String Quartet 101

This year, the Fine Arts Quartet will be performing at the Classical Spree. This presents an excellent opportunity to examine the string quartet, a subtle musical form that is still alive and well two centuries after its birth.


What is a string quartet?

Comprising two violins, a viola, and a cello, the string quartet became an integral part of the classical repertoire for several reasons. From the beginning, composers were fascinated by it, and were thus very productive. This eventually led to the creation of a vast repertoire of music.  At the same time, the string quartet is often the genre of choice for music enthusiasts, who expect a high level of artistic accomplishment.


The first string quartet

It was no coincidence that the string quartet first saw the light of day in Vienna around 1760. In fact, its birth was largely the result of specific historical, musical, and social contexts. During the Enlightenment, the public was informed by the ideas of humanism that were spreading across Europe at the time. There was thus a thirst for knowledge, progress, and reflection that created a breeding ground for the development of increasingly sophisticated art forms.

The string quartet is considered a conversation between musicians, an art of balanced discourse that meets the audience’s need for intellectual stimulation. In fact, listening to a quartet attentively provides a feeling of fulfillment and a unique musical experience that certain people even describe as spiritual.


The father of the string quartet

It was Haydn who laid the foundation stone of the classical string quartet when he composed 68 quartets that are considered a model for the genre. Mozart was a worthy successor with his own masterpieces, and Beethoven took the quartet to new heights. The quartet continued to evolve over time and kept capturing the imaginations of composers, who are still inspired by it today.

With four voices that meet to create a cohesive whole all the while maintaining a distinctive role for each instrument, the very structure of the quartet encourages composers and musicians alike to push themselves beyond their limits.

Playing in a string quartet

It is vital that the members listen to each other, and they must get along: together, they think about, discuss, and decide on their interpretation of a piece. Over time, after many concerts and rehearsals, their mutual understanding develops and their performance becomes richer, just as a fine wine improves with age.

As the quartet’s level of musical intimacy gradually increases, it also becomes an “extremely close-knit and fundamentally democratic microcosm”, as the musicologist Bernard Fournier describes in his three-volume “History of the String Quartet”.

The wealth of this repertoire brought forth many well established quartets who played together for decades. Amadeus, Kronos, Italiano, St. Lawrence, Alban Berg, Emerson, and the American String Quartet are among the most well-known.


The Fine Arts Quartet at the OSM Classical Spree

Founded in 1946, the Fine Arts Quartet maintains this grand tradition. The ensemble has seen many new members since its original formation, and now includes Ralph Evans (first violin), Efim Boico (second violin), Juan-Miguel Hernandez (viola), and Robert Cohen (cello). The first two members have been part of the quartet for 35 years.

At the Classical Spree, they will perform four gems from the repertoire: Gounod’s String Quartet no. 3 in A minor, op. posth., Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor, op. 10., Haydn’s “The Lark” and Mendelssohn’s First String Quartet.

A musical experience to be savoured.