It was Haydn who started it all. You can quibble about Boccherinis or Albrechtsbergers, Dittersdorfs or Vanhals, but in the end, when it comes to the crunch, you’ll be forced to admit that it was Haydn who was fons et origo of the strings quartet.
And after? Mozart and Beethoven: Mozart dedicated six glorious quartets to Haydn – according to their composer, they were (uncharacteristically) ‘the fruit of long and laborious endeavour’; and Beethoven – Haydn’s surly, rebellious pupil – poured some of his greatest and most sublime music into this ensemble of just four string players.
Then there’s Schubert; Death and the Maiden, the a minor quartet and the final G major work (that points the way to who knows what musical universe…)
There’s Mendelssohn, there’s Schumann, there’s Brahms, there’s Reger, Schönberg, Zemlinsky, Berg and Webern; and (in case you thought it was a purely German phenomenon) Smetana and Dvořák, Debussy and Ravel, Bartók and Janáček, Ives and Carter, there’s Shostakovich and Britten, there’s …
… and so we could go on through the nineteenth, twentieth and into the twenty-first century, naming composer after composer.
So what is it about this ensemble of two violins, viola and cello that makes it so attractive for composers? I have a few ideas about this; pop in next Wednesday and we’ll start to discuss them…
Meanwhile, here’s a jukebox of fourteen quartet movements for you to sample and mull over:
1 Puccini: Crisantemi
2 & 3 Mozart: Adagio & Fugue
4 John Adams: Rag the Bone
5 Schubert: Quartet movement
6 Dutilleux: Constellations (Ainsi la nuit)
7 & 8 Zemlinsky: Two movements for string quartet
9 Dvořák: Cypresses (No.2)
10 Webern: Slow movement for string quartet (try it, you’ll be surprised!)
11 & 12 Shostakovich: Two pieces for string quartet (Elegy & Polka)
13. Tippett: Presto (String Quartet No.2)
14 Wolf: Italian Serenade
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