music for bowed string instruments consists mostly of music composed by Malcolm Goldstein (b. 1936) between 2018 and 2019 while living in Montréal, Québec. The impulse to compose this series came from Goldstein’s experience as a teacher and performer of Béla Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins (1931). Whereas Bartók’s series features a clear progression to the pieces, gradually increasing in technical and musical complexity from beginning to end, music for bowed string instruments has no such sequence. The compositions do not build toward a particular way of playing or specific kind of technical virtuosity. Even so, Goldstein envisions these pieces to be used as both teaching material for improvisation as well as concert pieces.
Each of the fifteen pieces defines a narrow set of parameters—musical, physical, conceptual, etc.—to explore the sounding possibilities of stringed instruments. Goldstein uses the term structured improvisation composition to describe this kind of piece. He explains that concept as “improvisation as a process of discovery enacted within the structures of the particular performance activities specified for each piece.” In other words, the musicians are not free to play anything at all, but they are free to explore everything within the constraints laid out in the score. Goldstein’s aim is not for the musicians to produce the same music each time, nor to try and play a piece the way he would do it. Rather the philosophy is centered on the process of “each individual unfolding, the breath expanding in gestures of becoming sound.” Goldstein relishes the possibilities inherent to improvisation: “Anything can happen starting from nothing … so that music is a process of discovery filled with surprises.” All of the musicians on this recording are part of the Montréal improvisation scene and there is a deep mutual trust between composer and performers developed over many years. A keen ear will recognize both the unique constraints of each piece’s structure and the subtle, individualized ways the different musicians improvise the material.
Malcolm Goldstein, violin; Jean René, viola; Émilie Girard-Charest, cello; Nicolas Caloia, contrabass