Traces of a silent landscape
for string quartet

Robert Rival
Robert Rival
Composition Date: 2011
Duration: 00:16:00
Genre: Strings (bowed), Solo / Ensemble, Quartet (2 Violin / Viola / Cello)


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 2 x Violin
  • 1 x Viola
  • 1 x Violoncello
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Programme Note:
While snowshoeing in Algonquin Park during the dead of winter my wife and I experienced a remarkable tranquillity and solitude, a hushed landscape only occasionally punctuated by the taps, squeaks and croaks of woodpeckers, chickadees and ravens. The silence we encountered not only invited contemplation but also a heightened search for any traces of life. Upon closer inspection, the velvety layers of snow draped over fallen branches and tree trunks turned out to be littered with the tracks of deer, deer mice and moose. On our last day in the woods we came upon fresh moose scat and tracks which we followed, and to our delight, came upon a family of these forest giants contentedly munching on bark. They paid little heed to our gawking. The forest teems with life but one rarely experiences it directly.

The trek inspired me to explore the tensions between outer silence and inner excitement, and outer activity and inner tranquillity. An ensemble capable of the softest and most delicate of sounds—like a string quartet—seemed up to the task.

The first three movements proceed without break. A slow fugue introduces the work’s meditative mood. Conventional in its deployment of familiar fugal devices, culminating with a stretto climax, the final statement is delayed by a meandering series of suspension-laden Schubertian sighs. We get lost in the woods before finding our way.

The second movement explores stasis, a surreal calm only occasionally interrupted by activity: the gentle rustling of dead, golden leaves, the call of a chickadee, the distant slow tapping of a woodpecker excavating for bugs.

The scherzo’s swirling effects, lively rhythms, heterophony, and an ostinato in 15/16 frequently at metrical odds with foreground melodies, represent the imagined life of the winter forest—imagined because one rarely actually sees or hears anything.

The quartet closes with a gentle lullaby whose mood echoes that of the first movement but without its contrapuntal complexity. Melodic fragments moving mostly by step derive from the clear song of the chickadee itself (a falling whole tone).

This piece was commissioned by Toronto’s Windermere String Quartet which performs on Classical period instruments whose distinct qualities I bore in mind while composing (without precluding performance on modern instruments): the subdued, airy quality of gut strings and the sparing use of vibrato, in particular. By incorporating a slow fugue I also paid tribute to the works with which my quartet would be performed at its premiere: Beethoven’s Op. 95 "Serioso" and Mendelssohn’s Op. 13, both of which incorporate fugato sections in their slow movements. —R.R.

Premiere Information:
St. Olave's Anglican Church
Windermere String Quartet


  • Call Number:
  • MI 3134 R616tr
  • Genre:
  • Strings (bowed), Solo / Ensemble, Quartet (2 Violin / Viola / Cello)
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • June 18, 2012
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score (16 p.) ;
    16 Pages
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
    Parts page count: 38
    4 parts ([38] p.) ;
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
  • Additional Information:
  • Commissioned by Windermere String Quartet
    I. Fugue. Meditation on a snow-blanketed wilderness (attacca)
    II. Punctuated tranquility (attacca)
    III. Scherzo. Bustle behind a veil of calm
    IV. Forest’s lullaby
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Traces of a silent landscape for string quartet: Score
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Traces of a silent landscape for string quartet: Score and Parts
Score and Parts
(downloadable PDF)
Traces of a silent landscape for string quartet by Robert Rival (Score)
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Traces of a silent landscape for string quartet by Robert Rival (Score and Parts)
Printed on demand
Traces of a silent landscape for string quartet
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