Ulvi Cemal Erkin was along with Ahmed Saygun one of the five pioneer composer sent to Paris in the 1920s to learn Western composition techniques as part of Atatürk’s plan to modernise and westernise all aspects of Turkish life. His music is more obviously based on traditional forms than Saygun’s making it alot easier to approach. There were very few string quartets being written in the Thirties, making this powerful work something of a trailblazer. It was first performed in 1938. The first movement opens with a pentatonic primary theme in the violins that is to be heard in many forms throughout the movement. Brief shuddering figures and cello pizzicato announce the second theme that takes the form of a mournful march. The reappearance of the opening theme leads into a development section that brings all the themes together. A short violent coda closes the movement.
The scherzo uses traditional asymmetric Turkish rhythms generating a flurry of percussive energy. The sostenuto Trio section shimmers briefly before the opening returns. The briefest of codas recalls the Trio. The deeply felt and sorrowful Andante takes the theme from the first movement, but changes it almost beyond recognition. After a bridge passage a second motif is discovered, but the mood remains
unchanged. The final Allegro gets very lively after the main theme is played through once more at a slow tempo. A burst of pizzicati in all four instruments sets the rhythm going, not without strange hesitations and dramatic pauses. One can only wish that the composer had explored his electrifying material at greater length.