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String Quintet ‘Splendid hopes’

Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)

Composer
Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)
Composition Year
2016
Artists
Johannes Moser [Cello], Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Splendid Hopes’ refers to Schubert’s emotional words, near the end of his short life, written in a letter to a friend. Though the letter is incredibly sad, the idea of ‘splendid hopes’ somehow shines out and gave me pause to think about the idea of hope. The piece does not quote Schubert (whose Quintet follows late night) but reflects the reach, desire, optimism, and struggle so often a part of hope.

Splendid Hopes was written for cellist Johannes Moser and the Pacifica Quartet - inspired by the power and depth of their playing. Note by Julia Wolfe

Julia Wolfe, of Bang on a Can fame, quotes from Schubert’s famous letter when he described himself as
the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world whose most splendid hopes have perished. This was four years before his untimely death but he was already suffering terribly from his ultimately fatal disease. She picks on the phrase splendid hopes that, despite the hopelessness of Schubert’s situation, bears a strange sense of aspiration that became the central metaphor for this piece.


Most of the work focuses on two ideas – a surging, glowing tremolo theme and a gentle chorale. The first two-thirds of this substantial work is a long exploration of the different possibilities of these two ideas. This process has been well described as a study in different flavours of tremolo within a complex web of dissonant chords. The music keeps reaching out for some kind of resolution but it keeps swerving away and the tension remains unresolved. Despite the composer’s reputation for iconoclasm, there is no aggression in this work and its most striking moments are the quiet ones when the music lingers on a single note.


The work’s final third does explode into a whirlwind of spectacular arpeggios, which at their peak transform into a chorale-like coda, whose abrupt conclusion is the most frightening moment of all. In sum this is beautiful and affecting music that paves the way for the same musicians’ late-night performance of Schubert’s last word on his splendid hopes.

Francis Humphrys

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String Quintet ‘Splendid hopes’

Composer: Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)
Performance date: Monday 3rd July 2017
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Julia Wolfe (b. 1958)
Work Title String Quintet ‘Splendid hopes’
Composition Year 2016
Artist(s) Johannes Moser [Cello], Pacifica Quartet (Simin Ganatra, Sibbi Bernhardsson [violins], Masumi Per Rostad [viola], Brandon Vamos [cello])
Performance Date Monday 3rd July 2017
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:21:24
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Quintet
Premiere European Premiere
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Splendid Hopes’ refers to Schubert’s emotional words, near the end of his short life, written in a letter to a friend. Though the letter is incredibly sad, the idea of ‘splendid hopes’ somehow shines out and gave me pause to think about the idea of hope. The piece does not quote Schubert (whose Quintet follows late night) but reflects the reach, desire, optimism, and struggle so often a part of hope.

Splendid Hopes was written for cellist Johannes Moser and the Pacifica Quartet - inspired by the power and depth of their playing. Note by Julia Wolfe

Julia Wolfe, of Bang on a Can fame, quotes from Schubert’s famous letter when he described himself as
the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world whose most splendid hopes have perished. This was four years before his untimely death but he was already suffering terribly from his ultimately fatal disease. She picks on the phrase splendid hopes that, despite the hopelessness of Schubert’s situation, bears a strange sense of aspiration that became the central metaphor for this piece.


Most of the work focuses on two ideas – a surging, glowing tremolo theme and a gentle chorale. The first two-thirds of this substantial work is a long exploration of the different possibilities of these two ideas. This process has been well described as a study in different flavours of tremolo within a complex web of dissonant chords. The music keeps reaching out for some kind of resolution but it keeps swerving away and the tension remains unresolved. Despite the composer’s reputation for iconoclasm, there is no aggression in this work and its most striking moments are the quiet ones when the music lingers on a single note.


The work’s final third does explode into a whirlwind of spectacular arpeggios, which at their peak transform into a chorale-like coda, whose abrupt conclusion is the most frightening moment of all. In sum this is beautiful and affecting music that paves the way for the same musicians’ late-night performance of Schubert’s last word on his splendid hopes.

Francis Humphrys