String Quartet No. 2 “Waves” (1976)

Program notes

The second quartet is inspired by the research of the World Soundscape Project in which Schafer studied the acoustic phenomena of the natural and urban environment. This quartet is subtitled Waves and depicts the rhythm of the breaking and surfing of the waves of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans of the Canadian coasts. Schafer's research has shown that the rhythm of the waves is always asymmetrical but that the time between each wave is almost always between six and eleven seconds. The structure and rhythm of this second quartet is based on this sea time. Impressionist work and full of subtleties, this second quartet offers a great contrast with the first one. Although the composer assures us that the music of this quartet is not descriptive, listening to Waves one feels both the subtleties and the murmur of calm water and the force and momentum of the waves on the high seas. The rich and refined textures of this quartet are very impressionistic and seem to constantly seem to flee forward in ever-changing transformations. Schafer employs a writing style that evokes fluidity with, for example, motifs that interlock, dissolve, spurt out and disperse. The numerous motifs that run through the work are constantly presented in new rhythmic forms, new nuances and new tempi. Like a modern Heraclitus, Schafer evokes the continuous movement of water through dynamic crescendi and diminuendi undulations and through incessant variations of motifs. Like the natural rhythm of the waves, this quartet unfolds in successive cycles of six to eleven seconds. It is in the last minutes of the second quartet that the games of spatialization and displacement begin. The physical position of the instrumentalists at the end of the work will be the same as at the beginning of the next quartet.


Year of composition



string quartet


Season Date Concert Member(s)
2020-21 H2O day