The Presence Absence Makes


The Presence Absence Makes


for flute and string quartet (1988)

Download the Score & Parts
  • Premiere: 6 April 1988  / Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City / Robert Stallman, flute / Music of Our Time Ensemble
  • Instrumentation: fl.vln.vln.vla.vlc 
  • Duration: 27'
  1. Serenade
  2. Pavane
  3. Quodlibet
  4. Vivace
  5. Melodia

Program note

The title of the quintet, and inspiration for the work as a whole, comes from a poem of the same title by San Francisco poet Kim Addonizio. Performed without break, the quintet has five parts.

Various motivic and intervallic relationships unite them in a sort of ongoing development which unfolds the way the narrative in a work of fiction might. Each movement is composed from a different character's point of view. Sometimes the composer comments. (I am thinking here, for example, of Milan Kundera's prose, in which he may suddenly break in and comment on the actions of his characters. Just so this piece.)

This piece has three characters: the flute, the violoncello, and a trio made up of the two violins and the viola. Although the piece has no program, per se, it's emotional ambience is set by the feelings aroused in any emotional triangle. Emotionally, the piece is above love lost and gained. I suppose you could say that the flute "gets the girl" in the end, but that would ignore the piece's ambiguity and restlessness and bring a closure which isn't really in the cards. 

The first movement unites the 'cello and the trio in a pensive Serenade. After a short solo ritornello for the 'cello, the Pavane begins. It is scored for the flute and the trio. The 'cello re-enters, pizzicato, playing the theme from the Pavane; thus begins the third movement, a Quodlibet which pits the flute against the 'cello in competition for the attention of the trio. The contest intensifies when the trio suddenly picks up the flute's theme at the beginning of the Vivace and continues until all three characters reach agreement in a swinging unison line.

Another 'cello ritornello ensues, during which swatches of the Serenade give way to a hand-off to the flute, which ends the ritornello. Finally, a Melodia for the flute and trio begins with the flute shadowed an octave higher by the viola playing harmonics. Th piece ends with the 'cello re-entering for a final ritornello: all the players accompany the 'cello as the flute picks up its melody, a rueful, much chastened recapitulation of the Serenade with which the quintet (which was, in fact, a trio) began.

Commissioned by the Music of Our Time Ensemble, Bruce Wolosoff, Artistic Director, The Presence Absence Makes was premiered by Robert Stallman and members of the ensemble at Alice Tully Hall, New York City on 6 April 1988.

— Daron Hagen, 1988


Mr. Hagen has added a flute to four strings, but there is everywhere the same melancholic quietude and a warm, rounded tonal style touched lightly with austerity [as in the Debussy G minor Quartet]. The music is in five movements, and nowhere does urgency or violence intrude on leisure. The language is familiar but not suspiciously so, perhaps because the thoughts behind it seem genuine.

— Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 4/9/88