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The opening Adagio assumes the character of a brief but stern introduction, contrasting moments of extreme nervous tension with more gently flowing counterpoint. Major sevenths are particularly prominent here. The most extended part of the work is the second section, Severo, a large paragraph in a broadly flowing triple time based on a variant of the quartet’s opening theme. The severity and intensity are maintained for a considerable period without relaxation, until eventually a new section emerges alternating hushed, ghostly, repeated-note figurations for all four players with softly sustained writing. Tension rises again, at first culminating in a harsh chordal passage made up of sevenths piled on top of one another, finally reaching the climax of the quartet which fades away leaving a high C suspended on the first violin.
The concluding Allegretto is in the nature of a calm epilogue, as tenderness and delicacy pervade the work for the first time. The plaintive violin melody which begins this section is in fact yet another use of the work’s original intervals. Even here there is a brief moment of intensity, perhaps reminding the listener of the Severo for the last time before the work floats away into silence.
from notes by Matthew Taylor © 1993