String Quartet no.2

The second string quartet was written in 1990 commissioned by the Huddersfield Festival and the Balanescu Quartet.

By then I had worked with Alex Balanescu a good deal and had come to know members of the quartet personally. At that time the quartet had an interesting international mix of players: Rumanian first violin, American second, English viola and Scottish cello and there are passages which reflect that personal acquaintance, for example the quasi-Scottish lament played at the end by the cello answered by the first violin (Scotland 1 Rumania 1, rewriting football history). At the same time there were devices that I tried in an experimental way, such as the use of the 'bottleneck' to produce an extreme form of portamento to an extended cello melody (playing in unison with the viola) in an extremely high register giving an effect not unlike the sound of the Onde Martinot.

There are moments in this quartet unlike anything else I have written, the very fast section for example in which the ensemble play pulsing chords at very high speed and then, little by little, melodies emerge as chords which have previously been played by single notes on the four stringed instruments are changed to double stops thereby freeing individual instruments to play melodic phrases.

In a way the second quartet begins where the first quartet ends - with harmonics, though here only artificial ones and with normal tuning - rather like the second episode of a television series ("Previously on Twin Peaks....."). The second quartet is a more relaxed, easy-going piece than the first being less referential and paying closer attention to the ways in which this particular combination of strings can cohere in the diverse pairing of instruments, the use of solo versus accompaniment in surprising ways, in the contrasts between homogeneity and heterogeneity.

Gavin Bryars.