Berlin-based composer Reinhold Friedl (b. 1964) occupies an emblematic place within contemporary art music. As the latter has become increasingly open to influences from other genres and cultures, it has ample room for a composer like Friedl, who has worked with artists from worlds as diverse as punk and post-punk rock, free improvisation and noise. Friedl’s background is itself diverse, including training in piano performance, mathematics and musicology as well as composition; as a pianist specializing in the techniques of playing inside the instrument, he performs with Zeitkratzer (“time scraper”), a chamber ensemble fluent in the musical languages of electronic sound, minimalism and improvisation as well as modern composition, which he founded and serves as musical director.
Not surprisingly, Friedl’s three string quartets, realized for this collection by the Quatuor Diotima, deliberately avoid the traditional string quartet conventions of linear and contrapuntal writing in favor of a texture-based manipulation of mobile sound masses. In String Quartet No. 1 (2005), he accomplishes this by centering the nine-and-a-half minute work on the development of a single gesture: circular bowing. The piece, which was commissioned by the BBC and is dedicated to cellist Anton Lukoszevieze, rides on a slowly crescendoing surf of white noise, glassy harmonics and muted and open strings. The ebb and flow of the sound follows the movements of the musicians’ bowing with an uncanny transparency.
At double the length of the first quartet, String Quartet No. 2, composed in 2009 for the Diotima quartet, erects an abstract acoustic wall of sound that develops by increases in saturation, volume and intensity. As with the first quartet the piece, which is constructed around sustained tremolo bowing of ever greater speed, is an essay in gestural crescendo.
The closest Friedl comes to traditional string quartet writing—and really it isn’t that close—is on 2016’s String Quartet No. 3, commissioned in Copenhagen and dedicated to Diotima cellist Pierre Morlet. The solidly constructed piece consists of long-toned, pungent chords arranged as sound blocks slowly moving in lockstep across audio space.