Beach began her most original and forward- looking work in 1921, during her first residency at the MacDowell Colony, the artists’ retreat in Peterborough, New Hampshire. She completed it in 1929 while in Rome.
A determining feature of the quartet is the thematic use of three songs of the Alaskan Inuit, which Beach found in a collection by the anthropologist Franz Boas. She had already made use of Inuit tunes in her compositions, notably in the suite for piano Eskimos (1907), in which she underpinned them with late romantic harmonies. In the quartet, however, she set the tunes in a contrapuntal texture saturated with motives derived from the tunes themselves, thus enhancing rather than obscuring their starkness and angularity. In ternary form (A–B–A), the movement opens Grave, while the middle section, Più animato leading to an Allegro molto, constitutes the main body of the work; it closes with a reprise of the opening. The quartet shows Beach having moved beyond her earlier style; the language is lean rather than lush, with dissonances left unresolved until the end and contrapuntal lines preserving the native characteristics of the Inuit tunes.