Double Quartet

for Strings

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich

Performing Ensemble: String Ensemble
Duration: 21:00
Publisher: Merion Music, Inc.
Print Status: Rental

Quick Overview

During the 1983-84 season, Charles Wadsworth, Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and I met to discuss possible instrumentation for my Chamber Music Society commission. Among the possibilities he suggested was a string octet, offering the services of the resident Emerson String Quartet and a quartet of other Chamber Music Society members. I was immediately intrigued by the suggestion, and as I took a few days to let the idea simmer, I became more and more enthused. A Double String Quartet would certainly offer me the possibility of writing a large-scale work (which I wanted to do) and eight soloists would offer unlimited chamber music potential. Beyond that was the challenge of an unusual medium that would impose its own demands. Adding to the attraction was the fact that writing for strings is a very direct and intense form of communication for me.

The resultant Double Quartet for Strings is first a large-scale work exploring the implications in the first few phrases of music. Second, it is a piece of chamber music governed by the belief that a player can be a brilliant soloist one moment and a sensitive collaborator the next.

Double Quartet for Strings is in four movements. The relations of the two quartets change in an evolutionary way form the first through the last movement. In the first movement (Allegro moderato), the group is treated as an octet. The tension/relationship between the two quartets is expressed in the fact that when significant musical material occurs first in one quartet, it recurs in the other. In the second movement (Lento), a kind of competition between players of the same instrument comes to the fore, beginning with interplay between the cellos and ending with interplay between the violas. In the third movement (Allegro vivo), tension between the two quartets comes to a head, with antiphonal exchanges occurring at the frequency of several times per second at the peak of the movement. This gives way to a blending of the two quartets at the end of the third movement; and in the fourth movement (Adagio), there is a dramatic unity of effort in which the predominant mode is a unison of the four violins and a merging of the lower instruments as well.

Scores & Parts

Double Quartet - Full Score - Study

Additional Information

Commission Commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Composition Date 1984
Premiere October 21st, 1984. Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center with the Emerson Quartet, Alice Tully Hall, New York.


I Allegro moderato
II Lento
III Allegro vivo
IV Adagio