Cast in a single movement this quartet has five continuous sections. The opening allegro is highly rhythmic, spirited music enjoying frequent switches from 4/4 to 3/8 time signatures. Freely atonal, this initial section grows by developing motifs from all the parts in the opening few bars. There are moments of quieter repose, which expand each time they appear, and the use of pizzicato plays an important role in the whole section.

The adagio, starting at figure K, is strictly serial in construction, and the note row is borrowed from Webern’s Three Songs for Voice and Pianoforte, Op.23. Used entirely without transposition, the first violin adheres solely to the basic set. Likewise, the second violin has the inversion of the note row, the viola the retrograde form, whilst the cello uses the retrograde inversion. The music is elegiac and wistful.

The allegretto section, commencing at figure O, reworks the reposeful music from the first allegro, building, with some intense tremolando, to a tonal climax, albeit briefly, in D and A major. A brief variant statement of the adagio returns, serving as a coda to this central ternary slow movement. It ends quietly, with high violins underpinned by pianissimo lower strings in pizzicato.

The final allegro, marked vivo this time, represents material from the beginning of the work – predominantly the 3/8 music in a quasi-Shostakovich, urgent manner. Many of the former motifs are subjected to further development, the tension rising much higher this time. Some 3/8 bars are clipped to 2/8 time, and the counterpoint is thickened to intensify the conclusion.