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String quartet no.2


Composed in 2006

Duration: 12:00

I. Very slow

II. Very fast

III. Not too slow

IV. Really very fast

I wrote my String Quartet No.2 for a series of readings held by the Enso String Quartet, who were in-residence at Rice University at the time. In writing the quartet, I sought to create a piece with a wide range of rhythms, textures, colors, and characters, while simultaneously investing the work with great motivic and structural unity. 

The entire quartet is based on a single theme, which is not heard in its entirety until the climax of the last movement. Up to that point, the theme is heard only in fragmentations, the most prominent of which is the opening four-note cell (B-flat, D, B-flat, D-flat). The first movement acts as an introduction to that head motive, and also to some of the idiomatic string techniques that I employ throughout the piece: harmonics (lightly touching the string to create a light, flute-like timbre) and glissandi (sliding from one note to another). These techniques, along with pizzicati (plucking the string), recur throughout the quartet, providing another unifying force while actually increasing the textural and timbral palette of the work. The second movement is a lively scherzo, with great rhythmic verve.  About halfway through, the tempo slows, and the mood returns to that of the first movement. Here the cello plays half of the singular tune—the clearest presentation of the material to that point. 


The third movement presents three reorganizations of the thematic material, with each “variation” focusing on a particular string technique: pizzicato, col legno (playing with the wood of the bow), and finally trills. At the end of the movement, the three textures are combined into a unified accompaniment for the violin melody. In the finale, the use of the extended string techniques reaches its fullest expression, as pizzicati mix with glissandi, and sections consisting entirely of harmonics take us further from the standard sound world of the string quartet. The movement opens with a layered buildup of sixteenth notes, again derived from the notes of the main theme. After the aforementioned excursions into other sonic territories, the driving rhythms return, paving the way for the first and only presentation of the full theme in the violin and cello.


This work was the winner of the 2007 Robert Avalon Young Composers Competition, sponsored by the Foundation for Modern Music.


First Performance: October 27th, 2007

Duncan Recital Hall, Rice University, Houston, TX

Kaoru Suzuki and Stephanie Nussbaum, violins;

Lauren Magnus, viola; Christine Kim, cello


Related Works:


Piano Trio

String Quartet No. 1

String Quartet No. 3

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