Janáček’s First String Quartet is one of the summits of his art. But it was equalled,
and possibly surpassed, by the second. At seventy-four, Janáček was still full of
vitality and the joy of living. In 1928, the year of his death, in love more than ever
with Kamila, he wrote one of his last and greatest masterpieces, the Second String
In under three weeks it was ready, and three months later, on 18 and 25 May 1928, it
was performed at Janáček ‘s own home at Hukvaldy. Initially entitled ‘Love letters’,
this quartet is the composer’s final tribute to Kamila. The mood of the quartet is
never serene or happy, however, but constantly and deeply tense.
The four movements of this work show economy in the use of intervals, the
rhythms are fragmented, the melodies broken, but the overall structure gives
unity, as does the grace of the performance.
After a nervous, violent introduction, the first movement expresses conflicting
impulses, ascending then descending, creating a feeling of urgency and dramatic
necessity. The second movement has the same intensity as the first; then the third
movement brings a contrast with its mood of nostalgia and contemplation. The
final movement expresses a surge of love from a heart that was still young and
passionate, and was to remain so to the end.
16 JANÁČEK / SCHULHOFF