Four to One (2011)

For String Quartet

Composed for the Momenta Quartet

Duration: 8 minutes

Program Note:

Four to One is inspired by the blazing colors and raw intensity of an autumnal sunset in upstate New York. The opening texture of the work reflects this image of the setting sun – an intense, fiery core illuminated by a halo of light. At the outset of the work, the cello sounds a central, expressive line around which the other strings play, creating an halo of sound around the cello line. This texture develops over the course of the piece, the expressive line running throughout the work, passing between the different instruments, and moving in and out of focus from areas of density to those of clarity and unity. The work also explores various permutations of setting the four string voices in dialogue: four voices functioning as one larger voice, three voices competing in conflict against one, two voices against two, and solo voices emerging from four. “Four to One” is dedicated to the Momenta Quartet.


From the Liner Notes from the commercial recording on Albany Records:

Four to One was “inspired by the blazing colors and raw intensity of an autumnal sunset,” an image almost physically present in the barely contained vibrating textures of the opening. Nathan—almost like a painter—creates different densities of texture using combinations of the four instruments, and opposes line (melody) with ground (gestural figures defining harmony). The flow of the piece hinges on a harmonic progression expanding and growing in complexity from single chords. The cello’s melody, initially very constrained, adds pitches as it rises; this process happens in turn with the violin-cello melodic duo of the second big phrase and again in ensuing sections; the idea of rising expansion applies, too, to the entire piece. A passage in unison shading toward ponticello (the thin, wiry sound of playing near the bridge, at about the 2:20 mark in this recording) foreshadows the long coda-like ending of the piece with its sustained transparency, like a sunset as the colors begin to fade. 

Composer; Boston Symphony Orchestra Assistant Director of Program Publications, Editorial


Performed by the Momenta Quartet
From the CD "Multitude, Solitude: Eric Nathan" (Albany Records)


Performed by Momenta Quartet live performance at le poisson rouge (New York)

View Online Score


"...a handsomely wrought evocation of an autumn sunset, in which one or more instrumental strands would rise up briefly to sing out over a busy collective rhythmic roil."

- Steve Smith, The New York Times
on "Four to One" for string quartet (1.9.2013)
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"The concert began with Four to One, played by Momenta, music inspired, in Nathan’s words, by the blazing autumn sunsets in upstate New York. The piece is certainly kaleidoscopic, but what impresses far more is how well written it is as pure music. Nathan likes to juxtapose two disparate chords to make complex harmonies, and he voices them so well that the results are never dense.

"Nor are they harsh. They share some of the richness of Elliott Carter’s harmonies without Carter’s proud, obdurate edge. Nathan’s harmonic hues are bright, and he keeps his textures clear so that when a major or minor triad comes to the fore, it feels like a window has been opened to let in a cool breeze.

"In Four to One, the harmonies are yoked to energetic rhythms that help structure the piece while they move it forward. The instruments trade off the beat and the accompaniment, and take turns with leading phrases. There are musical ideas that he lays out then brings back in a different instrument, and that delivers the satisfaction of hearing him form the piece as it goes along. The exploding energy of the fall sunset turns into something quieter and, expressively, far more brittle and haunted at the end—he seems always to be searching for something meaningful and beautiful."

- George Grella, New York Classical Review (9.20.2014)
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"Four to One, which opens the program, has intense tone clusters and manic rhythms at first, then close and rapid imitation, and then a remarkable section with increasingly high harmonics. Angry group outbursts make the otherwise calm ending seem quite tense."

- Barry Kilpatrick, American Record Guide
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"The Momenta Quartet plays the work's premiere recording with elan, a quality it also brings to two other of the disc's seven compositions. "Four to One" has a more generalized restlessness, but is also attractively scored, pointing toward the effect of "a sunset as the colors begin to fade." Nathan clearly exhibits an openness to conveying emotion, which he manages while reveling in the abstractness and palette of instrumental sound."

- Jay Harvey, Upstage (12.24.15)
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“It set it the bar almost impossibly high for the rest of the evening, notwithstanding the iconic Bartok quartet immediately afterward. Right off the bat, it became a harried, relentless, microtonal rollercoaster ride, the group holding fast to the counterpoint amidst the storm. Violist Stephanie Griffin’s plaintive assertions were particularly striking, as was Gendron’s turn in the rather cruel spotlight over a menacing wash in the second part. Haas’ cello was also stark yet prominent: it’s not hard to see why he’d want to program this.”

- Lucid Culture (10.2018)
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