String Quartet No. 1

Year of composition
Scored for
for string quartet
Georg Friedrich Haas

Commissioned by

Musikprotokoll Graz auf Anregung von Christian Scheib


World Premiere

Location: Kongresshaus Graz / Austria
Date: 02.10.1997
Orchestra: Arditti String Quartet

Work introduction

The 16 strings of the four stringed instruments are all retuned according to a preset microtonal system. (A CD is provided for tuning the strings; otherwise they can be tuned by ear.) The work is based on four independent chords, each of which contains four notes. The four chords are built respectively on the first, third, fifth and seventh overtones, some of which are transposed an octave.
The constituent material of the piece is derived from this microtonal tuning:

1. Overlapping overtone series (using two, three or four instruments). Similar to the playing technique of the African Jew’s-harp, the partials series from different fundamentals are combined. This principle is applied up to the twelfth partial, producing finely differentiated, irregular microtonal scales.

2. This microtonal tuning system together with natural harmonics produces a multiplicity of pitches (up to six per semitone). The transition between finely graded scales and glissando continuum is one of the essential materials of this piece.

3. The overtone chords themselves are only felt in the further course of the piece – in a transposition, when all instruments play the same natural harmonics; as a chords made up of open strings; and as a vibrating chord, produced by fingering the unison corresponding to the open string on a neighbouring string and playing slow glissandi around the open string’s pitch on it.

4. Since the instruments are no longer tuned in fifths, the open fifth – like any other interval – can be played as a double stop and varied using glissandi.

The chronological order of the piece is determined by acceleration and deceleration processes that are partly notated and partly left up to the discretion of the players.

© Georg Friedrich Haas

Ensembles that have played this work

Klangforum Wien
Arditti String Quartet
Kairos Quartett