Academic journal article Notes

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

Academic journal article Notes

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet

Article excerpt

The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet. Edited by Robin Stowell. (Cambridge Companions to Music.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. [xiv, 373 p. ISBN O521-80194-X $75 (hbk.); ISBN 0-52100042-4 $27 (pbk.)] Illustrations, music examples, bibliography, index.

A volume on the string quartet is the latest contribution to the Cambridge Companion series devoted to topics. Both scholars and performers have contributed to provide a wide range of perspectives on this subject. The fifteen chapters are divided into four main areas: the changing social role of the string quartet and organological developments; a history of the most celebrated ensembles; string quartet performance practices-historical and modern; and repertoire, including discussion of modern mixed ensembles involving the string quartet. Given the book's aim at broad coverage within a concise format, comprehensive referencing to the relevant literature is essential. Unfortunately there are several important omissions in this area, some of which are below.

Perhaps the most valuable parts of this volume are the chapters that deal with the string quartet from angles that have not been covered in-depth elsewhere. In this respect Christina Bashford's "The string quartet and society" is exemplary. Bashford charts a broad shift over the genre's history from active participation to listening, giving due attention to the counterpoint between these two related reception positions. The chapter serves well as an introduction to the book, since the complex relations between repertoire, performers, and recipients is a recurrent theme throughout. Her discussion of the formation of a narrow band of canonic string quartets in the nineteenth century is also invaluable here, since it provides a background to the ideology of string quartets that has served in the past to restrict our views of the genre. The chapters of this book generally leave behind the traditionally narrow viewpoint; the book is expansive in terms of both the repertoire that the authors cover and the analytical and interpretive approaches that they apply.

Part 4 of the Companion, in particular, contributes greatly to a rounded picture of the string quartet. It contains discussions of repertories that have traditionally been marginalized in scholarship and performance: the early string quartet (prior to Haydn's Op. 9), works by non-canonic (or equivalently non-Austro-German) composers, twentieth-century works, and genres closely related to the string quartet. But perhaps the most thought-provoking study in this section is one that deals with the string quartet qua string quartet, and with canonic composers: W. Dean Sutcliffe's "Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries." Sutcliffe attempts to characterize the distinctive features of the string quartet without positing these elements as ideals towards which other genres aspire, as has often been the case in past scholarship. His interest lies in the ways in which musical materials-textures and topics-appeal to varied listeners and on numerous levels; in particular, he considers the various social models (forms of musical "conversation," for example) and dramatic modes (such as the pastoral) that they imply. The chapter contains sensitive analyses of works by composers such as Carl Friedrich Abel, Giuseppe Maria Cambini, Luigi Boccherini, and Ignace Pleyel, alongside new readings of more familiar works by Haydn and Mozart. Sutcliffe might have cited Elizabeth Ie Guin's relevant studies of Boccherini's chamber music (especially " One Says That One Weeps, but One Does Not Weep': Sensible, Grotesque, and Mechanical Embodiments in Boccherini's Chamber Music." Journal of the American Musicological Society 55, no. 2 [2002]: 207-54), and Mara Parker's recent book (The String Quartet, 1750-1797: Four Types of Musical Conversation. [Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2002]).

Tully Potter further rounds out the genre's history, in Part 2, with chapters on the most celebrated artists from the late eighteenth century through the recording age. …

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