String Quartet No. 2
Fugue: Presto con fuoco
Finale – Aria appassionata
My second string quartet’s five disparate movements are connected by musical interludes and are played without pause over the course of 20 minutes—thus allowing the work to be heard as a single, grand arch.
A muted, expressive Introduction begins the Quartet and belies the frenzy that is to follow…
…which arrives in the form of a fugue, Presto con fuoco, with a take-no-prisoners perpetuum mobile theme. Atypically, the fugue, once begun, abruptly stops and then restarts, as if an engine were being revved up. However, once assured of its energy, the machine never stops again. It is a race without respite. There is no slowing-down, no contrasting material; all is galvanized by a maze of cross-rhythms and sudden harmonic shifts.
Suddenly, the next section (Fantasia) interrupts the fugal texture. This Fantasia begins by revisiting the Introduction, now developed with more expressive dimension. A lighter section, scherzando, then leads to a climax and to a steady diminution of energy. This entire Fantasia, then, is an elaborate transition to the slow movement that follows.
The Romanza’s theme has a grazioso (dare I say, Mozartean?) quality, with a feeling as warmly expressive as the fugue’s character was relentless and brutish. This slow movement contains, as a middle section, a “secret” fugue not so readily apparent to the listener. There follows a blistering, stormy climax and the inevitable return to calmer waters – though not for long!
In the fifth movement (Finale – Aria appassionata), an explosion of octaves recalls the second movement’s fugal frenzy before settling into a tempestuous “song without words,” sung passionately by the upper strings to the accompaniment of the cello’s constantly oscillating sextuplets. At length, the tempo abates (with a cadenza further dissipating the energy) until the strings, now using whisper-mutes, bring the quartet to its ghostly conclusion.
— David Del Tredici
This program note may be reproduced free of charge in concert programs with a credit to the composer.