RICHARD KARPEN: TERTIUM QUID
for violin, viola and piano (2015)
World Premiere: Michael Jinsoo Lim, violin; Melia Watras, viola; Winston Choi, piano; January 26, 2016, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Tertium Quid is the third work that I’ve composed for violist, Melia Watras. This new work is dedicated to her with friendship and admiration for her artistry and her ever- adventurous spirit!
The three works that Melia has commissioned from me have turned out to be a solo, a duo, and a trio, composed in that order. This was an unplanned for progression but, it added some incentive for me to make this new work a trio! This series of three works began with a piece for solo viola and electronics, Aperture in 2006; next was Bicinium, for viola and violin in 2013 for Melia and the magnificent Michael Lim; and now Tertium Quid, a trio for viola, violin, and piano, again for Melia and Mike, with the addition of piano (pianist, Winston Choi). The piano part in Tertium Quid seems to have evolved into a kind of proxy for adding myself into the mix: the author appearing as a character in his own fiction!
Tertium Quid: a simple translation could be “a third thing”, and that fits neatly for a third piece in a series. For this work though, one in which “three-ness” is woven into so many aspects, an idiomatic usage of the phrase Tertium Quid that resonated with me in particular can be translated roughly as, “an indefinite third thing that is related to two other more definite things.”
I didn’t at first plan for a three movement work when I started composing Tertium Quid. Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder (Pictures from Fairyland) from which it is derived, has four movements. I also did not expect that the moods of each of the three movements would be so similar (urgent; foreboding) to one another, as are also the timings and the structures. Each movement of Tertium Quid is perhaps a version of an archetypal dream. Things like this are up to listeners’ imaginations in any case.