Kronos Quartet

Salome Dances for Peace

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There is no string quartet that has ever been written that can compare length and diversity with Terry Riley's Salome Dances for Peace. Morton Feldman has written a longer one, but it is confined to his brilliant field of notational relationships and open tonal spaces. Riley's magnum opus, which dwarfs Beethoven's longest quartet by three, is a collection of so many different kinds of music, many of which had never been in string quartet form before and even more of which would -- or should -- never be rubbing up against one another in the same construct. Riley is a musical polymath, interested in music from all periods and cultures: there are trace elements of jazz and blues up against Indian classical music, North African Berber folk melodies, Native American ceremonial music, South American shamanistic power melodies -- and many more. The reason they are brought together in this way is for the telling of an allegorical story. In Riley's re-examining Salome's place in history, he finds a way to redeem both her and the world through her talent. Two thousand years after her original infamous dance she is summoned by the Great Spirit who sees her as the epitome of the feminine force and needs her talent to win back peace for the world, which has been stolen by dark forces. The quartet that Kronos takes on here has five movements, but within each movement are sections where the music changes to illustrate certain themes in Salome's journey to dance for peace. In the first two movements alone there are a total of 15 such sections. Some of them move through Middle Eastern desert themes and others through the Old West as portrayed by Aaron Copland. The genius in such a work is not so much in having so many ideas and putting them into one pot, but in writing transitions for a group of musicians to make them believable and seamless. In Riley's quartet, the journeying from summoning to the recessional at the end, movement is constant: action, contemplation, and meditation all take place on the move. Kronos' sense of drama and pace is inherent in everything they do and so the theater involved here (this was originally conceived of as a ballet) is not a stretch for them. But the emotional changes involved in the solemnity of the cause -- which Riley's mythical undertaking takes absolutely seriously -- that move from great seriousness to righteous anger to being in awe of the Divine and the urge to give in to various temptations are all illustrated by rhythmic, tonal, and timbral changes within the score. Modes shift from interval to interval without seam, hesitation, or mindless transition. Riley takes all of the musical ideas he holds dear, places them in the context of all the world's musical styles he holds sacred, and then creates for them an allegory that has lasting implications for how people view not only history and their role in the present, but how they conduct their view of the world around them forever more. That this is done without a lyric or being autodidactic is a small miracle. That he and the Kronos Quartet have produced a string quartet at the end of the twentieth century that stands as one of the most sophisticated and musically challenging in the history of Western music is an enigma.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Salome Dances for Peace, pieces (5) for string quartet
blue highlight denotes track pick