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Aaron Jay Kernis

Publisher: G. Schirmer

String Quartet No. 2, 'musica instrumentalis' (1997)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Small Ensemble (2-6 players)
Sub Category
String Quartet
Year Composed
39 Minutes
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Programme Note
Aaron Jay Kernis String Quartet No. 2, 'musica instrumentalis' (1997)
Composer's Note:

My Second String Quartet uses elements of Renaissance and Baroque dance music and dance forms as its basis and its inspiration. I have been playing various suites of Bach's and pieces from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book at the piano for my own pleasure for years, and I think that I had suspected for some time that their influence would eventually show up in my work.

The first movement is a kaleidoscope, an overstuffed medley of many types of dances played separately and sometimes simultaneously. It is in three large sections. The first section is an exposition of many different strands of energetic music, while the second opposes two gentler dances, the Canzonetta and a Musette. The final section brings back most of the diverse elements the opening in many varied guises and leads to a climactic uncovering of a simple direct version of the main tune of the movement.

The second movement alternates two different slow Sarabandes (a slow dance in triple time) with short bursts of frenetic, furious music. It is dedicated to the memory of Bette Snapp, a much beloved supporter of new music, and composers who passed away as the movement was being written.

The final movement is based in some fundamental ways on the last movement of Beethoven's Opus 59 No. 3 String Quartet. It is a propulsive and energetic Double Fugue, Tarantella, Rondo, Gigue, and eventually a Triple Fugue, all wrapped in an overarching sonata form. String Quartet No. 2, "musica instrumentalis" was commissioned for the Lark Quartet by the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center in New York City, Ohio University, and The Schubert Club of St. Paul, with additional funds from Chamber Music America. It is dedicated to Linda Hoeschler "in gratitude for her friendship, generosity, and support, and in honor of her perpetual faith in the creative spirit."

— Aaron Jay Kernis

Few could disagree with the 1998 Pulitzer Prize awarded to Aaron Jay Kernis for his STRING QUARTET NO. 2, 'musica instrumentalis.' [It] is one of the finest American string quartets of the last two decades. Commissioned for the Lark Quartet, the work is cast in three movements. In the suite of dances in the opening 'Overture', [there is] great freedom throughout the movement. The second movement 'Sarabande' is [full] of tender intimacy, [and] deeply expressive depth. The final movement, 'Double Triple Gigue Fugue,' is [a] vibrant rush of good humor and vitality. Kernis has evolved into a composer of real mastery and individuality.
Lawrence A. Johnson, The New York Times,01/01/0001
Mr. Kernis has always been a colorful, eclectic composer with an architectural sensibility that yields fascinating structures... Stylistically, Mr. Kernis moves here from intense rhythmic and harmonic complexity, in the first movement and parts of the second, to an almost Beethovenian language in the finale. The central movement, which is dedicated to Bette Snapp, a new-music advocate who died last year, has some stunningly beautiful sections in which a single melodic line floats above a slowly moving pianissimo chord progression. Fast, angry sections sections punctuate these expansions of the melody, which moves between instruments and grows steadily from a gently modulating line to a soaring one.
Allan Kozinn, The New York Times,01/01/0001
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