Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Second String Quartet 


The Second String Quartet (1982-2010) was commissioned by the Pro Arte Quartet with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. It is about 22 minutes long and is in one movement. The form falls into two parts, with Part II and elaboration of Part I. Each part in turn breaks down into: (1) a quiet introductory section; (2) two parallel developmental sections of great intensity and contrapuntal complexity; (3) a whirlwind section that gradually dissipates the energy; (4) a slower, more lyrical passage followed by a pulsating but subdued scherzando; (5) an intimation of a chorale-coda.

From another perspective, the Second Quartet is a sequel to the First Quartet. That work takes the form of 15 geometrically expanding variations; the Second Quartet constitutes two more variations (nine and 13 minutes, respectively). In character, however, the two pieces are different. The First Quartet is inward, exploratory, given to unexpected changes and silences. The Second is outwardly passionate, developmental, full of energy and sweep.

In 2008-10 I substantially revised the Second Quartet to make room for its own sequel, the Third String Quartet (2008), which completes the first two quartets in a single further expansion of the variation process. Thus the Second Quartet is both a piece in itself and the second installment of a three-part work that lasts over an hour.

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009