• Gunther Schuller
  • String Quartet No. 2 (1965)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • 2vn, va, vc
  • 19 min

Programme Note

Commissioned by: Iowa University String Quartet

Composer Note:
The work is in three movements, the first of which contrasts clusterish, densely harmonic ensemble passages with brief lyric or quieter melodic sections, usually featuring just one of the four instruments, lightly accompanied by the others.

In the second movement, the textural and characterological contrasts of the first movement are further exploited and expanded. The five elements used to provide a constantly varied continuity and texture are: 1) fortissimo triple-and quadruple-stop chords; 2) short cadenza-like declamatory phrases by individual members of the quartet; 3) accompanimental sustained sounds, usually muted; 4) sustained cluster sounds, usually played ponticello; 5) various short pointillistic interjections in the form of quick glissandos, various swoops, blurps, twists, yelps, whinneyings, wails, etc. An attempt is made to integrate these “unorthodox” string effects and sonorities into the total fabric of the movement’s texture.

The form and texture of the third movement is based on the systematic use of the six basic intervallic categories in our Western chromatic scale. Each of the five subdivisions of the movement emphasizes certain of these intervallic characteristics, both harmonically and melodically. The movement’s five subdivisions are broken down further into twenty-one smaller subsections, exploiting the various ensemble combinations possible in a string quartet. Thus there are four solo sections (single instrument), six different dues, four different trios, and, of course one full quartet. The quartet section returns several times as a kind of Rondo repetition or refrain. The subsections are brief, on the average six measures (or about 20 seconds). Thus an unbroken chain of solos, duos, trios and quartets results, each in turn exploited the above-mentioned varied intervallic characteristics.

Quite beyond these technical considerations, the work hopes to exploit the inexhaustibly rich sonoric and expressive capacities of the string quartet.

— Gunther Schuller