Tera de Marez Oyens: String Quartet Contrafactus

Context

Born in August 1932, Tera de Marez Oyens was a talented Dutch pianist composer who studied at the Amsterdam Conservatoire under Jan Odé. Oyens wrote a catalogue of over 200 works which mainly focused on song cycles and chamber music. However, during the 1960s Oyens became interested in electronic music, so she went to study under the tutelage of Gottfried Michael Koenig at the Institute of Sonology in Utrecht. Once Oyens decided to pursue composing full time, she began writing at a faster pace, often receiving commissions from the Dutch Ministry of Culture as well as various Dutch broadcasters. Oyens’ music pushes the boundaries of tonality and rhythm, whilst also staying within widely-accepted 20th century forms. 

 

The Music

String Quartet Contrafactus was composed in 1982, during the composer’s later life. Unlike the traditional string quartet that is often in a four-movement structure, Oyens uses just the one movement for her quartet. The aggressive opening sets the scene for this tumultuous piece. The opening chord is repeated a number of times throughout, which brings the ensemble together for a short burst of music. Solo lines begin to emerge from all parts, which creates a dissonant array of counterpoint. The rich cello sound is both foreboding and comforting as the jaunty upper strings move between octaves very quickly. A scratchy and foreboding swell between the instruments leads to a satisfying resolution chord that leads into the next section of the quartet. 

Oyens’ use of silence speaks volumes in parts of this quartet, as the largely dissonant and intense harmony is broken by the silence. A quieter section begins, with the ensemble fluctuating between chords. Oyens utilises each instrument to their full capacity, with each part acting as a soloist and an accompanist at points in the quartet. The use of pizzicato creates vastly different textures which changes the course of the quartet yet again. Subtle changes in rhythm create uneasiness within the music until the ensemble unite for short passages. After a set of silences, the last minute of the quartet is subdued, with the violin taking the lead on the theme. The dynamic is much quieter as each instrument takes its turn to present the theme once more. Tera de Marez Oyens’ String Quartet Contrafactus concludes quietly. 

 

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