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Note on the Early Performance History of Morton Feldman's Second String Quartet

by Chris Villars

Morton Feldman wrote his second string quartet for the Kronos Quartet. They gave the first performance in the Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto on 4 December 1983. Played in full, the second quartet would normally last around five to six hours. As the premiere was to be broadcast live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (who had commissioned the work) in a fixed timeslot of four and a half hours (7.30 until midnight), which was to include an introductory interview with the composer, Feldman produced a special, shortened version of the score for the occasion. He did this by omitting repeats in numerous places[1]. Using the shortened score, in conjunction with careful monitoring of the elapsed time and adjustment of tempo accordingly[2], the Kronos Quartet were able to ensure that the piece became "a four hour quartet"[3].

The Kronos Quartet performed the second quartet six times during the 1980s[4]. On each occasion they used the shortened version of the score[5]. The first complete performance of the piece, using an unedited score, appears to be that given by the Auryn Quartet at a public concert in Studio 10 of the NDR (Nord-Deutsche-Rundfunk) in Hamburg on 3 February 1996, as part of a concert series called "Stille Musik - Feldman and friends"[6]. From this performance onwards, all performances have used the full version of the score.

The performance history of Feldman's second quartet to the end of 1999 is summarised below. Since these early performances, the piece has been performed many times by many different quartets. The Pellegrini Quartet alone, who first performed the piece in Konstanz on 9 June 2000, performed the piece 14 times in the decade to the end of 2009[7].

Early performance summary:

Kronos Quartet Toronto 4 December 1983 [First performance]
Kronos Quartet Darmstadt 25 July 1984
Kronos Quartet London 12 August 1984
Kronos Quartet Aarhus 27 April 1985[8]
Kronos Quartet Los Angeles 2 November 1985
Kronos Quartet Miami 5 December 1988
[All of the above used the score shortened by Feldman]

Auryn Quartet Hamburg 3 February 1996 [First complete performance]

Vogler Quartet Berlin 16 March 1999
Auryn Quartet Munich 17 April 1999
Nomos Quartet Dortmund 29 May 1999
Smith Quartet Cologne 16 June 1999
Flux Quartet New York 9 October 1999


  1. Bunita Marcus, email to the Feldman discussion list, "Vertical Thoughts", 23 December 2009.
  2. David Harrington (Kronos Artistic Director and violinist) in conversation with Janet Cowperthwaite (Kronos Managing Director), July 1996:
  3. David Harrington, ibid.
  4. Janet Cowperthwaite, Kronos press release, 29 July 1996:
  5. Kronos Quartet, email to the author, 7 January 2010.
  6. Stewart Eaton (Auryn Quartet violist), email to the author, 22 January 2010.
  7. Thomas Hofer (Pellegrini Quartet violinist), email to the author, 17 January 2010.
  8. Info on this performance provided by Steen Pade (co-director, with Hans Abrahamsen, of the NUMUS Festival, Aarhus, Denmark, 1985), email to the author, 17 January 2013.
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