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The String Quartet No 4 is indeed a string quartet – but not “The Fourth;” perhaps it is a Ninth – no one knows.
It is in three movements, two of which are fast (although not really that fast) and one of which is slow (but not only slow).
I composed the Fourth Quartet during the winter of 1980/81. It is a straggler and a harbinger at one and the same time. I haven’t heard it yet. I’m looking forward to its poesy, which doesn’t interest me at all anymore today, because it has already passed through the “interesting” stage, which is much more interesting – or as uninteresting as permissible today. But that is another story – think up something for yourselves, for goodness’ sake. Music isn’t behind the music or in the words alongside the music – guess what it is and win a prize.
And yet this string quartet is anything but cheery …
From the programme booklet, Vienna Konzerthaus 1984
The String Quartet No 4 is an extremely emotional work, full of harsh contrasts, passionate outbursts, craggy in its progress; therefore it is formally difficult to pin down. The sequence of two fast movements and one slow final farewell is unusual, whereby the hefty unisono run-up at the start also corresponds structurally to the resignation of the close as it seeps away. The first part – dominated by its ascending motif – issues into an alla Marcia, allegro ma non troppo which, for a short time, entails uniformly shaped passages. The second movement also has a bipartite layout: a predominantly chordal introduction and an “aria” (beginning subito andante), whose cantabile character is short-lived. There is a “long rest” preceding the final movement; it begins ethereally, then flares up briefly before being extinguished rapidly.