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The Development of the String Quartet from the Classical era to the 21st Century

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Whitney George

on 8 March 2016

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Transcript of The Development of the String Quartet from the Classical era to the 21st Century

The Development of the String Quartet
from the Classical Era
to the 21st Century

The Orchestra
has been the most important vehicle of expression for composers from the early classical era to the late romantic era
of any instrumental family, the string family makes up the greatest mass in the orchestra, and placed at the forefront of the stage, they are the most prominently featured in orchestral works
the most remembered melodies in orchestral works are generally reserved for the highest voice in a given group, so in the case of the orchestra (and the string quartet), the violins are typically the principle voices
aside from the brass family, are the most homogenous family in the orchestra. The string instruments also traverse a much wider range than the brass family. Their tuning system (4ths/5ths) are inversions, and there are common ‘open strings’ among all instruments in the string family.
in an orchestra, the string family consists of four instruments (ranging from high to low)
violins
violas
‘cellos
double basses
The String Quartet
the string quartet is a smaller, chamber ensemble made up of three instruments from the stringed family:
two violins
one viola
one ‘cello
each of these instruments has a slightly different timbre due to the tuning of the strings and the range of the strings, but when multiple stringed instruments are playing together, the blend is very convincing, and at time deceiving
by listening to the progression of the string quartet through the work of six composers spanning from the early classical era to the early 20th century, we observe some of the advancements in string quartet writing over time
Early 20th Century
Bela Bartok (1881-1945)
Early Romantic
Maurice Ravel
(1875 – 1937)
Early Classical
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
excerpt from ‘String Quartet in F, Op. 77’ (Movement No. 1)
-smaller range between highest and lowest voice
-no appearance of extended techniques- all instruments are bowed all the time
-texture has doubling, where more than one instrument helps out with a given role
Middle Classical
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(1756-1791)
excerpt from ‘String Quartet No. 14’ (Movement No. 1)
- has a slightly larger range between highest and lowest voice
- still no appearance of extended techniques- all instruments are bowed all the time
-texture still has doubling, but there is greater independence between voices
Late Classical
Ludwig Van Beethoven
(1770-1827)
excerpt from ‘String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131’ (Movement No. 1 & 2)
- has a slightly larger range between highest and lowest voice when everyone is playing together, but also has “adventures” techniques in range. Note how everyone is playing very closely together at the beginning.
- still no appearance of extended techniques- all instruments are bowed all the time, although there are slight inflections of sul tasto/ sul ponticello at the beginning of this quartet
-texture still has doubling, but there is greater independence between voices, especially at the very beginning, where the texture is truly polyphonic

excerpt from ‘String Quartet’ (Movement No. 2)
- much larger range between highest and lowest voice (and the range quickly changes from section to section)
- introduction of some percussive techniques, such as pizzicato
texture still has doubling, but there is greater independence between voices
Late Romantic
Dmitri Shostakovich (1875-1906)
excerpt from ‘String Quartet No. 8’ (Movement No. 2 & 3)
- much larger range between highest and lowest voice (and the range quickly changes from section to section)
introduction of some percussive techniques, such as pizzicato
-texture still has doubling, but there is greater independence between voices
huge, and sudden shifts in dynamics
Late 20th Century
George Crumb (1929-)
excerpt from ‘String Quartet No. 4’ (Allegro Pizzicato)
- much larger range between highest and lowest voice (and the range quickly changes from section to section)
all extended techniques- pizzicato and Bartok Pizzicato
- usually voices are independent
huge, and sudden shifts in dynamics
excerpt from ‘Black Angels’ (Devil Music)
- much larger range between highest and lowest voice (and the range quickly changes from section to section)
lots of extended techniques, both percussive and with bowing
- usually voices are independent
- huge, and sudden shifts in dynamics and texture
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