlighted by the violin and viola that differed from the other movements. To me it seemed like Puts wanted to create this circular feeling in the music by beginning and ending the piece with the same timbre, reminding the listeners what they first heard.

            For each of the five movements, it seemed that the roles of the instrument stayed constant throughout the first violin took the top melodies and themes, along with the viola at times, and second violin and cello added texture and color creating the background aesthetic. The pulse of each movement was always easy to identify as either a 4/4 or 2/4 meter, with strong down beats, which can be hard to catch with this genre of music, in my opinion.

Puts’ music keeps a connection to classical Western traditional music by using excerpts from pre-existing classical works in his music. It’s repetitive use of returning themes, harmonic fifths, drones, and mixture between homophonic and polyphonic textures, creates a constant ostinato in each movement. For example, in the first and fifth movement, the structure alternates a few times between a slow lyrical melody and a faster rhythmic layering which develops slightly, but not enough that it can’t be recognized. If there were always new developing ideas that didn’t return or come back in a familiar way, I would probably not remember it as much or think much about it after it was over. I thoroughly enjoyed this string quartet with its touching melodies and how it took form as a whole and will continue listening to his other works. This string quartet really gives a strong emotional and compelling feeling that I don’t feel in 21st century music. 

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