STRING QUARTET NO. 2 (1982) Op.16

Opus number: 16

Title: String Quartet No. 2

Instrumentation: two violins, viola, cello

Date written: 1982, American Academy in Rome

Length: fifteen minutes

Premiere performance: Columbia String Quartet, Benjamin Hudson, Carole Zeavin, violins, Sarah Clarke, viola, Eric Bartlett, cello, February 4, 1985, St. Michael’s Church, New York

Important subsequent performances: Boston Chamber Music Society, Stephanie Chase, Sharan Leventhal, violins, Robert Dan, viola, Bruce Coppock, cello, April 29, 1988, First and Second Church, Boston

Program notes:  String Quartet No. 2  was begun in Boston and completed at the American Academy in Rome in October 1982. The composer says, “To me the work is about the temporal and psychological dislocations brought on by sudden and unexpected tragedy.  The first movement begins in a light and carefree manner.  As it progresses, it becomes more reflective and somber in tone.  The slow movement is an instrumental Lacrimosa, lyrical and cathartic.  The last movement gradually becomes more lively, bringing the work full circle to a close.”

The Quartet is in three movements. The first is marked ‘Scherzo diventi Adagio,’ or a scherzo becoming a slow movement.  The center of the work is a lyrical lament dominated by the first violin, who often plays with bravura against an unresponsive trio. The climactic moment of the entire piece occurs after the slow and dramatic disintegration of a central serenade.  The last movement reverses the pattern of the first movement–Adagio diventi (becoming) Scherzo.


I.  Scherzo (diventi Adagio)

II.  Adagio–Serenade–Adagio

III. Adagio (diventi Scherzo)

Reviews: “It’s elegantly and thoroughly composed, and dramatic in its progress.” –Andrew Porter, The New Yorker (February 18, 1985)

“In the eighth annual Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards program . . . special mention was made of Larry Bell’s String Quartet No. 2, which [was] deemed ‘persuasive and of very high musical merit’ by the jury, but which were disqualified because of their brevity. Frankly, that seems like very high praise.” – Karen Monson, The Baltimore Sun (October 28, 1985)

“The most appealing were two from the pen of Larry Bell: ‘River of Ponds’ for cello and piano and String Quartet No. 2. . . .

“Bell’s quartet is an abstract, three-movement work of parabolic design. The outer movements are obverse, the first opening with a scherzo that slows down to an adagio and the last reversing the process with an adagio becoming a scherzo. Between them lies a lyrical lament in which the first violin runs counter to the others. Stephanie Chase and Sharan Leventhal were the violinists with Robert Dan, viola, and Coppock in a well-articluated performance.” Arthur Hepner, The Boston Globe  (May 2, 1988)