Quartet Suggestions

April 3, 2021, 9:49 PM · As a high schooler passionate about classical music, me and a couple of my friends decided to make a string quartet for fun. I would appreciate some piece suggestions. For reference I’m around Bruch level, the second violinist is around Bach Double, and the cellist and violist are around intermediate level repertoire(sorry I can’t be more specific)

Replies (20)

April 3, 2021, 9:52 PM · Haydn early quartets.
bach art of fugue
dvorak
April 3, 2021, 10:15 PM · Mozart C Major K157
Gershwin's Lullaby.

Edited: April 4, 2021, 2:31 AM · Borodin Quartet No.2 in D major. I played it with friends in school who were at similar levels. At the time I was learning Mendelssohn, 2nd violinist was learning that Monti gypsy piece that I can't spell (not the same as Bach Double, but I always thought of Bach as something that one plays after they acquire decent technique), and the violist and cellist were self-described intermediates.

Hadelich and Ehnes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LbNwfiQ93I

fantastic playing

Edit: We only played the first movement, so I can't speak for the other movements in difficulty.

April 3, 2021, 11:02 PM · I think early Beethoven would be appropriate. There's also Mendelssohn's Op. 81 Four Pieces for String Quartet, which are somewhat easier than his string quartets. Villa-Lobos String Quartet No. 1 is worth a look: very accessible to intermediate players, and fun to play even if it's not especially profound.
Edited: April 4, 2021, 9:02 AM · Beethoven, Op. 18 (any and all 6 of them). Most Mozart and Haydn.

The CLARINET INSTITUTE sells A 5-DVD-ROM STRING QUARTET ARCHIVES available either on 5 DVDs or a single thumb drive. They also have a single DVD-ROM of String Quintets (various combinations of 5 bowed instruments) in case you find a 2nd violist, or cellist or whatever. At least its worth checking out on line.

There is nothing in either of these archives that isn't also available on IMSLP.org - but since there are many composers very few people have heard of represented in these archives (at least I haven't heard of many of them and I've been playing in string quartets and quintets for 70 years) they might come in handy. My estimate is that the Quartet archive pdfs occupy at least 7 GB (it took me 1-1/2 DVDs to back up the thumb drive.

April 4, 2021, 5:03 AM · Holst's St Pauls Suite and Brook Green Suite, Warlock's Capriol Suite. Albinoni Sinfonia in G. These are all for string orchestra, but I believe they would work really well with a quartet
Edited: April 4, 2021, 5:10 AM · I'd always start with Haydn. Op.33, Op.76, Op.77 quartets might be a place to start. The single quartet of Op.42 was one of the first quartets I played. It is a miniature masterpiece only 10 mins long.
April 4, 2021, 5:52 AM · yes. op 33 in d is wonderful
Edited: April 4, 2021, 8:21 AM · If you are Bruch level you can play a large percentage of the standard repertoire (assuming you play first fiddle). And your friends will be able to tackle their parts for most pieces as well.

I'd recommend to start with Haydn. Any of his quartets with opus number 20 or higher is worth playing. Personally I am not very fond of the earlier ones. Mix in Mozart, any of the "10 famous" quartets are rewarding (to say it rather understated).

Then Beethoven op. 18. Op. 59 and the later quartets are tough, so wait with that one for a while--it is worth tackling though (op. 74 is the most accessible of those).

For 19th century repertoire the "beginner quartets" are those by Mendelssohn, start with op. 12. Op. 13 is the greatest treat among them IMO. They are nicely transparent and well written for the instruments (something you can't count on in the 19th century when most composers were pianists). Then on to Dvorak (the ones in E-flat, in F ("American"), plus the two last ones are most recommended). Everyone wants to play Brahms (every amateur I have known that is). Postpone that for later.

Even some of Shostakovich's quartets are in reach, including the famous 8th.

You see, you have enough music for a life time. And this is all just standard repertoire and even far from all of it.

BTW: Art of the fugue is not a good beginner piece. Fugues are difficult to play together; beginners inevitably drop out or get off rhythm. Save that for later (and remember: it is an arrangement; the original is not for strong quartet).

And a second add-on: When I was young there was a strong feeling among music teachers and amateur orchestra conductors that one should not "waste" great music like Mozart or Beethoven on amateurs. Theirs are the pieces by Stamitz or Christian Bach to play. I may agree with this for performances (may! I am not so sure either). But for your private playing: Go for the greatest stuff. If you butcher it there is nobody but the four of you listening. You are allowed to make mistakes. But even with mistakes the pieces are wonderful; Christian Bach on the other hand needs to be perfect to be enjoyable.

April 4, 2021, 1:40 PM · The reason one might not do Mozart or Beethoven with an amateur orchestra is because the pieces require precision of ensemble, which is difficult to achieve, which might lead to a reluctance to perform them in public. That's quite different from saying, "Don't waste masterpieces on amateurs." (Not-great Classical-era composers will sound equally problematic.)
April 4, 2021, 3:52 PM · The Milanese quartets (K 155-160) by Mozart are pretty and (by Mozart standards) fairly easy. I'd start there, maybe.

Haydn can be really fun. I love the Opus 20 quartets, particularly Opus 20 #2 (easy key, gorgeous cello part) and Opus 20 #5 (which has a lovely 1st violin part in the second movement). The fugues at the end are *really* good practice for counting/ensemble.

As others have said, Beethoven Opus 18 is considerably easier than other Beethoven, but not at all easy in general. Opus 18 #1 is a good place to start and the second movement is heart-wrenchingly gorgeous. Opus 18 #4 is a fun minor key with a fugue in the second movement (which the second violin starts, alone!) Opus 18 #6 has a fiendish scherzo that you can't really count your way out of but it's amazing fun if you can pull it together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPCWO4S8mW8

I second the recommendation for Mendelssohn Opus 13. Opus 44 #2 is also nice and not too challenging. If you want to try Schubert, Rosamunde can be a good one to attempt. Your limiting factor in all things maybe the definition of "intermediate" as applied to cello and viola, and whether your Bach Double-playing second violinist is playing a just-got-to-Suzuki-book-4-level Bach Double or is further up the intermediate ladder. If memory serves, I was maybe a little further along into violin when I started playing some of these quartets, and even then it wasn't pretty (but lots of fun!) Regardless, the Mozart should be safe. :-)

One final thought: see if you can sightread quartets with more seasoned amateur chamber musicians–the ones who've forgotten more Haydn than most of us ever learn. And if you ever get a chance to jump into a Brahms sextet or Mendelssohn Octet, go for it.

April 4, 2021, 4:06 PM · Greetings,
I respectfully beg to differ on the Art of Fugue. It is an excellent training work for beginner quartets done in small doses. Give that the poster can play the Bruch the technical demands are not to high but the musical demands are. The point about ‘arrangement’ is not especially relevant in Bach’s case. His music tends to be arranged for all manner of instruments without any eyebrows being raised so why suddenly raise the point now?
The Beethoven op18 quartets are a lot more difficult to play well than is often recognized and the Art of Fugue is actually very good training for precision of ensemble , counting and awaness -prior- to tackling Beethoven. Thats what my quartet did at college.
Cheers,
Buri
April 4, 2021, 4:17 PM · Dvorak American St. Qt. might be a bit of a reach, but well worth it for developing listening and ensemble skills. Others would be Beethoven op. 18, 4. Haydn op. 20's. If you want to start with something less difficult technically and shorter Mozart C major quartet K 157.
Edited: April 4, 2021, 6:26 PM · A lot of answers predicated on "since you're doing Bruch ..." but ignoring the inconvenient truth that the other violinist is doing the Doc Bubble.

I suggest you keep it easier rather than harder because then you can focus a lot more on your ensemble and your collective musicality rather than struggling with parts.

Here is a graded chamber repertoire list:
http://icking-music-archive.org/lists/string-quartets/heimeran.pdf

The other secret to this is that you ARE allowed to pick-and-choose movements. The graded list is not broken down by movement. Rosamunde is listed as 4/6 for difficulty but I think there is a movement, perhaps the first movement, that is not too bad. Remember that Schubert's hobby-horse was to take the listener (and therefore also the musicians) through a minotaur's labyrinth of harmonic modulations before finally arriving home! As another example (not a quartet) the first two movements of Haydn's Gypsy Trio are quite playable. The third movement requires a very skilled pianist otherwise the ensemble will be in utter shambles by the end of the first page.

In the Haydn Op. 20 the No. 5 is hard because of the key (F minor). The Borodin is lovely but more sophisticated than Haydn -- harder to figure out who should be doing what. Harder ensemble/musically means harder to keep the audience on the bus.

Elise, I am taking your advice at face value and ordering that volume. :)

A suggestion to the OP if he likes chamber music is to buy the cheap Dover editions of the full-scores and read the scores while listening. Very educational.

April 4, 2021, 7:21 PM · Quite a bit depends on whether or not people are really going to going to practice their parts, and how steady people are rhythmically. (Personally, I can usually easily sight-read first-violin parts from a purely technical basis, but my terrible sense of rhythm means that I really need to listen to a piece in advance in order to not screw up the places where I don't have a tune I can remember.)
April 4, 2021, 8:20 PM · Paul - I can't understand why it is not as well known here as Fischer's books (for example). Such a labor of love...
Edited: April 4, 2021, 10:14 PM · A few add-ons to Paul's ideas: Schubert is hard. Rosamunde (the A-Major quartet) is hard (the first and the last movements certainly are, the andante is somewhat more accessible). Death and the Maiden is harder. The last one in G Major is even harder. I'd stay away from them for the beginning. If you must try Schubert try one of the early ones. There is one in E flat. Very charming and not harder than Haydn, rather easier I'd say.

I'd rather discourage you from the Borodin as well. Its slow movement is very demanding for the cello and climbs very high up in first violin too.

Personally I don't like cherry picking easy movements. String quartets, especially the masterworks, are conceived as a whole; the movements make full sense only in context. But there are no rules against it. I also have to admit that cherry picking movements was standard practice in the 19th century, even in concerts.

However: You decide, the four of you. You are embarking on an adventure that can last a life time. What you play among the four of you is entirely up to you. If you want to perform you need to choose repertoire that you can master. For private enjoyment you can take any risk you feel like taking (I mean musical risk, not the virus!).

April 4, 2021, 10:06 PM · I would also say the Borodin is a huge stretch. There's a big gap in difficulty between the Bach double and the Borodin second violin part. Assuming the violist and cellist are of similar ability to the second violinist, they are likely to find the Borodin too difficult as well.
April 4, 2021, 10:59 PM · I listened to the Rosamunde again. Emersons -- glorious playing.

I remember playing the first movement at summer camp and I had the first violin part. It was hard for me, and I had to study it for a month. But I'm not doing Bruch yet either. I had forgotten how LONG that movement is ... it's ten minutes and I don't think there are any repeats past the first few bars.

The movement I remember being easy is the 2nd movement, but nobody wants to play all slow movements. With regard to cherry-picking movements, I would assign a string quartet the same respect as a concerto -- neither more nor less. Students cherry-pick concerto movements all the time.

April 5, 2021, 10:22 AM · Re: cherry-picking movements, that got me in trouble at sight-reading camp a couple of summers ago when I thought I knew certain quartets (e.g. Beethoven Opus 127) only to find myself knee-deep in a scherzo or final movement that indeed I hadn't ever read before. Oops. Maybe start keeping a log of what you've played, which surprise mini-cadenzas lurk in which sections, etc.

Also (embarrassing to admit), for much of my young adult life I had written off Haydn as "boring Mozart," probably because of some half-baked impression from youth orchestra days (he did write a lot of unmemorable symphonies.) Don't make this mistake.

I remember now that the Borodin and Dvorak American quartets both have fairly challenging cello parts (as in, high! different clefs!) and may be frustrating experiences for your group if your cellist isn't as proficient as you are. I would start with the earlier stuff. And Albrecht is right: Schubert is hard–way harder than it looks on the page, somehow.

Finally, listen to stuff! It makes a huge difference to know how it's supposed to sound, what a good tempo is, etc. Youtube is great, but for more structured listening and learning I love the website "Earsense", which has discourse on various chamber music composers and recordings of even obscure works. For the warhorses, you can listen to multiple takes on the same piece and get a sense of what you like. https://www.earsense.org/


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