Instrumentation: two violins, viola, cello
Duration: ca. 30′
Commission: Chiara String Quartet
Premiere: 8 February 2011, Meany Hall (Seattle)
I. Mesto – Agitato – Mesto – Agitato
II. Ode 1 (“Daniel”): Largo desolato
III. Scherzo 1: Quick, fiendish
IV. Scherzo 2: Exuberantly
V. Ode 2 (“Putzi”): Adagio molto
VI. Allegro con energia della luce
String Quartet No. 2 was commissioned by the Chiara Quartet as part of their innovative Creator/Curator series. The work was composed between the summer of 2010 and the earliest days of 2011 and was given its world premiere performance on 8 February 2011 at Meany Hall for the Performing Arts in Seattle, Wash. The New York premiere followed on 31 March 2011 at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn. The work is approximately thirty minutes in duration.
Cast in six movements, the music falls into two halves of three movements each. The centerpiece of each of these halves is an ode, tragic in tone, and dedicated to the memory of an individual. Straddling these two odes are a contrasting movement and a scherzo. The arrangement of each group of three creates an inverse image. Part Two works backward from the point where Part One leaves off. Superficially, this resembles the familiar “arch form” made famous by Bartók in his Fourth and Fifth Quartets, though in this case, there is no “central movement,” such as in his preferred five-movement structure.
As for the significance of this form, the two halves of the work each deal with a sense of loss. The first is darker in tone than the second, which ultimately ends on a note of optimism. The two odes memorialize the passing of a composer’s child. “Ode 1” is dedicated to Daniel Liszt, who died in 1859 at the age of twenty. (Liszt’s daughter, Blandine, died three years later.) “Ode 2” is dedicated to Maria Mahler, nicknamed “Putzi,” who died in 1907 at the age of four. By sheer coincidence, 2011 marked important anniversary years in the two composers’ lives––Liszt was born in 1811; Mahler died in 1911. Liszt composed a funeral ode that he titled Les morts in response to Daniel’s death. Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, however, pre-date the death of Maria, though Alma Mahler never forgave her husband for having tempted fate earlier in life. Bits of both pieces float in and out of the fabric of the two odes, along with veiled references to other of their works.
The quartet is lovingly dedicated to my wife, Erin, and our two children, Elinor and Rhys.