String Quartet No. 2 (2010)

Duration: 23:00 minutes

Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello

Premiere: March 30, 2011 at the Juilliard School by Elizabeth Derham and Alex Shiozaki, violins, Jessica Garand, viola and Jeremiah Campbell, cello


     My second string quartet is a large work in three independent movements, which share much of the same musical ideas. While the piece is abstract, each section and each movement is an intensely emotional narrative; highly expressive moments sometimes morph gradually, sometimes shift abruptly as the music moves along. All the music is linked by an obsessive rhythmic idea, heard at the very beginning – short-long-short – that pervades the piece from beginning to end.

     The first movement opens with the motto of the piece, played in an intense unison by the whole group. After this introduction, the quartet splits into a densely contrapuntal texture, before breaking off into a simpler and more lyrical section. The opening motto makes a mysterious reappearance before the faster music returns, bringing the movement to an energetic close.

     The second movement opens with a hymn of chilling stillness. As the hymn fades away, the cello then takes an improvisatory solo, followed by the viola and eventually the two violins, all the while building in energy and fragmenting into tightly tangled lines. From this chaos, the hymn explosively returns before the movement winds down to a quiet ending, the violin mumbling repetitively over the final chords. 

     The last movement is a perpetual motion machine, an impossible mechanism doomed to fall apart. The beginning features a violin solo, first over frantic pizzicatos, then independently slowing down and speeding up over the relentlessly steady beat underneath. The meter shifts in the middle section, but the tempo continues at the same speed like a ticking clock while the viola plays a solo, a flurry of notes that slow down over the ticking beats. The whole quartet eventually slows down, almost to a stopping point before it has to be wound up again, gradually speeding up to end at break-neck speed. At the very end, the motto from the opening interrupts the perpetual motion, a wrench thrown into the gears, and the movement grinds to a finish.