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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Which book of quartets would you keep if you could have just one?

March 7, 2008 at 11:54 PM

I've been longing to play string quartet music these days, and it's got me thinking about how much literature has been written for this configuration, and how very lucky we are.

Joseph Haydn pretty much created the genre during the 18th century, writing 68 quartets. Haydn quartets can seem deceptively simple; many a string player can read these quartets, few play them well. My first attempt was in high school, and I'm rather glad there's no recording.

Mozart wrote 23 quartets, six dedicated to Haydn. We wedding giggers are very indebted to Mozart for "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," not to mention the Divertimenti that can be played as such. Beethoven wrote 16 strings quartets, and his late quartets (including the Grosse Fugue) are among his most forward-looking compositions, in terms of harmony, dissonance and form.

A few summers ago my quartet worked up a Mendelssohn quartet (No. 1 in E b), and I found it to be immensely satifying music: in turns symphonic and intimate, with challenges for all members. I'd like to explore more of those. And one of my huge unfulfilled longings is to explore the Shostakovich quartets.

My question to you is, if you were being sent to a desert island for the rest of your life (along with your ideal quartet mates!) but could only bring one book of quartets from one composer, which would you choose?

I've included composers who have written either many of quartets, or who have written particular quartets that stand out. Please share your thoughts on your choice, and feel free to talk about any other quartets not listed as well.

From Blake Newman
Posted on March 7, 2008 at 11:55 PM
I would take Ravel's string quartet in F major(not listed)
From Stewart Siu
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 12:44 AM
What happened to Brahms?
From Manuel B. Jiménez
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 12:54 AM
Kreisler´s String Quartet! I fell in love with this sweet and pleasant work.
From Anne Horvath
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 1:00 AM
I will wait until IMSLP is resurrected. That way, I could play all the quartets in public domain...and then bring along the Bartok set!

Also, I want to be stranded with Arnold Steinhardt, Janos Starker, and Paul Neubauer. That should be a bit humbling...

From NeaL Brooks
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 2:02 AM
If I were stranded on a desert island, my first priorities would be for survival. Therefore; water, shelter, food and warmth would come first.

Since paper is useful for many things, starting fires, for example, I'd choose the composer who wrote the most and longest compositions. ;)

From Peter Kent
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 3:07 AM
Curious you don't list Brahms...or Cherubini for that matter....and why is it always a desert island ? How about a fertile,swampy or glacial island ? 'twould make a difference in choice of music and players.
From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 5:26 AM
This really is a tough choice you know. The quartet literature is sooo rich . . . I want them all! After Beethoven, I'd totally pick Brahms. I love his chamber music . . .
From Nigel Keay
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 6:26 AM
I voted for Beethoven, but thinking about the desert island survival aspect, a book of Schubert would probably kill two birds with one stone as he tends to write in big chunks that get transposed about six or seven times. It should be possible to rip out most of the pages to start a fire when necessary while still being able to play the music, just repeating one of those sections in the different keys. This would develop transposition skills at the same time...
From Morton Raff
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 7:34 AM
Beethoven Volume 3, no question.
From Cecily Ward
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 7:44 AM
very close call between Beethoven and Haydn - especially if you get the complete works! But in the end, it has to be Beethoven.
From Danny Sheu
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 8:20 AM
Mendelssohn for sure. Not even a doubt in my mind about that.
From Bonny Buckley
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 8:24 AM
There is always a new arrangement, new composer, ancient tunes rediscovered...this would be an impossible choice! I think I'd take my phat gig books. Right now I'm listening for the first time to string quartet arrangements of Chinese folk music by Shanghai Quartet 2nd Violinist on -- force me to choose and it would probably be Puccini.
From Joe S.
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 8:38 AM
Totally Bartok... It was a tie between Bartok and Beethoven. I don't think I'd be able to take Beethoven's seriousness all the time... so I chose bartok. Both awesome composers!
From Luis Dias
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 9:47 AM
Can't see your list for some strange reason, but today I'd got for Dvorak's American. Tomorrow I might feel differently :-)
From Kay Pech
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 3:38 PM
That's not a fair list !!!
Where's Brahms? My favorite string quartet players and I relish Brahms.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 7:57 PM
You guys are all very welcome to bring the Brahms to the desert island, mea culpa!
From Deborah McCann
Posted on March 8, 2008 at 8:29 PM
I would chose the Brahms, but for a second, Mozart as I can not ever get tired of his works.
From *** Nicka ***
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 3:07 AM
Beethoven - String quartet in c-minor op. 18 nr 4. That's really one of my favourite.
From Lisa D
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 3:46 AM
Beethoven, hands down. What an amazing spectrum of styles (early, middle late)... he perfected the classical era, stretched limits in the middle period, and the late quartets are a daring look into the future.
From Rita Livs
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 4:17 AM
Mendelssohn... or Brahms... OMG I want all of them!
From Benjamin K
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 4:44 AM
Schubert hit the nail on the head when he commented about Beethoven's late quartets: "After this, what is there left to write for us?"

As for the desert scenario, considering that Haydn wrote 68 whilst Debussy and Ravel only wrote 1 quartet, perhaps you should be allowed to pick a collection of a certain number of quartets, ie 10, 20, 30 pieces. In that case my list would look something like this...

Bach "Art of Fugue"; Haydn "Erdody"; Mozart "Dissonance"; Beethoven "Rasumovsky", "Serioso" and all the "late" quartets; Schubert "Rosamunde", "Death & Maiden" and "Quartettsatz"; Brahms all; Dvorak "American"; Janacek both; Debussy and Ravel (one each); Bartok Nos. 3,4 and 5; Schostakovich Nos. 3, 8 and 11

Yet if I was forced to pick a single composer, then that would have to be Beethoven, without any hesitation.

From Benjamin K
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 5:07 AM
I forgot Mendelssohn op.80 and 81 on that list though
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 6:36 AM
Something that's easy but sounds hard so the natives will think you're gods and not eat you.
From Chris Rogers
Posted on March 9, 2008 at 10:45 PM
However wonderful other quartet composers were, there was only one in the frame if stuck on an island: Beethoven, for the late quartets.
From Anton Alterman
Posted on March 10, 2008 at 4:32 AM
I'd take the Elgar quartet, even if Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven had each written 1000. It's not humanly possible to write a more beautiful piece.

After that, probably the Grieg Gm, because it's the most fun to play!

Of course, it's nice to fantasize in the abstract, but if I were really presented with this scenario I bet I'd grab my Beethoven cycle without a second thought.

From Royce Faina
Posted on March 10, 2008 at 2:34 PM
Would be nice if I rescued a book with all or most of the composers listed and unlisted.
From Rosalind Porter
Posted on March 10, 2008 at 3:19 PM
Trios might be more use as when it comes down to the final nitty-gritty of survival, I'm afraid we'll have to sacrifice the viola for firewood...

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