String Quartet No. 2, North of Spring
2 violins, viola, cello
Score and parts
I experienced three springs in 2001, working at progressively higher latitudes, from Wyoming to Norway. When I arrived at Wyoming’s Ucross Foundation for a March residency, the three creeks were snow-covered. Three weeks later the mud was nearly dry and a trio of antiphonal owls had set up housekeeping by my cabin. In Minneapolis, I saw the surface of Lake Harriet go from sullen to glimmering on a day in April. The end of May found me at 70 degrees north in a Sami village in Finnmark, Norway, the region English speakers used to call Lapland, but which the native people call Sápmi. The sun never set while I was there, and by midsummer the mosquitoes topped the food chain.
With such a background, it’s natural that my second quartet begins with somber colors, solo viola stating a theme—hopping fourths and four descending steps—that will frame the work and be obsessively explored in the second movement, a scherzo in a highly syncopated fifteen/eight meter. The slow movement generates warmth through lulling rhythms, while an assuring, archaic-sounding chorale develops underneath, leading to a final fugue and retelling, in greener tones, of the opening material.
The work was commissioned by the Schubert Club for the Rosalyra Quartet, and is dedicated to its members.