Copland was interested in exploring various methods of composition that might stimulate his melodic and harmonic ideas. It had been twenty years since he had adapted serialism to his own use. He said that "composing with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale can give one a feeling of freedom. It's like looking at a picture from a different point of view." Copland was the first to admit that he did not keep strictly to the rules of serialism. In fact, the sense of a tonal center is rarely missing in the Quartet.
—Vivian Perlis, 1998