Second String Quartet


SKU: 201003 Category: Tags: , ,


instrumentation: 2 vln, va, vc
date: 2010
duration: 9’00
details: 38 pages, including performance instructions; A3 portrait; full color

For the JACK Quartet. Commissioned by Südwestrundfunk for the Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010, with additional support from the Practice-Led and Applied Research Grant scheme of the Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) as well as research grant support from the Music Department of the University of Huddersfield.

Programme Note

The story of this work starts with my String Quartet of 2002, which involved a focusing and minimizing of earlier experiments I had made in instrumental ‘decoupling’, a separation of the various activities of instrumental sound production (drawing on work by Hübler, Barrett, Ferneyhough, and others).  I had been working with this approach to instrumentation for 2-3 years by 2002, but String Quartet involved a significant reduction in available physical movements and, concomitantly, a new way of thinking about material (here prioritizing physical motions to the point that these motions themselves were materials, rather than means to an end).  My relationship to pitch and harmony changed quite dramatically through that work, and what had started as a ‘closing in’, a refinement, instead created a significant ‘opening out’, a springboard for eight years of new experimentation.  The first Quartet led to a lengthy but extremely fruitful process of developing tablature notations which better represented and communicated the role of physicality as material.  This notation developed slowly over a series of works (not only for strings, but also brass and woodwinds), and in many ways this tablature project has come to its own point of focusing and condensation in the Second Quartet.

Whereas in my earlier works for strings each individual layer of planar motion (x, y, and z axis motions for both the right and left hands) was notated independently on a separate staff, here these movements are compressed onto a single, multi-colored staff.  This simpler, more direct, more immediate presentation of materials opened up an extremely exciting new range of musical materials for me.  There were suddenly new movements, new gestures, new ways of thinking about and organizing those gestures, substantially more intricate textures than I had been able to create and confront in earlier works, and, crucially, new ways of thinking about how those materials can be shared and exchanged in the unique polyphonic world of the string quartet.

The most important aspect of this ‘opening out’ has been the freeing of physical movements from their normal geographical roles.  As was true in the first quartet, this piece is about the string quartet, about its physical materials and characteristics, but here the string is a much more open, unbounded topographical space.  The left and right hands move across this space freely, with carefully mapped types of movement – for the left hand, the movement up and down the fingerboard, the width of the fingers, and pressure of the fingers all shift independently with a sort of viscous, unstable motion; for the right hand, the contact point between bow and string, the pressure of the bow, and the speed of up- and down-bow motion are again mapped as three separate planes of possible movement.  These mappings of speed, of pressure, of lateral and horizontal motion are guided by a fairly simple, limited collection of gestural models (families of types of physical action), which then push back against a superimposed set of restrictions of available space for those movements.  This restriction and resistance occurs simultaneously and independently on each of the possible planes of movement for both the left and right hands.


Recorded for NEOS.


JACK Quartet. Monday Evening Concerts. Zipper Concert Hall, Los Angeles. February 2011.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson, “A Journey to Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet,” New Music Box (web magazine of the American Music Center) composer profile.  February 2011.

“Constraint Schemata, Multi-axis Movement Modeling, and Unified, Multi-parametric Notation for Strings and Voices.” Search Journal for New Music and Culture. Autumn 2013.

“The String Quartet as laboratory and playground for experimentation and tradition (or, opening out/closing in).” Contemporary Music Review. Zero to Four. Modernism and the String Quartet I. Daniel Albertson and Richard Toop, eds. Volume 32, Issue 4, 2013.

Irvine Arditti and Robert HP Platz, The Techniques of Violin Playing/Die Spieltechnik der Violinei. Featuring discussion of The Crutch of Memory and Second String Quartet. Bärenreiter, 2013.

Ralph Lewis, DMA dissertation, University of Illinois, “Resilient Structures and Indeterminate Localities in Aaron Cassidy’s Second String Quartet.” May 2021.


First rehearsal on Second String Quartet with the JACK Quartet, Darmstadt, Germany, July 2010 (photo Clemens Gaddenstätter)
First rehearsal on Second String Quartet with the JACK Quartet, Darmstadt, Germany, July 2010 (photo Clemens Gaddenstätter)
Second String Quartet sketches
Second String Quartet sketches
Second String Quartet sketches
Second String Quartet sketches
Rehearsals with the JACK Quartet, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010 (photo: Ralph Brunner)
Rehearsals with the JACK Quartet, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010 (photo: Ralph Brunner)
Rehearsals with the JACK Quartet, Donaueschinger Musiktage 2010 (photo: Ralph Brunner)
Donaueschingen post-festival party, with Liza Lim & James Saunders
Donaueschingen post-festival party, with Liza Lim & James Saunders

JACK Quartet. Miller Theater, New York, USA. October 16, 2011.

JACK Quartet. University at Buffalo, USA. February 24, 2011.

JACK Quartet. Oberlin Conservatory, USA. February 22, 2011.

JACK Quartet. Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, USA. February 20, 2011.

JACK Quartet. Monday Evening Concerts. Los Angeles, USA. February 14, 2011. String Quartet and Second String Quartet 

JACK Quartet. Ultraschall Festival. Berlin, Germany.  January 25, 2011. Broadcast by Deutschlandradio Kultur and Kulturadio RBB.

JACK Quartet. Donaueschinger Musiktage. Donaueschingen, Germany. October 16, 2010. Broadcast by SWR-2. Further broadcasts by NDR and SR-2.

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