Program Notes

STEVE REICH (b. 1936)

Composer's Notes

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.

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
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.

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.

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

America—Before the war

Europe—During the war

After the war

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.


Movement 1
America - Before the War

Chicago to New York" (Virginia Mitchell)

of the fastest trains"

crack train from New York" (Lawrence Davis)

New York to Los Angeles"

trains every time" (Virginia Mitchell)

Chicago to New York"


(Lawrence Davis)

I guess it must've been (Virginia Mitchell)

Movement 2
Europe – During the War


my birthday"

Germans walked in"

into Holland"

invaded Hungary" (Paul)

was in second grade"

had a teacher"

very tall man, his hair was completely plastered smooth"

said: 'Black Crows invaded our country many years ago'"

he pointed right at me"

more school" (Rachel)

must go way"

she said 'Quick, go!'" (Rachella)

he said: 'Don't breathe!'"

those cattle wagons" (Rachella)

days and four nights"

the we went through these strange-sounding names"


of cattle wagons there"

were loaded with people"

shaved us"

tattooed a number on our arm"

going up to the sky - it was smoking"

Movement 3
After the War

the war was over" (Paul)

you sure?" (Rachella)

war is over"

to America"

Los Angeles"

New York"

New York to Los Angeles" (Mr. Davis)

of the fastest trains" (Virginia)

today, they're all gone" (Mr. Davis)

was one girl, who had a beautiful voice" (Rachella)

they loved to listen to the singing, the Germans"

when she stopped singing they said, 'More, more' and they applauded"