The parenthetical subtitle here, "Kabardinian," refers to the origin of the themes in this quartet. Prokofiev rarely used folk or other unoriginal thematic material in his works. This F major Quartet was an exception. In 1941 the composer, along with Myaskovsky and other artists, was sent away from Moscow -- towards which Hitler's troops advanced -- to the safer haven of Nalchik, capital city of the Kabarda-Balkar Republic, situated in the Northern Caucasus. There he was exposed to, and ultimately fascinated by, the folk music of that region.
While experienced listeners will hear the folk-flavor in the themes of this quartet (especially in the second movement), they will at once recognize the music as pure Prokofiev. The tenor of the work is light, from the rhythmic gusto of the first movement to the chipper prance of the finale. The opening panel, marked Allegro sostenuto, features two colorful themes, both lively and rhythmic, the second of the pair more genial and catchy. While the development section works up considerable tension and conflict, the music in general remains light and playful.
The second movement Adagio begins with an exotic melody which has a Middle-Eastern air about its quivering accompaniment. A playful theme that skips about to an array of rhythmic effects forms the delightful middle section. The opening theme is reprised and the music ends quietly. The finale, marked Allegro, presents a catchy rhythmic theme and an alternate exotic melody, whose accompaniment features colorful prickly jabs. The middle section is largely comprised of a sustained emotional outburst whose cries are the only sounds in the work that even vaguely hint at war or suffering. The main material returns in reverse order and the works ends happily.