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The opening strains of the Sixth Quartet's Allegretto first movement have a delightful innocence. The development comes upon the listener suddenly and pianissimo, leading to an episode bursting with polyphony. After several reiterations of these playful melodies, the movement comes to rest, as will all the succeeding movements, with an almost farcical tin-pan-alley cadence.

If this were a Classical quartet, the second movement, marked Moderato con moto, would be its minuet, with its typically lilting triple meter. A contrasting theme featuring chromatic scalar lines in the violin gives the movement a picturesque, fairy-tale quality.

The Lento third movement is a passacaglia, a baroque form in which the music unfolds atop a repeating bass line introduced in this ensemble, naturally, by the cello. Without pause, this movement leads to the finale, a sonata-rondo with two themes contrasted by the first's triple meter and the latter's duple stride. In the development sections, listen for the passacaglia cello theme from the previous movement in canon (that is, in exact imitation) with the viola entering two measures later. Far from a rousing climax, this quartet ends with a simplicity true to its friendly manner.

The Sixth String Quartet was premiered in Leningrad in November 1956.

-- Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is an Emmy-nominated composer and has served as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Publications Assistant.