The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

Excerpt

From tentative beginnings, the string quartet has evolved for over 240 years, serving as a medium for some of the most profound and personal musical expression. At first it was a medium that allowed four gentlemen amateurs to converse musically, an aspect of its function that has retained its significance throughout the years. But this aspect has long been interconnected with a view of the genre as one that is appropriate for music of the deepest personal expression, as well as sophisticated humour and wit.

Sir George Dyson once remarked that probably the most ideal situation in which a musician can find himself is to be of equal gifts in a gifted string quartet. Sir Yehudi Menuhin, too, was of little doubt that string quartet playing constitutes the highest form of music making. 'The quality of listening, the quality of “teamwork”, of adjusting to one another, of recognising the main voice wherever it may be, of reconciling the different accents and inflections, and the purity of the intonation', he claimed, 'is unequalled by any other ensemble, except perhaps human voices themselves.' Certainly, some of the most musically rewarding periods of my life have been spent playing string quartets (whether as a professional violinist, as a student or in domestic music making), listening to them either as a critic or a devotee and writing about the medium which Edwin Evans described as 'the most perfect, concise, and self-contained combination in all music'.

The principal aim of this volume is to provide a broad readership with a compact, authoritative survey of the string quartet in all its aspects. In so doing, it focuses on selected topics in the kind of depth that will interest and enlighten a more specialist student and scholarly audience. The carefully structured series of essays concentrates on four main areas: the social and cultural contexts which influenced developments in the string quartet, both as a genre and as a family of instruments; the most distinguished ensembles and their personnel, careers and significance; string quartet playing, including an inside view of the musical and interpretative priorities of a professional string quartet as well as perspectives on contemporary and historical performing practice; discussion of the string quartet repertory from its origins in the middle of the eighteenth century to the present, and consideration of 'mixed ensemble' works underpinned by the string quartet ensemble.

The task of covering such an extensive corpus of material within the limited space available naturally poses particular challenges for an editor and his contributors. Authors have thus been required to be selective in . . .

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