Pascal Dusapin’s Quatuor III

HearThisInConcert-01OpusNovus: Through Time & Space
Sunday, 18 November 2018 at 5:00pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Orchestra Hall

Contributed by Lim Wen Liang (BMUS2, YST)

Pascal Dusapin is a French composer born in 1955. He decided that he would devote his life to composing at the age of 18, when he first heard Arcana by Edgar Varese. After this point he studied with Iannis Xenakis from 1974 to 1978, with whom he learnt to integrate different disciplines into his work. For example, the form of his piece Reverso, was inspired by a Bill Brandt photograph, and raises questions like depth of field, focus and perspective in a musical context.

He has been highly lauded with prizes and accomplishments including the Foundation de la Vocation prize in 1977, Villa Medicis prize in 1988, the Cino del Duca prize in 2005, as well as the Dan David prize in 2007. He was also awarded the position of Academician at the Bayerische Academie in Munich and became Artistic Chairman at the College de France[1].

Quatuor III was composed in 1992, around the same time he was composing his inventive Seven Solos for Orchestra (1992-2009). It was commissioned by the Musée du Louvre for the celebration of its Bicentennial and performed by the Arditti String Quartet on the “Henri Dutilleux: Ainsi la nuit – Pascal Dusapin: Time zones & Quatuor III” and has had repeated performances since then.

It consists of four movements, simply titled I, II, III and IV.

Dusapin’s stylistic shift to emphasis on timbre, harmonic and melodic simplicity can be heard throughout the Quatuor III. Using static harmonic structures, rhythmic figures and different timbres, Dusapin creates an idiosyncratic style that is simple and sometimes said to contain a vocal quality. In Quatuor III, this is immediately apparent. With the limited harmonic material Dusapin creates a pulsing rhythm with interlocking parts, especially visible in the quick fourth movement of this piece. The feeling of stasis permeates the piece with long-drawn drone notes despite the frantic rhythmic activity. Never seeming to move anywhere but in constant motion, it feels like a boat rocking on the waves while docked near the shore. Despite the waves there is no sense or danger or urgency, as we know we are safely tethered to the dock.

Stylistically, this piece has a very “classical” approach. The composer used a literary quote by Gilles Deleuze in L’Epuisé to describe the construction of the piece. It mentions formal singularities, as well as equidistant summits and centres. The harmonic foundation set up in the first movement orders and evolves throughout the piece. Musical lines are clean and melodic, and Dusapin creates unexpected familiarity of quarter tones through this elegant treatment of melody. We see this element at work clearly through the second movement, II, in the opening viola melody. The line weaves through quarter tones as if it was second nature, reminiscent of perhaps Eastern European popular music. As with a conventional string quartet, all four players work cohesively as opposed to the individualism that Dusapin creates in his earlier Quatuor II. All this symmetry was intentional as Dusapin tried to create imbalance through overt symmetry through the four movements. This coherence is a welcome experience for the listener, allowing the lines to flow seamlessly into one another as one sonorous experience.

This contrasts with his previous string quartet, Quatuor II, where dysfunction and anarchy dominate. A similarity in both works however, is the obsession of moving away from a set path, which in Quatuor III is created by using rhythmic spirals. You can hear this in the third movement. As it begins it resembles the first movement, but frees itself through this process. Dusapin describes this as being on an unplanned journey, knowing the final destination, but also finding intrigue in the accidents, detours and deformations along the way. This unpredictability is interesting and tedious, but never totally expected, which makes the music twist and turn in some unexpected ways.


[1] Universal Music Publishing Classical. (2011, September). Dusapin, Pascal. Retrieved from

Categories Compositions

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close