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What's So Special About The String Quartet ?

   A kind of musical mystique surrounds  the chamber ensemble known as the string quartet - two violins, one viola, a cello .  It's one of the most 

rarified and  esoteric  genres of classical music , not something as immediately  appealing and colorful  as opera or orchestral music  ,

but something which  is highly rewarding to listen to if you give it a chance .  

   Of course, there are various other combinations of instruments in chamber music , such as  the piano trio , consisting of violin, cello and piano ,

quintets with a string quartet and a piano , etc , woodwind quintets, consisting of a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and french horn ,

brass quintets , consisting of two trumpets , one horn,  two trombones , or one trombone and a tuba , and various miscellaneous ensembles

mixing strings, woodwinds and brass , amd   others .  But for some reason, the string quartet has been one of the most prestigious

musical   genres , and  many of the   greatest composers have written them , including Haydn, founder of the form ,  Mozart,  

Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms , Dvorak , Tchaikovsky ,  Mendelssohm , Smetana ,  Bela Bartok,  Shostakovich ,  Charles Ives ,  

Elliott Carter ,  and others have written memorable ones .  

   Haydn wrote about 80 of them ,  , and Beethoven 16 .   These, particularly the late ones, are considered to be some of Beethoven's most 

personal and profound works .  A symphony  might be said to reflect a composer's public  proclamations, but a string quartet is reserved  for his

most   intimate and   private thoughts .   

    In the 18th and early 19th centuries , the structure   of a typical string quartet is very similar to that of a symphony ; four movements ,

sometimes with a slow introduction to a relatively lively first movement in sonata form , a dignified slow movement  , a lively minuet for the 3, 

and a vivacious finale which is also in sonata form .  

   Beethoven, in the sublime and rather enigmatic late quartets he wrote not too long before his death in 1827 , experimented with   unorthodox  

structures, such as his radical  14th which consists of seven movements played without a break .  

   Some of the most notable string quartets of the 19th century are those byBrahms , Dvorak ,  Thaikovsky ,  the Belgian Cesar Franck ,

and the Czech Bedrich Smetama, best known for his comic opera  "The Bartred Bride ".  

   Yje 20th century is particularly rich in string quartets , some of the most notable being the six of the great Hungarian  Bela Bartok 

(1881 - 1945) , and the 15 of  Dmitri Shostakovich .  Those of Bartok  are steeped in the influence of  the folk music of  Bartok's native

Humgar  They are highly pungent and   spiky harmonically ,  though not unpleasant, and may take repeated hearings to  grasp .

    Those of Shostakovich   are brooding   commentaries on  the grim life inside the formewr Soviet Union and  the horrors of  the senond

world war .  They are extremely intense and  even harrowing at   times .

    IN America ,  the late Elliott Carter  (908 - 2012 )  wrote five highly complex and abstract quartets which are  truly challenging to the 

listener and definitely not for newcomers to classical music .  They are some of the most thorny and uncompromising music   you will

ever hear .  

    Among the most famous string quartet ensembles ,  active and  defunct are the Emerson quartet ,  the Juilliard quartet,consisting  of

string faculty members of the Juilliard faculty , the Budapest quartet ,  the Amadeus quartet ,  the Tokyo quartet,  

theGuarnieri quartet ,  to name only  some .  There is a welath of recordings of   string quartet repertoire on CD , and a good place

to order them online is, which specializes in classical CDs and DVDs and has a fantastic selection  overall  .    
Posted: Feb 02 2015, 09:58 PM by the horn | with no comments
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