String quartets

Edited: May 26, 2018, 7:43 PM · What modern ( 20th and 21st century) string quartets are accessible for amateur players?

Replies (20)

May 26, 2018, 8:41 PM · I haven't played that many modern quartets. The two that immediately come to mind as suitable for skilled amateurs are the Ravel and the famous Shostakovitch. Both are wonderful experiences to put together and play.

I played some Prokofiev a while back but those don't seem like they'd be too much fun for an amateur group.

Maybe the Barber? I don't know the outer movements but you can start with the Adagio and go from there.

May 26, 2018, 8:44 PM · I imagine it depends what you mean by "amateur". Most of the literature is accessible to sufficiently adept amateurs, especially if it's not being prepared for performance.
May 26, 2018, 8:46 PM · Thanks Ryan. I think the Barber would work well. I’ve played the Adagio in a string orchestra. I like the Ravel very much.
May 26, 2018, 9:50 PM · Peteris Vasks string quartet no.5 is nice and not too difficult, technically speaking.

For easier choices, you can also consider Britten's Simple symphony where you can play as a quartet, or Shosatkovich's 2 Pieces for quartet, the Polka is fun.

Edited: May 27, 2018, 12:49 AM · There's Introduction and Allegro by Martin Loridan that would be suitable for amateur players, it's a homage to Ravel;
May 27, 2018, 9:50 AM · I've played a number of Shostakovich string quartets, in the "hacking through for fun" sense of playing, and they work fine. Indeed, once you have your ear around the tonality and the metre that Shostakovich uses, they are in some ways easier than much of the Romantic repertoire.
May 27, 2018, 2:39 PM · The Barber Adagio is harder to put together than you might think. I have played it in quartet many times and I always insist that each player be reading off the score. Saves a lot of train wrecks.
May 27, 2018, 4:52 PM · There's a nice recording on youtube of the Emerson playing the Barber along with the two Charles Ives quartets; Ives' first seems quite accessible, unlike no. 2 :-).
May 28, 2018, 2:12 AM · I think you should definitely consider the second quartet of Prokofiev. The first movement is perfectly accessible to amateurs and although there are one or two horrors in the later movements it's great fun to work on
May 28, 2018, 2:44 AM · +1 on What Steve said, Prokofiev is amazing.

Also, Bartok

Edited: May 28, 2018, 3:49 AM · Bartok? Virtually unplayable if you're not unbelievably good. I'd recommend checking out late Milhaud, for instance, nr 18.
May 28, 2018, 7:51 AM · If you want a fun bonbon for an encore, Gershwin's Lullaby. It's about an eight-minute single movement for string quartet.
Edited: May 28, 2018, 9:26 AM · @Mary Ellen, our chamber orchestra did the Barber Adagio recently and during the rehearsals I remember thinking, "This would be so much easier if we could all just read from the score."

Perhaps it is time again for the graded list:

Another vote here for the Britten "Simple Symphony". The Serenade for Strings by Elgar is great too but that is not, strictly speaking, 20th-century music (composed ca. 1890 and definitely in the romantic style). But it is absolutely gorgeous music. Trouble with string symphonies is that the quartet players will have to play the divisi sections as double stops. I don't think either the Britten or the Elgar has too much of that though. There are nice "Serenade for Strings" pieces written by Dvorak and Suk too. (They are very similar in style -- after all, Suk married Dvorak's daughter.)

May 28, 2018, 9:43 AM · Paul - to cope adequately with the divisi passages in Elgar's Serenade (not to say the dB) you need all of 10 players. Of course, his String Quartet IS 20th century music although still highly romantic in tone. Not to everyone's taste I suspect, but glorious when you get to know it. The hardest part is probably the viola.
May 28, 2018, 10:09 AM · Villa-Lobos wrote a lot quartets: not in the same musical league as Bartok or Shostakovitch, but probably technically easier.
May 28, 2018, 12:36 PM · Rummaging through my digital heap of obscure quartets downloaded from IMSLP, if you want to really go off-piste there's a tuneful and accessible 1910 work by Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli (1882-1949). It's gone down well with my colleagues on 2 or 3 occasions.
Edited: May 28, 2018, 2:09 PM · I appreciate the suggestions. I’ve been listening to Hindemith's f minor quartet (no. 2) and I really like the string writing. It’s sounds like a real test of endurance. Has anyone played that piece?
May 28, 2018, 2:16 PM · Carl Nielsen, Frank Bridge, Edmund Rubbra, Wilhelm Stenhammer
May 28, 2018, 2:16 PM · Carl Nielsen, Frank Bridge, Edmund Rubbra, Wilhelm Stenhammer
May 28, 2018, 3:24 PM · @Steve it's viola I played in the Elgar. I may have mis-remembered about the divisi parts. Sorry about that! Examination of the score might reveal that they are doubling cello or 2nd sometimes. A lot of composers did that. But that pretty much only solves the problem for viola.

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