String Quartets

February 21, 2008 at 07:08 AM · I'm part of a string quartet sponsored by my University for the semester (we're playing Dvorák's American), part of a group that just plays wedding gigs, and part of a quartet that reads music once a week to help out a conductor student.

Now I am forming a group just for fun! I'm tired of goal oriented quartets that sometimes get away from the fun of playing in a quartets.

That being said, favorite string quartets anyone? Any level or period......although I do tend to lean towards romantic - contemporary music.

Replies (50)

February 21, 2008 at 11:14 AM · Dvorak's "American" is one of my favourites. If you like that, you probably also like the string quartets by Brahms.

As for favourite string quartets ... without any doubt: Beethoven !!!

In particular the middle and late quartets.

I also like Bartok, especially No.5 and Shostakovich, especially No.3 and No.8.

If you prefer romantic quartets, then you may not like the Bartok and Shostakovich quartets, but you'll love the late Beethoven quartets.

Many consider Beethoven's late quartets the zenith of quartet music, Wagner called them the most melancholic music ever written, Stravinsky called one of them the greatest piece of music ever written, Schubert commented "After this, what is there left for us to write?".

In particular you want to check out op. 130, 131 and 132. Those have very melodic movements. The downside is that they are technically very difficult. If your group finds them too difficult, check out the middle quartets (op.59, 74 and 95) they are considered less demanding which doesn't mean they are less enjoyable.

As for fun stuff, there is quite a bit of non-quartet music for which there are arrangements for string quartet, for example Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" and many of Johann Strauss' works.

Anyway, just my (subjective) 2 cents.

Let us know how you fare, maybe post some samples online ;)

February 21, 2008 at 11:21 AM · In addition to what Benjamin's mentioned, you might also want to consider Janacek's string quartets, which are absolute gems. I'm also pretty fond of Borodin's quartets, which might not be the most life-altering compositions on the whole, but contain some of the most delightful individual movements in the repertoire - perfect for weddings and such. The first movement of No.1 and the third of No.2 will put anyone in a good mood.

February 21, 2008 at 04:13 PM ·

February 21, 2008 at 04:18 PM · Some of my favorites:

Beethoven op. 59 no. 1, op. 95, op. 131 (hard to chose -- I like them all)

Mozart K. 565 ("Dissonant") (I like all the last seven, and there are a few of the earlier ones that are wonderful, too)

Haydn op. 20 no. 4, op. 76 no.2 (many more great quartets, too)

Schubert d minor ("Death and the Maiden"), G major (op. post.)

Brahms op. 51 no. 2, op. 61 (needs a really good violist)

Bartok no. 6 (hard to chose - I like them all)

Shostakovich no. 8

February 21, 2008 at 05:16 PM · Try the Grieg quartet, it's loads of fun. Also the Mendelssohn Quartets are beautiful and not too virtuosic. You'll find that a lot of string quartets(brahms, beethoven) you have to have a level of virtuosity that will definitely require some work) If you guys are very good check out the Ravel!

February 21, 2008 at 06:21 PM · Beethoven Op. 132 Heiliger Dankgesang

Beethoven Op. 130 Cavatina and Grosse Fuge (Op. 133)

February 21, 2008 at 06:34 PM · Smetana: e minor "Ich meine lieben"

Mozart: #15 d minor K. 421

February 21, 2008 at 07:14 PM · Of course, there's always Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, if you're willing to charter four helicopters.

February 21, 2008 at 10:04 PM · Nielsen's F minor is amazing.

February 21, 2008 at 10:39 PM · Greetings,

some interesting stuff here..I`m glad Bill mentioned Haydn opus 20 number 4. That is one of His frist truly great quartets. However, I wa ssurprised that apart from that Haydn quartets are not mentioend so much. I have played most of his chamber music at one time or another and I am constantly amazed by how -ferociosuly= experimental and modern Haydn can be. One thing people tend to forget is that he was actually alive during Beethoivens time and I believe he was very much a significant background to the eemrging Romanti movement. That might soudn like an odd thing to say but some of the later piano trios are off the panet harmoically and structurally. he was much more of arisk taker than Mozart.

The Grieg is really good fun. I don`t know the Nielsen but I play all his violin sonatas and would urge anyone wth an exces sof techique to take a shot at his unacompanied violin works. Impossibly diifcult but a worth counterpart to Ysaye.



February 22, 2008 at 12:19 AM · Recently, I've been obsessed with anything Shostakovich. My quartet played his No. 8 last year and we're playing a short piece called "Allegretto" by him this year. The emotion in his music is really hard to convey adequately, but it's fun. I should find a better word than "fun," though, because most of his compositions are pretty dismal. Fun to play, but dismal.

Borodin 2 = gorgeous

Smetana's "From My Life" is pretty deep too, but neat.

Dvorak's "American" is great, but you know that, I'm sure. ;)

Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 2 is A LOT of fun. The third movement is really mischievous!

RAVEL - I love it and you will too if you love Romantic/Contemporary!

February 22, 2008 at 01:11 AM · I agree with Buri. Haydn never ceases to amaze me, I especially love his piano trios.

February 22, 2008 at 01:13 AM · Greetings,

I would suggest exploring -all- of shotakovitch quartets. They actually mimic the developmental pattern of Beethoven to some extent and arealso similar in that to get the maximum from one you need to paly them all. One heck of a challenge. Some of them are relatively easy technically.

A bit more off the beatebn track are those quartets by Britten. Wonderful works that are well worth exploring. Also three quartets by Arriaga.

Don`t remeber if mendellssohn wa smentyioned but if you want so9methign that will really stretch your tehcnique tryu opus 44 in D major. Its a b%$&&&er.



February 22, 2008 at 03:16 AM · >Try the Grieg quartet, it's loads of fun.

Oh my goodness, I'm so glad to hear Grieg has a string quartet arrangement - I just love his music, but only know the orchestral stuff and his piano concerto - was thinking he didn't have any stringed instrument stuff. Will have to hunt this down.

Speaking as simply a listener here, I second Schubert "Death and the Maiden" - I can listen to that second movement over and over and over. (Wait... I do just that.)

And ditto on the Borodin already mentioned here. And I love all of Dvorak's quartets - got a CD that has No. 10-14 and I love them all, but of course The American was my first love. But #10 is now a close second.

Have grown to really like Bartok's #2, but I must say I don't know if I'll ever warm to the later ones. (I'm a Romantic kinda gal myself, as well.)

Suppose I should include, then, Schubert's quintet (in C major?). Really addictive.

February 22, 2008 at 04:34 AM · Greetings,

Terez, sorry, my psyche seems ot have got drunk and is wandering around in Scandinavia without a clue. I wa sreferring to the Sibelius quartet. I just muispelled it with a G.



February 22, 2008 at 04:57 AM · All the Bartoks and all the Beethovens--especially into Nos. 5 and 6 and Op. 131 lately.

February 22, 2008 at 09:04 AM · One a teacher introduced to me a couple years ago:

Mendelssohn - Capriccio Op. 81 No. 3

February 22, 2008 at 12:56 PM · As well as all the quartets already mentioned, I recommend the Elgar and Walton quartets (and that's not just because I'm English!).

February 22, 2008 at 08:16 PM · And those unjustly forgotten:

Cesar Franck - Smetana second - Borodin first - Dvorak all except the "American" - Tchaikovsky third - Hugo Wolf - FAURE - Kreisler - Chausson - Lekeu - Grieg second - All 7 Glazunov - all 9 Sergei Taneyev - Rachmaninoff (2 of 2 muvements each - Nielsen all - Bliss - VW - Simpson all - Britten - Paganini the 3 he wrote - Boccherini,choose any of them - Gade - Martinu all - Malipiero all - Hindemith all - Magnard -

I can go on to 100, but it's enough.

February 22, 2008 at 08:31 PM · can't omit the debussy either

another interesting piece is four for tango by astor piazolla

it has a lot of cool sound effects like whips,"sand paper", and taps

here is kronos playing it

February 22, 2008 at 11:12 PM · >All 7 Glazunov...

WOW! Another CD set to be on the lookout for. The things I learn here...

February 22, 2008 at 11:56 PM · Bach string quartets!

February 23, 2008 at 12:46 AM · Tchaikovsky #1! Also buy the Borodin Quartet's 1993 recording of the piece, absolutely awesome.

February 23, 2008 at 04:33 PM · Ravel.

February 23, 2008 at 08:51 PM · Beethoven, op. 59, no. 1

February 23, 2008 at 11:18 PM · My two favorites are the Ravel's string quartet in F major and Mozart's String Quartet in D major K575

February 23, 2008 at 11:36 PM · Chris,


February 24, 2008 at 01:06 AM · Buri ---- When the quartet I'm in plays Shostakovich Quartets all I hear is the dark, solemness. So yeah. I'm under the impression that their all like that. We've played No.2 and No.8 I don't have the sheets infront me so I can't reember the key

February 24, 2008 at 01:16 AM · ugggggg stupid double post

February 24, 2008 at 10:42 PM · Greetings,

Blake, tyr them all. There is a huge variety of emotion and epth in them.



Incidentally, it wa sactually a British Quartet that worked with Shostakovitch on interpretation and recording these works. The Fitzwilliam (now defunct). If you cna get their recoridngs that is money well spent.

February 25, 2008 at 03:20 AM · Buri, wasn't it the Beethoven Quartet in Russia that worked with Shostakovich and premiered most if not all of the quartets? I know the Borodin also worked personally with him. I didn't know that the Fitzwilliam did as well. The Borodin Shostakovich cycle is amazing and still hasn't been surpassed, i think. CIM has some old LPs of the Beethoven Quartet which I have yet to listen to.

February 25, 2008 at 04:03 AM · Greetings,

yep. The Beetrhoven would hav ebeen the closest to Shostakovitch by default ;)

THe bOrodin at its best is one of the most unearthly sounds on the planet. Its Tchaikovsky may be one of the greatest Cds ever made period, for me at least.



February 25, 2008 at 07:53 PM · Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm in the process of listening through many of them on


February 25, 2008 at 08:15 PM · Shosti 8 Quartet

American Quartet

Borodin Quartet

are my favorites...I LOVE THEM!!

February 25, 2008 at 11:53 PM · Greetings,

Nicholas, I just had to check I wan`t going nuts. The following is from the Fitzwilliam Quartet Home page:

`Founded in 1968 by four Cambridge undergraduates, the Fitzwilliam was one of the first of a long line of distinguished quartets to have emerged under the guidance of Sidney Griller at the Royal Academy of Music. They originally became well known through their close personal association with Dmitri Shostakovich, who befriended them following a visit to York to hear them play. He entrusted them with the Western premières of his last three quartets, and before long they had become the first ever group to perform and record all fifteen - complete cycles were given in a number of major centres, including London, New York, and Montréal. These achievements secured for them a long term contract with Decca....`

I don`t know the new first violin though. The originas first violin (Christopher Rowland?) passed on recently.



February 26, 2008 at 02:13 AM · Buri,

You are right. Come to think of it, I vaguely remember listening to a shostakovich recording that had the name Fitzwilliam associated with it...

Agreed about Borodin. They had something special.

February 26, 2008 at 03:56 AM · The Beethoven quartets are some of my favorites, especially the middle and late ones. Speaking of which...there is an incredible recording of the old Budapest Quartet playing the Razumovsky cycle. They're definitely well worth listening to!

February 26, 2008 at 05:44 AM · This may be a little off-topic but what strikes me about the middle and late Beethoven quartets is that at the end of listening to them I always feel I want to listen to them again once more, right away, no matter how many times I have already listened to them just before.

With any other pieces, although there are many which I can listen to many times over, there comes a point where I need to take a break and listen to something different. With the middle and late Beethoven quartets I have never reached that point. I could listen to them for weeks and months over and over and over again and it never gets boring. In fact depending on how I listen to it, the same piece I just listened to may seem to have a different character when listening to it again, although it is the very same recording. Those quartets are just mindboggling.

February 26, 2008 at 09:12 PM · I have two CDs of the Fitzwilliam Quartet playing Beethoven Op132, Op.130 & 133 that were made in 1984 & 1985 and put out by Decca. These are all digital recordings and they must have been amongst some of the first CDs put out, they even have "digital recording" proudly printed across one corner of the cover. I remember buying a first CD player around 1985. But anyway the point is that these are superb interpretations that I've never tired of listening to.

February 26, 2008 at 09:03 PM · I must confess, I do love all the "overplayed" ones...

-Dvorak "American" is my all-time favorite, although I love all his other quartets, too

-Mozart's "Dissonant" is always lovely.

-Shostakovich #7 is actually better than #8, in my opinion, and it's a ton of fun to play! :)

-I like Smetana, Ravel, and all Beethoven quartets, too, especially late Beethoven. :D

Yay for string quartets!

February 26, 2008 at 09:16 PM · I love Beethoven's Harp quartet. The last page of the first movement is hard as nails, but I love it.

May 12, 2011 at 04:18 PM ·

 I have a new recording of my own String Quartet No.2 now on my website. 

May 12, 2011 at 04:40 PM ·

Why has no one mentioned the arrangement for string quartet of John Cage's 4'33"?

May 12, 2011 at 06:16 PM ·

 Probably because it's only an arrangement - there's too many original works to talk about first.

May 13, 2011 at 02:29 AM ·

I'm still working out the bowings for 4' 33".  Any suggestions?

May 13, 2011 at 09:37 AM ·

Like Nigel, I wrote my own quartet No. 2, but am unsure as to whether it's my all-time favourite. I also wrote an as-yet-unperformed orchestral work entitled π (that's the greek Pi, an irrational number) that lasts exactly 4' 33" (for listeners who find silence scary). 

May 13, 2011 at 12:52 PM ·

"I'm still working out the bowings for 4' 33".  Any suggestions?"

Make sure you get the Urtext edition--there are lots of errors in the other ones. 

Is your quartet performing on period instruments?  It makes a big difference in the bowings and fingerings.

May 13, 2011 at 06:20 PM ·

The American is probably my favorite, to be honest.

Find a good pianist and make it a quintet with Shostakovich's Piano Quintet in G minor! The fifth movement is my favorite.

I also really like Ravel's string quartet (F maj). It is absolutely gorgeous.

July 3, 2011 at 08:58 AM ·


Let's see... I've played so many piece it's hard to choose! I'd have to say my all-time favorite quartet is Borodin Quartet #2 in D. It was probably the first piece I played in a chamber ensemble. The way it opens with cello solo in the 1st movement which is then passed to 1st violin and eventually throughout the entire ensemble is absolutely breath-taking. I loved playing it, there was so much room for expression and musicianship. 

Trailing that one I'd have to say the Grieg String Quartet in G minor is my next favorite. I know those two are COMPLETELY different in comparison but it's so much fun play. A great piece to really play with dynamics and sound quality. It's very dark and angry and just a blast to play. Especially the 4th movement. I could probably go on and on, but those are definitely my two top favorites! 


July 3, 2011 at 09:49 PM · I have to add my agreement to Jessica's post. My mind went straight to the Borodin she mentioned! Beautiful!

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