String sets used by famous CHAMBER violinists.

November 18, 2020, 9:12 AM · In the recent string sets of soloist it is clear that synthetic strings are favoured currently. I posed the question whether this was also true for chamber musicians (quartets, trios etc).

From my own experience and that of several members, gut strings exhibit more nuances in that you can switch from loud to soft very quickly (sound point, pressure, bow speed) and I also find that vibrato has more ranges of colour (amongst others). Chamber music has, of course, its soloistic element but perhaps more important is the ability to blend both tonally and expressively. Thus, if gut is favoured anywhere it should be in this musical setting.

Can anyone provide data?

Replies (16)

Edited: November 18, 2020, 9:15 AM · A lot of the chamber music teachers I had at music college were using Eudoxa or Olives. I think you are right that they are much more commonly used by regular quartet players than predominantly solo players.
November 19, 2020, 3:26 AM · Maybe here some use Obligato.
November 19, 2020, 8:48 AM · Do we have any actual examples? Odd how chamber violinists do not seem to be as venerated as concert soloists. Are they not as accomplished?
November 19, 2020, 8:48 AM · Do we have any actual examples? Odd how chamber violinists do not seem to be as venerated as concert soloists. Are they not as accomplished?
November 19, 2020, 8:55 AM · One reason, Elise, is that the ensembles are famous, not the individuals. Could you name the people making up the Guarneri Quartet or the Beaux Arts Trio without Google?
Edited: November 19, 2020, 9:23 AM · On the contrary, I think most of us can probably name the historical Guarneri members but not the current members. I can't name the current Beaux Arts either.

From pictures, it looks like Arnold Steinhardt uses Dominants on his Guarneri. Ida Kavafian also looks like a Dominants user. (Note: from seeing the tailpiece end alone you can't tell Dominants from Rondos.)

Producing a sound that blends is a function of the player, not the strings.

Edited: November 19, 2020, 9:52 AM · I didn't need Google to know that Bernard Greenhouse founded the Beaux Arts trio -- and I knew the founding pianist (Pressler, who was also super famous as a teacher), but I couldn't name the violinist! I just looked it up and I've already forgotten. I can name the Emersons too. The Audubon Quartet was located in Blacksburg for many years so I know all their personnel since 1995 -- the quartet is now retired. Their former first violinist, David Ehrlich, still teaches in Blacksburg (and performs, except for COVID), and I'm going to bet he would say that the strings for solo and chamber playing are the same. I can name a few members of isolated groups like Shmuel Ashkenasi (because he was David's teacher at NIU) and Joel Link (because the Dovers have been here a couple of times). Lydia you will be interested to know that Joel Link plays a Vuillaume that is owned by Desiree Rushrat! I wonder if she was ever his teacher.
Edited: November 19, 2020, 10:22 AM · "Producing a sound that blends is a function of the player, not the strings." And so is making a sound that projects or is loud. But there are still strings that make it easier or harder to achieve - or even extend limits. If not then surely we would all be using the cheapest, most reliable string on the market.

OTOH maybe that is exactly what Dominants are!

Edited: November 19, 2020, 10:27 AM · As much as we'd like to think that famous chamber musicians use gut strings, that simply isn't the case. Apart from the niche ensembles which specifically use gut strings for the purposes of historical performance like Chiaroscuro or Quatuor Mosa├»ques, all quartets nowadays who are not aiming for historical performance use synthetic strings.

As Lydia says, blending is more a function of the player than the strings. Gut strings by definition give more 'color' by providing more upper harmonics to the sound, as well as more articulation due to the sluggish response of thicker strings. Gut also has a lower threshold for maximum decibel output though, so technically synthetic strings have a greater dynamic range. At the end of the day though, I can't imagine that for today's standards of intonation in string quartet playing, the instability of gut would be acceptable...

November 19, 2020, 10:50 AM · In my initial response I wasn't talking about period instrument quartets, who obviously use to appropriate gut. These were players like Peter Cropper (Lindsay Quartet) who were using 'modern' gut core strings, presumably because these strings are easier to blend in an ensemble than with higher tension metal strings.
Edited: November 19, 2020, 10:59 AM · I agree with James. As much as I love playing on gut strings (something I rediscovered this year when my orchestra stopped working for a while) they aren't used these days by top level touring musicians, including chamber musicians (with a few exceptions, noted in other threads). I would consider them a luxury that requires some sacrifice from the player in order to experience their charms - sacrifices people these days don't accept.

Soloists and chamber musicians would generally have very similar requirements - chamber musicians often play in large spaces and need projection and perfect intonation is expected, so hard working, touring soloists and chamber players now stick to safer synthetic strings. I don't know of any modern non-period chamber players that use gut core strings (although I'd be happy to learn of some).

When I listen to recordings of the older violinists, I think I can hear the extra warmth that gut strings provide (listening to Francescatti's Beethoven concerto video on YouTube to experience a sound that I think owes some of it's warmth to the strings). Technical standards are so high these days though that no highest level touring player wants to risk pitch for some of that warmth.

I think orchestra players are actually the area where gut strings are the most popular. Nathan Cole uses Passione, after being inspired by playing on Milstein's Strad - he is obviously a very fine player. Having a stable orchestra home probably helps - more stable environment. As I noted before my orchestra's concertmaster James Cuddeford also uses Passione. He used to play in a well known Australian quartet and told me he used Eudoxas and a plain gut A then, switching to Passiones in his new home for the stability.

November 19, 2020, 11:41 AM · I love the sound of Eudoxa's on one of my violins. They are bit more work to keep in tune and are more sensitive to temp and humidity changes. I play with a Eudoxa wound E, but the rest are Infelds. I imagine practicality is why most string players stick with synthetics. They stay in tune, have more volume and there's so many options to fine tune your sound.
November 19, 2020, 1:07 PM · I read somewhere once (don't remember when or where) that the Quartetto Italiano used steel strings. Given that they started up in 1945, the end of WWII when life was pretty tough, I can understand why they would have chosen steel over gut, the only other choice in that period. However, in the quartet's later years (it closed down in 1980) perhaps they used synthetics or covered gut, but I don't know. Does anyone have a clear answer to these suppositions?
November 19, 2020, 3:34 PM · All things considered, I still believe the major reasons both soloists and chamber musicians use synthetics are convenience, easy availability, the "modern standard", and the "old reliable"/"grew up with it" factor. Possibly, fear of the "loudness wars" too. But at a high level, they should all play in tune even if all quartet members used Eudoxa. Steel/synthetic strings aren't the ultimate panacea for intonation-much like with the other aforementioned factors, good players will play in tune because they do, not due to EP/Pi/Dominant/et al. use. Whenever I have heard recitals or concerts with what possibly were Oliv gut strings, practically everything was in tune. Any given virtuoso could make them work, if they so had the inclination (not stated as criticism, but as a matter of fact-it is their choice, which I respect.)

Sometimes perfectly broken in synthetics' pitch moves a bit due to different factors during the performance. If humidity shifts, the minute wood changes can also alter the pitch even if the string itself is insensitive. Professional players must (and most often do) play in tune regardless.

(The Italiano did use steel strings, but I forgot the details. Some steel strings sound good, though they tend to be a bit heavy and have some musical limits.)

Edited: November 19, 2020, 4:27 PM · I'm not so sure Adalberto.. As we both know, wound gut does retain the same tuning at the start and at the end, but when you slide along the string it temporarily flattens intonation, often for annoyingly long periods of time if there are multiple slides.

I have no doubt that high level players would be able to adapt to gut strings which have gone out of tune, however there's not much you can do about open strings in string quartet. Of course one could stop the lower string, but does one really want to be relying on that in the spur of the moment? Not to mention that it doesn't work for the G-string, or any chords which involve open strings for the matter. I am a die hard gut lover till the grave but I can't use it for chamber music performances any more. Solo or orchestra maybe though... I think that string quartet relies even more on accurate tuning that solo performances.

November 19, 2020, 8:07 PM · Paul: When I did an online music camp this past summer, Desiree was my teacher. We talked briefly about our Vuillaumes. :-)

(She was noting that my sound quality over Zoom was notably better than other people's. I think that was more my use of a Q4n as a webcam than the violin, but the violin seems to transmit well online, too.)

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