Music is all about communicating. Much of our everyday communication takes place on social media, and we would like to see musical communication here as well. We invite composers of all ages and abilities to tweet us a short quartet of 280 (formerly 140) notes or less on Twitter—a #quartweet!
Following in the footsteps of Bach and Webern, both unwitting quartweeters, we have already received #quartweets by Grawemeyer Award winners Sebastian Currier and Brett Dean, Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Bruno Mantovani, Kevin Volans, Steven Mackey, Derek Bermel, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Julian Grant, Jing Jing Luo, Konstantia Gourzi and more. The first #quartweet was written by Matthijs van Dijk: #quartweet no.1 “Eine kleine Dubstep”.
The project, founded by the Signum Quartet, was launched at a residency hosted by the Princeton Symphony Orchestra in October 2015. A partnership with Cardiff University and Rob Fokkens followed in 2016: workshops with student and scholar composers are essential part of the project. We regularly include #quartweets in our concerts and broadcast them on social media and YouTube.
Additional information can be found @SignumQuartet on Twitter.
Ideas on sharing your score
You can do this by uploading your score to any filesharing platform, dropbox, google drive, etc. and tweeting us the link. We would also really appreciate a brief tweeted description (programme tweet) of the piece – in 280 characters or less, of course! If you could give us a note-count, that would be great too!
How do we define/count “notes”?
Here are some guidelines to help you get started. These are by no means set in stone: We welcome an engagement with the “rules” and welcome questions or suggestions. Our special thanks go to Sebastian Currier at the IAS for his help with these. The total note count across all four voices should not exceed 280 notes.
Each notehead counts as a note. The total note count across all four voices should not exceed 280 notes.
Examples: 1 notehead with a tremolo/ unmeasured repetition/ ricochet marking counts as 1 note.
An unmeasured tremolo between two notes counts the number of noteheads used.
1 notehead with a glissando marking spanning various pitches counts as 1 note.
Double-stops/ chords are counted as the number of pitches contained therein
Multiple noteheads tied together without a new articulation count as 1 note.
Artificial harmonics with two noteheads but one sounding pitch count as 1 note.
Are allowed to the extent that the total number of actual notes played does not exceed 280
Will count as the notes they are replacing.
Signs (trills, mordents, turns) will not be counted. Grace notes will be counted, as these technically count as noteheads.
Performance directions, time signatures, tempo markings, dynamics, articulation etc. will not be counted. Rests will not be counted either. Only the notes.
Q&A with Xandi van Dijk of the Signum Quartet and Marc Uys of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (May 2015)
1. What is a #quartweet?
Xandi: The premise is simple – music is all about communication, and as so much of our communicating happens via social media, we would like to see musical communication take place there as well, so we invite composers from all walks to tweet us a short quartet of 140 notes or less on Twitter: A #quartweet!
2. What was the genesis of the project, and what are the ideas behind it?
Xandi: The #quartweet project grew out of an idea of having a “sampler album” of really short pieces by as many composers and in as many different styles as possible, and certainly not only in the language of “Western classical music”. This idea later gave rise to a further component of having composers comment on or even extend each others’ pieces, with a possible outcome being something akin to an open-source composition – a meta-quartweet! I don’t know how realistic a meta-quartweet is, but having many styles and many languages is something I’m really excited about pursuing, and maybe the meta-idea will evolve.
3. What are the aims of the project?
Xandi: This is a multi-faceted project, and I like to think of it as a microcosm of that which we enjoy doing as a quartet and of which we would like to do more: Play new compositions by composers we know as well as get to know many new composers from across the globe. Workshops with student composers at universities and conservatoires as well as elementary, middle and high schools will also be an essential part of the #quartweet project.
We would love to see composers in creative engagement with a new and evolving form. Ultimately we hope to see the @SignumQuartet #quartweet platform develop to a place where musicians can connect and communicate with each other and dialogue with each others’ works. And by no means are these new quartweets meant solely for the Signum Quartet! I’d like to see our Twitter page become a place where musicians and other ensembles or quartets can look for interesting new, short pieces to include in their programmes or for composers who might interest them.
That having been said, the Signum Quartet will start including a constantly varying selection of quartweets in our concert programmes as well as regularly broadcasting on Periscope and posting our favourites on our YouTube channel, and hope that others do the same!
4. Why are you giving this project a home on Twitter?
Xandi: Social media is at the centre of a change in how we communicate with each other, and we wanted to extend this experiment in communication to the realm of music and to compositions for quartet in particular.
“The string quartet is the most comprehensible genre of instrumental music,” wrote Goethe to C.F. Zelter in 1829. “One hears four intelligent people conversing with one another, believes one might learn something from their discourse”.
Now, anyone who has been anywhere near Twitter knows that it is sadly not always about intelligent people conversing with each other! Anyone who has written a tweet also knows that one needs to express oneself in a different way, in a more concise way. This in turn has had an effect (for better or for worse) on how we communicate. We see the quartweet not only as a new way of communicating musically but as a composition exercise in concision.
Another important aspect of Twitter is its lightness and informality, something with which to counteract the unfair and often untrue perception of the string quartet genre being bogged down by the weight of the greats and their monumental compositions. I love these monumental compositions, I love playing them and listening to them and feel that humankind can still profit a lot from them, but this is NOT the only and certainly not the de facto approach to the string quartet!
5. Are there any precedents of four-part compositions of 140 notes or less?
Xandi: Yes! There are three Bach Chorales: Nos 6, 42 and 130 from the collection of 371 Chorale Harmonisations. Nine of the 12 Microludes op. 13 by Kurtág and all of Webern’s 6 Bagatelles for string quartet are also under 140 notes. No doubt there are more!
6. How did the Princeton Symphony Orchestra come to be involved?
Xandi: My good friend Marc Uys is Executive Director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra (PSO). We know each other from our studies in Cape Town, and we both went on to play in the Sontonga Quartet in South Africa from 2002-2006. I told Marc about the idea. He was immediately taken by it and came up with the wonderful plan of inviting a number of composers who have had a premiere or an association with the PSO to write a #quartweet in celebration of the PSO’s 35th Anniversary Season (2015-16). This would mean an opportunity to launch the project as part of the PSO’s Chamber Series, and take advantage of the strong community ties the PSO has.
Marc: This is an ideal sort of project for the PSO to get behind, as it allows us to connect many facets of our programming and present them on one stage. In launching the #quartweet project, we will strengthen our associations with several community partners and include a major educational component involving cutting edge technology. And, we’ll be presenting a top-class chamber concert with direct connections to our main-stage subscription series. All this, plus seven world premieres by PSO composer friends and a massive online presence. That is what you may call a win, win, win, situation!
7. Which composers are involved so far?
Xandi: The first person I asked was my brother Matthijs van Dijk, who replied almost instantaneously with his “Eine kleine Dubstep”.
Marc: We are delighted to have this opportunity to showcase, all at the same time, an extraordinary group of composers who are featured on our 15/16 or earlier seasons. To date, we have received commitments to contribute a #quartweet from Sebastian Currier (Artist-in-Residence at the Institute for Advanced Study), Steven Mackey (Chair of Department of Music, Princeton University), Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Julian Grant, Derek Bermel (former Artist-in-Residence at the Institute) and Jing Jing Luo, who will have a residency with us later in the season as part of the League of American Orchestras’ and New Music USA’s Music Alive: New Partnerships. This will be a great way to ‘Tweet’ about and promote her stay with the PSO!
Xandi: Bruno Mantovani will write us a 10 second #quartweet – we’ll be premiering his (full-sized) Third Quartet at the Paris Quartet Biennale in January 2016. Konstantia Gourzi will also be writing us one.
We have been speaking to Rob Fokkens, another good friend, at Cardiff University since the inception of the project, and are very excited to be partnering with him and the University.
8. What does the education side of the project look like?
Marc: As part of a residency program with the PSO’s BRAVO! program, Signum Quartet will be bringing the #quartweet project to the Lawrence Township School District, working with third graders at the Township’s four elementary schools on short compositions. We’ll conduct a workshop with the kids and their teacher, Daniel Beal, to notate their #quartweets on iPads, tweet them, and even perform them! An assembly performance will be given by Signum Quartet for students during school that Wednesday, and a special preview concert including a few elementary school #quartweets will take place at Lawrence High School that Thursday evening, October 1, at 7 pm. We will select one student #quartweet for inclusion in the project’s world-launch concert which will take place at 4:30pm on Sunday, October 4, at the Institute for Advanced Study’s Wolfensohn Hall in Princeton, NJ.
The concert will be streamed live through the Princeton Symphony Orchestra’s website: princetonsymphony.org.
Xandi: Our partnership with the University of Cardiff will include some time spent at the University, and prior to that YouTube tutorials, where we would not only perform quartweets by student composers but give a mini-masterclass on selected quartweets as well.
9. How do you define or count “notes”?
Xandi: Without becoming too technical, our rule of thumb has been that each notehead counts as a note. A notable exception is if multiple noteheads are tied together without a new articulation – this counts as 1 note. Performance directions, time signatures, tempo markings, dynamics, articulation etc. will not be counted. Rests will not be counted either. Only the notes.
10. How we are accommodating the listening habits (and dwindling attention spans) of today?
Matthijs van Dijk, composer of #quartweet no. 1, sums up the situation:
“On the whole, people nowadays have a shorter attention span than even 5 years ago, with the smartphone revolution in full swing, diverting everyone’s attention with apps and shiny lights. As a composer, I feel that one needs to take this into consideration when creating a new work. Although it is very tempting to emulate the great symphonists of old, I find that audiences often don’t have the patience to sit through a work of a certain length (myself included, and I am a huge Mahler fan…). Therefore, if I write a piece I would consider a “larger” work I tend to keep it to about 20 minutes – the length of a sitcom episode (without commercial breaks), a size everyone has gotten used to. This having been said, I was involved in writing scripts for a series and one of the lessons I took from this experience was how, as a viewer, if one sees a video clip of longer than 5 minutes, one almost considers it as an “investment” of one’s time and must be really committed to viewing it, whereas one wouldn’t really blink an eye at watching something around 3 minutes and less. (Same applies with articles online: if not written in list form or bite-sized chunks one will often find someone has written “TL;DR” [“Too Long; Didn’t Read”] in the comment section below.) Although there is still a place in the concert hall for the “epic” work, I think if one wants to get the attention of a new listener, something shorter can do a lot more good than harm.”