String Quartet #2
by Ronald Hannah (2023)

Duration: about 18 minutes

     This, my second attempt at this formidable form waited a full half century to appear! I was young and foolish (and still a student) in 1973 when I wrote the first one. Now I'm old and foolish, and I'm trying again. I wonder if future musicologists (or psychiatrists) will ponder the differences betweem them, and decide whether I have progressed or not.


     1st Movement: This started life as a free-form composition, simply letting my mind take me musically to wherever felt right, without regard to standard forms or any forms at all. I also listened once again to various movements from the Bartok quartets, some of which at one time struck me as similarly free-form and yet which held together beautifully. Could I do that too? You might hear some of that chaotic period in my music, but I also began to detect in Bartok, if not standard forms, at least a logical use of motifs that suggested more than just stream-of-consciousness. So -- somewhere between these two realms lies this movement, and to some small extent, the others as well. It is also built upon successive increasing intervals beginning with a minor 2nd, then a major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, tritone, and so on. The opening notes in the 1st violin give that away. They also quickly demonstrate that I do not stick strictly to that pattern either. Musicologists (and psychiatrists), I apologize!

     2nd Movement: My wife, Andrea Mellis, is among other things, a wonderful theatre director. Click on her name to see her impressive list of accomplishments. In 2022 she put on two spectacular stagings of "Ludus Danielis" (Daniel in the Lion's Den). This dates from the 13th century, and she had me, ME!, do arrangments of the ancient tunes for medieval instruments -- sackbut, tromba marina, bone flutes, bagpipes, harps -- and it worked. At the link above you will also find photos from those performances. I became increasingly impressed with the quality of the old melodies and how they suited the characters and actions they were portraying. One of the scenes has a group of blind soothsayers delivering a prophecy to King Darius. I grew to love the melody - Audite, Principes - and it is basis for this haunting movement.

     3rd Movement: Here is quick-moving fugato, quite dissonant yet playful, which I think good players will enjoy - and it will require good players who are sensitive to the music and to each other. The instruments enter one by one starting with the chattering cello, then the rest join in the conversation, lower to upper, from viola to 2nd then 1st violin. Following this is a slow and thoughtful section, actually part of my original free-form sketch, but the crowd doesn't want thoughtful and soon the chatter begins all over again.

     4th Movement: Here is a crooked dance in 7/8 time - a waltz with a limp. Each time it appears, it does so differently: a solo, a duet, a set of 3-part canonic entries, a full-blown set of parallel triads. Basically it is a simple set of variations and I am trying very hard to sound academic. I'll stop.

     If you wish to view the opening 2 pages and hear MIDI versions of each movement, click the box above. To obtain full scores and parts, contact the Canadian Music Centre. Parts are also available through the CMC or by sending me an email, my only requirement being that if you decide to perform it that you send me performance details so I can keep this site up-to-date, not that anyone ever does :(