RTC-04: 1954 String Quartet No. 2

Commission: McGill University – 50th Anniversary of McGill Conservatorium of Music
Length: 19 min.
Premiere: 1954-11-19, McGill String Qt., Eugene Husaruk, Alfred Letendre, violins, Robert Rodolfi, viola Lotta Brott, cello

  1. 1955-03-02, Hymann Bress, Mildred Goodman, violins, Otto Joachim, viola, Walter Joachim, cello; The Hermitage, Montreal – Concert by the Canadian League of Composers [see review]
  2. 1974-08-11, Purcell String Qt., Courtney BC Music Camp
  3. 2005-11-21, WSO String Qt., Gwen Hoebig, Karl Stobbe, Daniel Scholz, Yuri Hooker,GROUNDSWELL Concerts, E-Gré Hall, U of Winnipeg

Publication: BMI, 1963
Recording: CBC Winnipeg Live Recording from Groundswell Concert

The String Quartet No. 2 was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the McGill Conservatorium. The McGill Conservatorium was established and opened for teaching on 21 September 1904, with Dr. Charles Harriss as Director. The formal opening by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Minto, took place on 14 October 1904. The building situated on the south east corner of the McGill campus had been made available by the Chancellor, Lord Strathcona, who also defrayed the expense of the necessary alterations to the interior of the building. Here the Conservatorium operated until 1949, when it was moved to more commodious premises on Drummond Street.

To commemorate this anniversary, three former students of the Conservatorium – Violet Archer, Alexander Brott and Robert Turner – were invited to submit original compositions for a concert on 19 November 1954. In the program, the Turner Quartet is labelled as his Third String Quartet – consistent with the numbering of string quartets in existence at the time [see RTC-01, String Quartet No. 1]. It was at some later point that Dr. Turner withdrew his first 1947 string quartet and renumbered the remaining quartets.

An anonymous reviewer [possibly Eric McLean] wrote the next day in The Montreal Star (20 November 1954): “Splitting an evening between two programs is rarely successful, and my attempt to do so last night was not one of the exceptions. By the time I arrived at Moyse Hall, the Archer and Turner quartets had already finished, and I found myself listening to the reactions in the lobby during intermission.

Such reactions are not quite trustworthy, particularly after a program of first performances. So much depends upon the size and temper of the audience, and the quality of the performance. Besides, in the case of new Canadian works, the listener has very few experiences with which he can make a comparison.

As far as the quartet by Robert Turner is concerned, there were no previous experiences: nothing of his has been played publicly in Montreal before. Yet it was the Turner quartet which seems to have excited most interest in last night’s concert, and praise was heard from some of the most critical quarters. This served to increase my disappointment in having missed the two works, and I only hope that the occasion to hear them will again present itself very soon.”

This Third String Quartet [String Quartet No. 2] was indeed performed again in Montreal later in the 1954–55 season at the Hermitage on 2 March 1955 in the context of program of 7 Canadian works sponsored by the Canadian League of Composers. In his review, Thomas Archer, “Sight & Sound – Music by Canadians,” wrote:

“It was good to see the Hermitage crowded last night by those interested in what Canadian composers are doing … It was an absorbing evening that called for concentrated listening. Just on two solid hours of string trio and string quartet performance [from 9:00 – 11:00 P.M.] is a pretty hard demand … The writing was uniformly competent. Some of it, in fact, was frankly academic and there were times when I longed for a real tune, that God-given vocal foundation of music., Harry Freedman came near it in the slow movement of his Four Pieces for String Quartet. Robert Turner’s style in the third movement of his String Quartet No. 3 seemed to me the nearest approach to a truly Canadian idiom…”

Eric McLean, “Seven Works by Canadians Given Hearing,” The Montreal Star, 3 March 1955 wrote:

“The Turner work with which the program ended was one of the most professional and solidly grounded pieces of writing in the concert. If it was rather thin on ideas, the lack was more than compensated by the sureness with which it was written.”

CBC Winnipeg Centennial Festival, 13 May 1974