Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

Epitaph for Strings

Duration: 10 minutes

Written: 1980

Premiered: February 1, 1981

Woodstock Strings

Conductor: Patrick Burroughs


  • large string orchestra preferred, with first chairs as a string quartet


Epitaph for Strings was written in December 1980 to commemorate the death of my former professors: Nadia Boulanger and Boleslaw Woytowicz.

The composition is traditional in its design and language, and it calls for a string orchestra with a solo string quartet consisting of the principal players. The work is in one movement which breaks into contrasting sections. The prevailing mood of sadness is interrupted by an abrupt ending, which calls to mind the sudden news of their respective deaths.

Epitaph was composed under some unusual circumstances during my lecture-concert tour of Europe; trains, planes, railway stations, and hotel rooms became the shelters in which I wrote the score.

Since the piece was designed to be played by professional orchestras as well as youth orchestras, it is scored in such a way that the more difficult passages are written for the principal players (the soloists), while the ensemble writing remains simple.
Furthermore, the writing can be likened to a painting wherein broad strokes articulating a deep and dark mood alternate with delicate lines of a much lighter shade. This antithesis symbolizes the contrast between the sombre image of death and the fragile image of childhood.

Since its premiere in 1981, Epitaph has become one of my most often performed compositions; it has been played not only in virtually all major cities in Canada, but also in the United States, Asia, and Europe (including Paris and Berlin). It has also been performed by various youth orchestras and community orchestras.

The work was commissioned by the Woodstock Strings and the Winnipeg Youth Orchestra with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council.