In String Quartet No 2 (1953) there are three main ideas, all announced at the opening. The first is a chirpy, animated theme on the first violin in a brightly coloured A major. The second is a brief but threatening repeated-note tattoo low in the cello which momentarily disturbs the music, whilst the third is a contrasting, melodic ‘cantabile’, sung by the first violin against a sustained C major chord. The material grows, culminating in a short but full-blooded climax that suddenly gives way to a slower section begun quietly on viola and cello, which is based on a freely augmented version of the opening violin tune. However, this may not be evident to the listener at first, as the character of the music has been transformed into a mood of sombre, inward reflection. More passionate gestures disrupt the peace until a highly intense fugato is reached that looks forward to the language of Simpson’s later quartets. When this has subsided the final part of the work begins, representing, in the composer’s words, ‘the striving of the cheerful tune to recover itself after having run into trouble’. It makes a number of attempts, creating much tension as it collides fiercely with the tattoo figure. The last of these attempts forms the Quartet’s final climax, but the opening tune fails to establish itself securely, and the music collapses leaving only a sorrowful viola melody (foreshadowing the start of the Third Quartet) and a final, solemn cadence.
This Quartet was written for the Element Quartet, who gave its first performance.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1990