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Carson Cooman: Oboe Quartet (2007) for oboe and string trio

By Carson Cooman

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Oboe, Violin, Viola, Cello, String Trio - Advanced
Composed by Carson Cooman (1982-). 21st Century, Contemporary Classical, Repertoire. Score, Set of Parts. 75 pages. Published by Musik Fabrik (S0.199567).

Item Number: S0.199567

Oboe Quartet (2007) for oboe and string trio was commissioned by Richard Mason, for whose
ongoing support of my music, I am exceptionally grateful. The inspiration for the piece is two-fold.
Firstly, the work is dedicated to composer Louis Karchin, whose superbly vibrant music continues
to delight, surprise, and inspire me. Secondly, this quartet is directly inspired by the playing of a
series of oboists who, through their performing, recording, and repertoire advocacy, have come to
define the way I think about the instrument and its repertoire: Toni Marie Marchioni, Stephen
Taylor, George Caird, Peggy Pearson, Jacqueline Leclair, and Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida.
The oboe quartet genre tends to inspire two different kinds of works: in one type, the pieces are
conceived as “mini-oboe concerti” with the oboe defined as a clear solo voice over the backing of
the string trio; in the other type of work, the oboe is the “first among equals” in an integrated
chamber music discourse. This work falls into the latter category. In the recent years, wonderful
oboe quartets from Yehudi Wyner (1999), Elliott Carter (2001), and Fred Lerdahl (2002) have
continued to define an American voice in this genre.
This work is cast in a single movement, controlled by a loose variation form with the intent of
creating a single musical “line” and narrative. From the beginning to the end, there is continuous
melodic and harmonic development, working towards creating a structure which, though tightly
controlled, is also somewhat improvisatory in spirit. The music can be grouped broadly into three
sections, each of which is a large-scale variation and each also containing a number of overlapping
smaller variations.
The opening, with its nervous cascades of pizzicato strings, is marked “tumbling wildly, with
restless energy.” Switching to bowed playing, the cello states the basic musical material of the piece:
a whirling series of melodic intervals. An oboe cadenza (“colored” by the strings) begins the
development and leads into a contrapuntal texture with interplay and flourishes between all four
instruments. The next section is marked “keening, fierce lament.” (Keening is defined as a “wailing
lament for the dead.”) The underlying pulse of the music is slow, but it is full in sonority and
passionate in gesture. The shorter final section contains aspects of both the two preceding sections,
as part of the ongoing development. In places, the music moves towards the raw and violent in
affect. The final coda, however, is slow and lyrical as the oboe sings a last melody over “bell-like”
chords in the strings.

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