String Quartet on the life of Saint John Paul II


Concert in honor of John Paul II and John XXIII
27th of April 2014 (day of their canonization)
Apse (abside) of the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde (Montreal)

Mov 1: Youth
Mov 2: Vocation (9’13”)
Mov 3: Do Not Be Afraid (17’50”)

Musicians: Auriolus Quartet

Program note:

String Quartet on the life of Saint John Paul II was written in 2013/2014, during my studies at the master’s degree in Composition at the Université de Montréal. Musically, his life offered several varied contrasts to be exploited. The piece has three movements and its duration is about 25 minutes.

In this quartet, I tried to mix different techniques, preserving a modal/tonal language as a basis. Indeed, the piece has some extended techniques like the Seagull Effect, harmonic glissandos, note accel. and note rall., as well as the Medieval sonorities of parallel 5th and 8th being used with a contemporary harmonies. All this, however, within a traditional language. Gregorian chants are also very present in the 2nd and 3rd movements.

The first movement, a sonata form, is called “Youth” and begins with a brief introduction which represents the Battle of Warsaw, or the “Miracle at the Vistula”, when the Polish army defeated the much larger Red Army in 1920, a few months after the birth of the little Karol Józef Wojtyła, affectionately called Lolek during his childhood and youth. Theme A represents his quite painful youth, notably with the death of his parents, and theme B, over a very bellicose cello, represents the years he lived under the Nazi and Communist regimes. In the Development part, elements used in the Exposition are developed rather than the themes, and the Recapitulation brings the two themes together.

The second movement, “Vocation”, is a theme and variations. The theme is the Gregorian chant “Tu Es Petrus“, the Communion chant of the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29th), taken from the Liber Usualis . In the middle of the movement, there is a very strong attack made ​​by all musicians, representing the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981, followed by a quite troubled variation. Just after that variation, another one is set up, very soft and harmonious, which represents John Paul II’s forgiveness to his aggressor.

The third movement, “Do not be afraid”, is based on his first homily as Pope, on October 22nd, 1978, especially the part “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ”. Two themes are set up successively. The first has a heroic character but also quite scared. The second is the Gregorian chant “Ne timeas, Maria“, the phrase of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation: “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favour.” (Luke 1 , 30) . This chant, also taken from the Liber Usualis, is the third antiphon of the Second Vespers of the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25th). The orchestration of the movement also has a relation to John Paul II’s phrase: as the movement goes on, the ambitus opens, even if in a non-linear manner, as the doors that open wide for Christ. At the beginning, the instruments play in the ambitus of about one octave; at the end, of more than four octaves. A plagal cadence, remembering an Amen, concludes the piece.

The world premiere of the Stinrg Quartet on the life of Saint John Paul II, performed by the Auriolus Quartet, took place at the Apse of the Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde, in Montreal, on the 27th of April 2014, in a concert in honor of Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII (day of their canonization).