Andrew Walsh Imbrie was a composer of contemporary classical music. His compositions included instrumental as well as vocal music and he wrote three symphonies, eight concertos, as well as numerous other works. Imbrie’s musical style was influenced by Bela Bartok early on and one can hear similarities in his many compositions including his String Quartet No. 1 in B Flat. Imbrie preferred harmonies that were no functional in his compositions, which was a trait of modern era of music. Imbrie’s String Quartet No. 1 in B Flat was his first major composition, written as his senior thesis as a composition student while he was attending Princeton University.
Contemporary classical music has been known to have musical style variations and new concepts of melodic tonality. String Quartet No.1 in B flat is a perfect example of this new age of music. Right at the beginning of the piece (0:17 to about 0:45) one can hear dissonant harmonies between the first violin and the rest of the quartet (violin has the “melody” while the other instruments are holding a drone). There are complex rhythms especially in the violin, which is another trait of contemporary music. There also is not a real definite tonal center in this piece – like the listener can’t really tell where the musical lines are going. Imbrie was known for composing often using an atonal contrapuntal texture and this is heard in his String Quartet. From about 1:10-2:07 the feeling of the music changes. It started with only the first violin part moving and the other instruments holding their notes. Then suddenly all the instrument parts are moving and it gives of a feeling of intensity. This is a trait from previous modern composers like Debussy and Bartok who would use dynamics and rhythms to create intensity in music. This is somewhat impressionistic which was another trait of Imbrie’s. The piece goes on continuing with very dissonant harmonies between all the instruments finally ending on a very odd cadence after another intense “busy” rhythm section in the all the strings.
Comparing Imbrie’s String Quartet No. 1 in B flat to another piece, John Cage’s Dream (1948) there are many differences. Cage’s Dream is in fact considered modern and contemporary but it has many classical qualities. There are no dissonant harmonies while Imbrie used dissonant harmonies constantly in his string quartet. Cage’s Dream is very peaceful – like a dream. It reminds one of Debussy’s Nuages: impressionistic. There is a definite tonal center to Cage’s composition while in Imbrie’s one could not really tell. Imbrie’s String Quartet No. 1 was a rhythmically busy piece while Cage’s is very simple and nice to listen to.
I had never heard of Andrew Imbrie before this project and after researching him and listening to some of his works, I found out he was a very accomplished composer. Some of his works like the String Quartet No. 1 in B flat I did not particularly enjoy because it was hard for me to listen to – it didn’t really have a harmonic direction I could grasp onto. But some of his vocal pieces were interesting. I enjoyed comparing Imbrie and John Cage because they are just so different! I don’t know if I will ever listen to Imbrie again, but I am happy that I was exposed to new music!
Crocker, Richard. A History of Musical Style. McGraw-Hill Book Company. 1966.
“Andrew Imbrie.” Musical Sales Classical. Copyright 2014. Accessed May 1, 2014. http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/short-bio/Andrew-Imbrie
Maclay, Kathleen. Andrew Imbrie, Music Professor and Renowned Composer, Dies at Age 86. “UC Berkely News.” Accessed May 1, 2014. http://www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2007/12/14_imbrie.shtml
“Andrew Imbrie, String Quartet No. 1 in B flat.” Youtube Video. Posted by “lendallpitts.” Uploaded January 16, 2010. Accessed May 1, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VugeF3kxmWA
“John Cage: Dream.” Youtube Video. Posted by “NewMusicXX.” Uploaded October 22, 2008. Accessed May 1, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExUosomc8Uc