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Ruth Crawford's String Quartet (1931) is "regarded as one of the finest modernist works of the genre" (Hisama 2001, p.4). The composition or piece is in four untitled movements.


First Movement

The first movement is a fine example of twelve-tone study. Haunting melodies are interspersed with fragmented lines in all of the voice parts to create an almost schizophrenic range of emotions that seem to pile up upon one another. It's clear that the main focus of this movement is controlled soundplay, which is different for most listeners who are accustomed to a more "Western" melodic or harmonic structure and focus.

Third Movement

According to Crawford's analysis (requested by Edgard Varèse), and others', the third movement is a sound mass composition in which a single composite melody line consists of successive tones from the different instruments. This is accomplished through the equality of the instruments, indicated by their cramped register and the frequent vertical crossing of their parts, legato bowing (with dotted slurs indicating preferably inaudible bow changes), and the gradual crescendos and decrescendos which are staggered among the instruments, meaning that one instrument is at its loudest while another is at its quietest. Each voice climbs over the top of the others as they move to the movement's highest dynamics, register, and climax, at which point they "break apart" or split into a four octave range created from triple-stops on all instruments. A performance in line with this reading is that of the Composers Quartet 1973 recording (Nonesuch H-71280). (Hisama 2001)

Fourth Movement

The fourth movement features a lyrical and free first violin, Voice I, contrasted with the ten tone row controlled second violin, viola, and cello, Voice II. (ibid)


  • Hisama, Ellie M. (2001). Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64030-X.


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