Program Notes

STEVE REICH (b. 1936)

Composer's Notes  

'Different Trains' for String Quartet and pre-recorded performance tape (1988) begins a new way of composing that has its roots in my early tape pieces 'It’s Gonna Rain' (1965) and 'Come Out' (1966). The basic idea is that carefully chosen speech recordings generate the musical materials for musical instruments.

The idea for the piece came from my childhood. When I was one year old my parents separated. My mother moved to Los Angeles and my father stayed in New York. Since they arranged divided custody, I travelled back and forth by train frequently between New York and Los Angeles from 1939 to 1942 accompanied by my governess. While the trips were exciting and romantic at the time I now look back and think that, if I had been in Europe during this period, as a Jew I would have had to ride very different trains. With this in mind I wanted to make a piece that would accurately reflect the whole situation. In order to prepare the tape I did the following:

1.     Record my governess Virginia, then in her seventies, reminiscing about our train trips together.
2.     Record a retired Pullman porter, Lawrence Davis, then in his eighties, who used to ride lines between New York and Los Angeles, reminiscing about his life.
3.     Collect recordings of Holocaust survivors Rachella, Paul and Rachel, all about my age and then living in America—speaking of their experiences.
4.     Collect recorded American and European train sounds of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

In order to combine the taped speech with the string instruments I selected small speech samples that are more or less clearly pitched and then notated them as accurately as possible in musical notation. The strings then literally imitate that speech melody. The speech samples as well as the train sounds were transferred to tape with the use of sampling keyboards and a computer. Three separate string quartets are also added to the pre-recorded tape and the final live quartet part is added in performance.

'Different Trains is in three movements (played without pause), although that term is stretched here since tempos change frequently in each movement. They are:

1.     America—Before the war
2.     Europe—During the war
3.     After the war

The piece thus presents both a documentary and a musical reality and begins a new musical direction. It is a direction that I expect will lead to a new kind of documentary music video theatre in the not too distant future.

 -Steve Reich

Movement 1
America - Before the War

 "from Chicago to New York" (Virginia Mitchell)
"one of the fastest trains"
"the crack train from New York" (Lawrence Davis)
"from New York to Los Angeles"
"different trains every time" (Virginia Mitchell)
"from Chicago to New York"
"in 1939"
"1939" (Lawrence Davis)
"1941 I guess it must've been (Virginia Mitchell)

Movement 2
Europe – During the War

"1940" (Rachella)
"on my birthday"
"The Germans walked in"
"walked into Holland"
"Germans invaded Hungary" (Paul)
"I was in second grade"
"I had a teacher"
"a very tall man, his hair was completely plastered smooth"
"He said: 'Black Crows invaded our country many years ago'"
"and he pointed right at me"
"No more school" (Rachel)
"You must go way"
"and she said 'Quick, go!'" (Rachella)
"and he said: 'Don't breathe!'"
"into those cattle wagons" (Rachella)
"four days and four nights"
"and the we went through these strange-sounding names"
"Polish names"
"Lots of cattle wagons there"
"They were loaded with people"
"They shaved us"
"They tattooed a number on our arm"
"Flames going up to the sky - it was smoking" 

Movement 3
After the War

"and the war was over" (Paul)
"Are you sure?" (Rachella)
"The war is over"
"going to America"
"to Los Angeles"
"to New York"
"from New York to Los Angeles" (Mr. Davis)
"one of the fastest trains" (Virginia)
"but today, they're all gone" (Mr. Davis)
"There was one girl, who had a beautiful voice" (Rachella)
"and they loved to listen to the singing, the Germans"
"and when she stopped singing they said, 'More, more' and they applauded"