General information
Title CZSmyčcový kvartet č. 2
Subtitle CZ
Title ENString Quartet No. 2
Subtitle EN
Title DEStreichquartett Nr. 2
Subtitle DE
Title FRQuatuor à cordes n° 2
Subtitle FR
CategoryChamber Music
SubcategoryString Quartets
Halbreich number and suffix150
Parts of composition (movements)1. Moderato - Allegro vivace 2. Andante 3. Allegro
Durata19' 30''
InstrumentsVl Vl Vla Vc
Solo voice
List of characters
Dedicatee Novák-Frankovo kvarteto
Diplomatic transcription of dedicationDem Kvartett [sic!] Novák-Frank gewidmet
Note on dedicationNovák-Frank Quartett
Place of composition
Year of origin1925
Initiation of composition
Finishing of composition30.09.1925
Last modification of composition
First performance
Date of first performance12.11.1925
Location of first performanceBerlin
Ensemble Novák-Frank Quartett
Novák-Frankovo kvarteto
Autograph deposition
InstitutionUniversal Edition
Deposition location
OwnerUniversal Edition, Vienna
Note on autographFascimile of the autograph and printed score with Martinů's autograph dedication located at the Bohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička.
Place of issue
PublisherUniversal Edition
Year of publication1927
CopyrightUniversal Edition, Vienna
Purchase linkbuy

String Quartet No. 2  is the first mature cyclical work of its author. It is dedicated to the Novák-Frank Quartet and, with this piece, Martinů not only won the admiration of his composing colleagues (Paul Hindemith often played the work with his Hindemith-Amar Quartet, and Iša Krejčí hailed it as an ideal expression of the musical programme adopted by the “Mánes” group of composers), but he also acquired his first contract with Universal Edition, a leading foreign publishing house based in Vienna.

Quartet No. 2 has an excellent instrumental setting and is also flawless from the point of view of compositional technique. All three movements are legibly articulated into clearly arranged sections. Martinů introduced a new element into his writing with the contrast between the diatonic melody and the chromatic polyphonic accompanying voices. The prevailing note of the first movement is the tone of “D” – the movement begins and ends on this note, and the main theme is also entirely “in D”. In the Moderato introduction, Martinů uses modern counterpoint for the first time, with abrupt dissonance in the linear voices. The first subject enters in Allegro vivace tempo in D minor. It immediately undergoes a colourful scherzo-like development until the theme culminates in its major variant, a melody reminiscent of the sprightly music-making of Czech village fiddlers. The diatonic second subject also appears to be taken from some Czech folk song, recreated in this case by a composer who, by that time, was familiar with the radical NeoClassicism of Igor Stravinsky. Martinů chiefly treats the first subject and its polyphonic “prelude” during the development; the recapitulation welcomes back all the previous themes and the whole movement ends with a coda.

The second movement Andante is remarkable for its static character and its unusual measure of dissonant clusters. The central note is again the tone of “D”. The movement is constructed from three sections whose mirror-image recapitulation creates the arc form A-B-C-B-A. The first section begins in pianissimo with the note “D”, gradually ushered in by three instruments in three different octaves. This initial consonance quickly becomes a colourful dissonant tremolo, when the viola shifts a semitone down from the set  tone and the cello moves half a tone up. The second violin roams around aimlessly in fifth intervals above this C#-D-Eb cluster in a strange melody which evokes the expression characterising the last part of Stravinsky’s Three Pieces for Quartet. The second section is fortissimo and is typical for its rhythmical movement of acute dissonant chords and ascending progression. The third block is structured on a central note, with scale runs weaving in and out, as if along their own axis. This part echoes the deliberate primitivism familiar from The Rite of Spring and augurs the joyful, simple expression of the folk cantata The Opening of the Wells, which Martinů would write thirty years later.

The lively third movement Allegro combines elements of sonata and rondo form. After the gloomy atmosphere of the second movement, the third is much more relaxed and, like the first movement, suggests the idea of spontaneous music-making while, at the same time, applying contemporary musical ideas, particularly acute dissonance.

The work was performed in its world premiere by the Novák-Frank Quartet in Berlin on 12 October 1925, a mere thirteen days after it was completed. Frequent subsequent performances in some of the world’s most illustrious concert halls helped to secure Martinů a strong position in international music circles.

Aleš Březina, programme of the Prague Spring's concert, 27. 5. 2003


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