3. Andante


Theme and variations (6)

Theme (D major)

March figure in the 6th variation ("Drum")


A theme and variations is always a marvelous treat within the context of the string quartet: it is typically a showcase for the incredible range of expression and nuance in the character of the stringed instruments themselves and the variety of texture in the ensemble. Beyond the challenge of sheer diversity, the form also demands, in its best execution, an overriding arc of unity, a coherent line of development that might best be described as a narrative. This might take the form of an orderly catalog, where there is a kind of intellectual "sense" to manipulation of parameters over time. This higher order unity will usually also craft an emotional narrative that, spanning multiple variations, will embody the ideas of departure, even dissolution, and the inevitable return to a new more deeply informed resolution with its origins, a prodigal son, scarred, wise, victorious.

The catalog of manipulation is broad, including rhythm, harmony and texture. But there appears to be some orderly sequence. The first four variations allow each instrument in the quartet to stand in strong relief against its partners, essentially from top to bottom: 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola then cello. The 4th variation changes the modality to the definitive minor, using triplets for an urgency that becomes tragic. The 5th variation, following a sequence which emphasizes each of the solo voices, presents the quartet as a contrapuntal vehicle par excellance, where each each voice is a separate but equal partner in a pure texture of imitative counterpoint which has the paridoxical effect of tremendous balance and unity. The counterpoint uses a tiny three-note unit and a kind of inversion of the four dotted notes that begin the theme. This variation is clearly the dissolution, the furthest point of remove, almost disorienting. It feels almost like the theme turned inside out. It is subdued, learned, solemn. It is a very pregnant pause.

The final variation begins with a march figure in the cello. Berger points out that this association caused this quartet to sometimes be known as "The Drum". The association of a march, a promenade of highly decorated victory growing as it approaches from the distance, is very powerful in the narrative of variations. Without question, it brings the movement back from its forray, from the dark and the obscure back into the light. Its power steadily increases as the drumming extends beyond the variation into a kind of coda and reprise of the original theme. Chief in the force of this effect is that the march motive begins rising from the cello up through the other instruments of the quartet, ascending in order to the viola, the second violin and into the stratosphere of the 1st violin. The line tumbles right back down into the beginning of the movement, stating a compressed recapitualtion which ripens once again into the march and the end of the 3rd movement.