I completed my String Quartet No. 2 in May, 1988. The quartet was commissioned by the Cleveland Quartet for their tour of the Soviet Union that autumn and toward that end was performed at numerous venues throughout that nation to gratifying public response. Having visited Moscow and Leningrad with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra the previous year, I was anxious to pay tribute to the warmth and courage of the many wonderful Soviet citizens I met, so it was with pleasure that I dedicated the quartet "to the people of the Soviet Union." As a further act of homage, my work was based upon the D–S–C–H (D–E-flat–C–B) motto which outlined Shostakovich's initials and which that composer used so tellingly in several of his major scores.
Shortly after the premiere of the quartet, several colleagues suggested that the music would also be effective in a version for string orchestra, and I was able to realize this project when Absolut Vodka commissioned the Concerto per Corde in 1990. However, I saw immediately that the quartet would need to be thoroughly reworked, and thus many changes—some minor, some major—to the quartet will be in evidence. Though I chose to retain the D–S–C–H framework, I made numerous small alterations (especially of tessitura) in the first movement and noticeably expanded the third movement with the addition of new material. More significantly, I felt that the quartet's second movement would not "translate" well into the string orchestra medium, and I therefore replaced it with an entirely different movement. As a result, the Concerto per Corde is not simply a rescoring of the quartet for string orchestra with a contrabass part added but rather represents a complete reevaluation—and in some parts, recomposition—of the original. I am content with both "versions" of the work but believe the piece in its present form gains in richness.
Cast in a tripartite form, the concerto begins with a passacaglia-like movement marked Adagio; doloroso centered loosely around D, and this is followed by a furious, virtuosic allegro molto, centered in E-flat despite its chromatic, dissonant language, which may recall Bartók to some listeners. The final movement is marked Largo; lamentoso and constitutes a set of four variations offset by a harmonic ritornello (all cast roughly in C minor) succeeded by a B major epilogue ("trasfigurato") which contains the only extended tonal music in the score. The overall mood of the work is tragic.
The Concerto per Corde was completed in Fairport, New York on May 14, 1990 and lasts approximately twenty minutes. In this version, it is dedicated to my friend Stephen Albert.
— Christopher Rouse
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.