The quartet was written in 1936 in London and first performed on 14 July 1953 at a Coronation Concert given by the London String Quartet at the Waterloo Room (Royal Festival Hall), London.
In the opening Allegro molto several themes are developed through kaleidoscopic shifts of key, ending in a quizzical F sharp. The following Scherzo is as relentlessly fast as the preceding movement. Its drive is merciless, almost hunted. Syncopated episodes contrast with the deceptive lyricism of the trio, which is not allowed to develop normally, but is strangulated. The third movement arises from this tragic background: a chaconne whose title, Folia, may recall the ancient dance of that name but is more directly related to the consequences of quite another kind of human folia, or madness. The movement’s elegiac character is sustained by an unbroken 6/8 rhythm and an uninterrupted sequence of three notes (E, A and G sharp) which appears 71 times, first in the viola, then in the cello part, and finally (a last farewell) in the first violin. The Finale is again a perpetuum mobile. The first theme is ironic in character: it alludes to incidental music to Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell, which Jürgen Fehling boldly commissioned for his 1933 production at the Berlin Schauspielhaus. (The music was duly performed, but without mention of the composer).
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer
Goldschmidt’s four string quartets span the whole of his compositional career: the first was written in 1926 while he was still a student in Berlin; the fourth, completed in 1992 in London at the age of 89, was his last work in the chamber medium. All four contain some of his most personal and highly charged music. The second quartet of 1936 expresses, in the composer’s words, "fear, flight and grief, combined with feelings of joy at arriving in England". It is a passionate and full-blooded work, justly regarded by many as one of his finest achievements.