Fred Lerdahl

The Music and Writings of Composer Fred Lerdahl

Program note for Third String Quartet


The Third String Quartet (2008) was commissioned by Chamber Music America for the Daedalus Quartet, which will premiere it in Cleveland in December 2009. The work is in one movement approximately 21 minutes long.

The string quartet is for me the most personal and psychological of musical media. The Third Quartet inhabits a world of abrupt mood changes, passionate urgings, quiet reveries, fantastical gestures, and sudden reminiscences. This turbulent world nonetheless has a discernible overall shape. After a fragmented introduction, the music settles into two long polyphonic cycles, each containing an agitated section followed by a lyrical sostenuto passage. A whirlwind presto interrupts the close of the second cycle and subsides into a passage of lyrical stasis, followed by a playful scherzando and finally a homophonic coda of soft, short chords. 

From another perspective, the Third Quartet is the finale of a large-scale work that begins with the First Quartet and continues with the Second. The First Quartet takes the form of 15 geometrically expanding variations, starting with a simple chord and elaborating gradually into a variation six minutes long. Its sequel, the Second Quartet, continues the expansion with two more variations of nine and 13 minutes. The Third Quartet constitutes in its entirety a last expanded variation. At the same time, it periodically interposes reminiscences from the two earlier quartets, progressing through the Second back to the First. The coda of Third Quartet comes full circle by stating in reverse order the brief opening variations of the First Quartet. 

Fred Lerdahl


all materials copyright Fred Lerdahl 2009