String Quartet “A Distant Voice Calling”
by American String Quartet on March 3, 2002
Performances: (11/26/09) Haverford College (Philadelphia), Manhattan School of Music (NY), by the American String Quartet, University of New Mexico, by the Del Sol Quartet. An offshoot work entitled “Tucson Scherzo” was premiered at the Alba Music Festival in June of 2007, by the Ex Novo ensemble at the prestigious Teatro La Fenice in Venice in November 2007 (and recorded for broadcast on the RAI), and by members of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra of California in conjunction with a Cacioppo residency there in February of 2008.
Published: Orenda Press, and parts and score are available in print or as pdfs.
CD: MSR Classics “Ancestral Passage”, American String Quartet, 2008.
Curt Cacioppo writes: My new string quartet, like some of my other work, is inspired by the Navajo creation story. It may seem strange to put these two elements together, but there is a fundamental correspondence between the four members of the quartet and the four Navajo deities, led by Talking God, whose distant voice is heard calling to the wind-spirit people—Nílch’i dine’é—at the earliest stages of emergence. Cast in four connected movements, the quartet follows the progress of evolution from the arising of colors to the creation of First Man and First Woman. You can listen to the piece as absolute music, or if so inclined, you may wish to track the narrative, as follows:
In the Navajo story, there is no precise moment of creation, or dynamic imperative of “Let there be light!” Instead, cardinal points begin to radiate with color—white arises in the east, blue in the south, yellow in the west, and black in the north. Streams of water begin to flow in all directions, with dwellings along them. Reeds, sumac trees, rocks and mountains appear. There are beetles and dragonflies among 12 types of insects in all. We encounter characters like Coyote, Blue Heron, Red Wind, and Winter Thunder.
The progress of the wind-spirit people, who ultimately aid in the creation of mankind’s most ancient ancestors, becomes the next main focus. They are a disorderly race, quarrelsome, adulterous, offensive to others. Slow learners, they repeat their sins. Threatened by a flood, they are ejected from the first world and emerge through a hole in the sky into the second. Now guests of the Swallow People, they proceed to offend their new hosts. One of them even becomes too free with the swallow chief’s wife. Arrogant and disorderly, they are starved out of this world, and forced into a third. This is the land of the Yellow Grasshopper People. Again they commit sin and bring disorder. “You lack intelligence . . . get out of here,” says the grasshopper chief. The airborne nomads are banished from this world, too. They fly to the hard outer crust of the sky, and arrive in the fourth world.
Suddenly they hear a distant voice calling to them from far in the east. It repeats four times, and eventually they find themselves standing among four mysterious beings. They had never seen such creatures anywhere before. These are the Holy People, intelligent, immortal. They can travel far by following the path of the rainbow, and swiftly by following the path of the sun ray. They can make the winds and the thunderbolts work for them so that the earth is theirs to control when they so wish. These masked ones instruct the insect people to cleanse themselves, and prepare to witness a ceremony.
Talking God and God of Fire place a buckskin on the ground. Upon it they place a white and a yellow ear of corn. Under each ear they place an eagle feather of like color. Over these they spread another buckskin. Then from the east, the wind blows between the buckskins, while each of the Holy People—House God and Water Sprinkler, along with Talking God and God of Fire—in moccasined feet walks four times around the objects so carefully placed on the ground. As they walk, the eagle feathers, whose tips protrude slightly from between the two buckskins, move.
When the Holy People finish walking, they lift the top.m.ost buckskin. And Lo! The ears of corn have disappeared. And in their place lie a man and a woman, our most ancient ancestors. The wind has given them life; the very wind that gives us our breath; the life-giving wind at the tips of our fingers. Look carefully at your own fingertips. There you will see where the wind blew when it created your most ancient ancestors, First Man and First Woman. In the quartet, the Fantasia alludes to events through the ejection from the first world. The Ode evokes the barren terrain of the second world, giving way to an ecological dialogue between the violins. The Scherzo section alternates playfulness with argumentation, its muted Trio section has a quality of lesson and ritual. The Rondo depicts the creation ceremony of First Man and First Woman, and features the sound of the Holy People’s sacred footsteps.
Sponsored by: Linda and Stuart Nelson