String Quartet No.4 was commissioned by the Santa Fe Festival for performance by the Orion Quartet. It was composed in summer 2001 at Civitella Ranieri, here acknowledged with gratitude. The Quartet takes as its protagonists the first violin and the cello, and projects them into an instinctive relationship, like encounters between operatic characters. After composing this piece, I began to think about possible antecedents for this kind of chamber music, and two passages from the slow movements of Mozart’s String Quintets in C major, K. 515, and G minor, K. 516, came to mind. In these movements, the first violin and first viola engage in an intimate dialogue that alters the entire color-scheme. My piece begins with cello, accompanied, but isolated by longing and expectation. The second movement brings exchanges between the first violin and cello, with a certain reserve and formality. In the third movement, these restraints dissolve. In the finale, all four instruments share in a spontaneous celebration.
— John Harbison
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