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The Elegy was written in memory of my grandmother, Nell Novak, who died in September 2010.  Grandma Novak was a highly respected cello teacher, and many of her students became professional cellists: Wendy Warner, Ani Aznavoorian, Peter Seidenberg, Amy Barston, among others.  The piece is an elegy, so it is a slow, sad piece, that attempts to express the emotions I felt when I heard that my grandmother was deteriorating quickly and would die soon.  However, it has an appropriately peaceful ending.  I originally wrote it for a string trio (violin, viola, and cello), but since many parts of it were basically four-part harmony stuffed into three instruments, I wrote a string quartet version which is somewhat easier.


The composition is in three parts.  The first four notes are an introductory motif that appears two other times, as a unifying factor.  The first part (mm. 5-28) presents the Elegy theme, which is really a set of motifs, with a complex, lugubrious harmony.  The second part (mm. 29-76) starts with the "mourning cry" theme.  This may have been inspired by the Thrinos sections in Tavener's Lamentations and Praises, but I cannot recall precisely at this point.  The cello is joined first by the violin, then the viola, whereupon a whole chorus of mourning cries starts.  This gives way to a chorale-like section, with the Elegy motifs and mourning cries mingled in.  The latter theme reappears in full to build up to a climax, which repeats the motif from the beginning of the piece.  In the (short) third section, the instruments come back in timidly, repeating the Elegy theme in an unsettled, ambiguous way.  Finally, the mourning cry of the second section reappears, transformed into a joyful, peaceful theme as the departed soul ascends from the earth.  This is played on cello, since my grandmother was a cellist.

The piece varies in its tonality: the first part is Shostakovich/Bartok-ish, since (to my knowledge) Grandma was particularly fond of Shostakovich and other early 20th-century music; the second section is more diatonic; and the third section is more like my typical compositions.  I considered harmonizing the second section in a similar style to the first section; however, I wasn't sure it would be convincing considering the theme already meanders tonally quite a bit.  There is (well, there was supposed to be) a constant tug between A minor and C minor.  The B and F# from the beginning reappear many times, including prominently as part of the mourning cry theme, to unify the different sections of the piece.  The A minor and C minor "struggle" finally resolves itself in the end fittingly in C major.  I decided not to put the piece in any key signature because it keeps changing, and because I wasn't really sure if it was in A minor or C minor.  I suppose in the end it's more the latter than the former, but hindsight is 20/20.


My favorite part of this piece is the ending (the last ten bars).  Also, I succeeded more than I usually do in sustaining a musical idea for more than a couple of minutes.  I also think that at least some of the chords that I "land" on in the first and third sections are fairly effective.


The harmony in the second section seems pretty forced in many places, to fit the awkward "mourning cry" theme.  I'm not a big fan of tremolo in chamber music, except for achieving special effects, which is why I created another version that eliminates the tremolo, although it is more difficult.  The double-stop harmonics at the beginning of the string trio version are difficult to play, and even more difficult to get in tune.  And I could have used the various voices of the instruments more effectively in places; as it stands, it's mostly block harmony, bottom to top.

Score and Audio

See the Attachments section below for the score and audio files for this work.  There are two versions of the string trio version: draft 3 and draft 4.  Draft 3 is easier and maybe more effective at building up the tension before the climax; draft 4 is probably slightly superior musically.


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Composition Facts

Date Composed:
September 2010

7 minutes


string trio (violin, viola and cello), or string quartet

Very Difficult
Eric Galluzzo,
Nov 4, 2010, 6:33 PM
Eric Galluzzo,
Nov 4, 2010, 6:21 PM
Eric Galluzzo,
Nov 4, 2010, 6:35 PM
Eric Galluzzo,
Nov 4, 2010, 6:22 PM