The piece is in three movements (fast–slow–fast) and is organized harmonically on four dominant
chords in minor keys a minor third apart—E minor, G minor, B-flat minor, C-sharp minor—and then
returning to E minor to form a cycle. The first movement goes through this harmonic cycle twice
with a section about one minute long on each of the four dominant chords. The result is a kind
of variation form.
Rhythmically, the first movement has the second and third quartet playing interlocking chords while
the first quartet plays longer melodies in canon between the first violin and viola against the
second violin and cello.
The slow movement is more completely contrapuntal, with a long, slow melody in canon eventually
in all 12 voices. It stays in E minor throughout.
The third movement resumes the original fast tempo and maintains the harmonic chord cycle, but
modulates back and forth between keys more rapidly. The final section of the movement is in the
initial key of E minor, and there the piece finally cadences.