I have a bucket list. I guess most people probably do, but mine isn’t full of the things I want to do before I die (skydiving, seeing the Northern Lights, building a house, though all of those would be lovely!) – my list is of music I want to write. As a former violinist (I haven’t played since high school), my early years were spent gorging on the quartets of Bartók, Barber, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Schubert, Glass… So, when I first began to get serious about composing, the first thing on my bucket list was 24 quartets, each in a different key, à la Bach fugues or Shostakovich’s incomplete attempt at a cycle of quartets. I don’t really write to a functional key anymore, but the challenge to write a full cycle is something I’d like to attempt to see through – why not?
Connor D’Netto. Photo © Ray Roberts Photography
Thus the quartet has by design become a recurring feature in my career. In fact, my earliest completed piece (at least that I still allow to see the light of day) and my first to receive a public performance was my first quartet. It really wears its influences on its sleeve, I obviously hadn’t found my own style yet – as opposed to my second quartet, composed less than a year later, which for me was a bit of a coming-of-age, finding a voice, a direction to take me forward.
So, the string quartet, dotted throughout my output every now and then (I would have to compose one every second year from here on to finish the cycle!) has become a medium to take stock of where I am as a composer. It’s become the grounds to look back at how my musical style has developed, and to experiment with new ideas of where my music might go next.
In the four years that have passed since I composed my second quartet (there were other works for quartet in between, but none that ticked off the bucket list) I feel my music has really settled into its own language. But recently it’s begun to expand in new directions, which really took root in writing this, the third quartet of the cycle. It’s both been a case of stripping back my music to its barest elements, allowing myself to really feel out every corner of a simple set of ideas, and conversely layering up permutations of an idea into dense complex textures, pushing ideas to their most extreme.
Many look at the quartets of composers and see them as an autobiographical medium (Shostakovich, I’m looking at you). I’m not sure if that’s the case for me, I’ll leave that up to my future biographer to decipher… But each time I write one, there is something deeply personal about the process, and it’s a challenge I do enjoy.
The Goldner String Quartet performs the world premiere of Connor D’Netto’s String Quartet No 3 at the Australian Festival of Chamber Music on July 29