On Davidovsky’s String Trio

Network for New Music played Mario Davidovsky’s String Trio here in Philadelphia yesterday. I wrote a program note for the performance:

The very first sound we hear in Mario Davidovsky’s String Trio – a short sharp attack in the viola combined with the same notes sustained in the violin –  reflects the composer’s pioneering work in the medium of electronic music. In that opening sound he creates a composite gesture just as he constructed such gestures by splicing together bits of magnetic recording tape in the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center beginning in the early 1960’s. Building up a musical discourse from elemental particles became Davidovsky’s practice when writing purely instrumental music as well. The lightning speed of articulation, the rapidly shifting dynamic levels, the sense of a musical space in constant flux, all of which we hear in the String Trio, can be traced to Davidovsky’s work in the electronic medium.

But there is more to this music than an acoustic replication of electronic idioms. The hard-edged intensities of this music also reflect an urban sensibility, a response to the experience of living in New York City as Davidovsky has for most of his life. This aspect of his music requires a super-charged playing style with exaggerated dynamics, and razor sharp rhythms. In contrast, amid the stinging attacks, flurries of activity, and sudden swells, there are moments in this music of the utmost delicacy, singing lines that intersect in what composer Ross Bauer has characterized as an “almost Renaissance purity”.

The pleasure of Davidovsky’s Trio springs from attending to the play of forms, the way fragmentary elements are deployed over time, how they are juxtaposed, layered, and transformed into one another. In its fiery vehemence, its scintillating exuberance, and its extreme tenderness, Davidovsky’s Trio offers us an uncommonly eloquent musical narrative.

Davidovsky’s String Trio was commissioned by the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and premiered in Venice in 1982 by members of the Arditti Quartet.

Here’s a recording of the Trio from a Bridge Records album. (Note that the image shown in the video is from some other album!)

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