String Quartet No. 2

Year Composed: 2010
Instrumentation: 2 violins, viola, cello
Duration 21 minutes

I. Nocturne
II. Rites
III. Danse Macabre
IV. Prayer

Audio Excerpts (MP3)

Program Notes

My Second String Quartet (2010) was written in an effort to pursue certain sonic and formal extremities within the limitations of traditional form. It is cast in four movements, the latter three of which are connected. The first movement, “Nocturne,” is in ABA form. Far from being a tranquil evocation of night, the movement dwells on the more sinister associations of darkness and maintains a relentless, motoric pulse throughout.

Pulse—as a metaphor for both life (the heartbeat) and machine-like senselessness—governs nearly every aspect of this piece. In the second movement “Rites,” which is a meditation on the role of ritual in our lives—both its necessity and its frequent failure to provide adequate solutions to our deepest concerns—the insistent rhythm of the French overture takes on aspects of a funeral march, which bookends the movement’s intense, Baroque elegy and leads directly into the “Danse Macabre.” This mocking scherzo quotes from previous material while searching, improbably, for absolution in the seething, Vivaldi-like trio section.

The initial respite provided by the brief finale, “Prayer,” is short-lived; after a violent climax, the movement concludes with an imploring (pulse-less) lament which bears little relation to the preceding material. Despite its mournful tones, I view this lament as an open doorway, neither affirmative nor nihilistic, simply suggesting that the road always ‘goes on.’


  • November 25, 2010 - Bijan Sepanji, violin; Valerie Gordon, violin; Carolyn Blackwell, viola; Rachel Mercer, cello. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto
  • February 25, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Gallery 345, Toronto
  • March 14, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Hart House, Toronto
  • March 24, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Victoria Chapel, University of Toronto
  • March 29, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Christ Church Deer Park, Toronto
  • May 4, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Almonte
  • May 23, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. St. Stephen in-the-fields Anglican Church, Toronto
  • August 1, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Kitchener Waterloo Chamber Music Society Music Room, Waterloo
  • November 15, 2012 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Music Gallery, Toronto
  • May 3, 2013 - Ton Beau String Quartet. Gallery 345, Toronto

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