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Charlotte Bray Zustände (2017)

For piano quartet

12 minutes


Zustände, meaning “states", refers to the various forms of ice that inspired the piece.

Whether a lone iceberg, large chunks breaking off from the fragile edge of a glacier,

or the crackle of an ice field melting in the sun, the imaginary realisation of the

sounds generated by the moving ice drive the conceptualisation of the piece. Its

structure arises from the use of three photographs taken during a recent visit to

Greenland; a single image forming the motivation behind each movement.


Brittle, splintering ice is the "state" by which the first movement finds its timbral

character. Focusing on colour, I reimagined the sound of the cracking ice, slowly

floating in the Sound from the face of the glacier. Techniques, including tremolo, col

legno and pizzicato are utilised in the string parts to create the unique texture of the

material. Slowly disintegrating in the glistening sun, sparks are heard as it cracks

within, becoming weaker and ever more fragile. The feeling of being trapped- alluding

to the molecules within smaller icebergs- is achieved by encapsulating the music in a

high register and progressing very slowly harmonically. Active yet muted, the music is

in constant motion but at an inherently slow rate.


A majestic, lone iceberg inspired the second movement, the melodic core of the

work, which sees solos moving upwards through the strings, floating powerfully and

majestically unaccompanied. The structure was suggested by the photographic

image and shaped by the traced outline of the iceberg itself. By analogy, smooth and

freely sculpted by the wind, the music is supported by a secure steady base,

resonating in the chunky block chords of the piano in the later part of the movement.


Varied and unpredictable, the final movement is located within the highly energised,

at times threatening, environment of an ice field. The passage shifts between blocks

of material representing different physical states: firstly, bright, active and alert, the

music is tossed between ice forms. The second is shockingly rigid, as if trapped in a

block of ice: tight, high tension polyrhythmic and staccato. An eerie stillness

characterises the third state, as if from somewhere distant, trills and oscillations

quietly fill the air. The fourth is very lively, once again within the ice field. Each time

material recurs the order constantly varies- heard from a different perspective.


Zustände was commissioned by The Schubert Ensemble in partnership with the Wiltshire Music Centre and premiered at the Wiltshire Music Centre on 18th March 2017. The commission was supported by The Schubert Ensemble Trust, the Wiltshire Music Centre, and The Steel Charitable Trust

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