Quartet Pieces

April 5, 2021, 8:27 PM · Not wanting to detract from the previous post I made, and having talked to my quartet members here are the quartets we enjoy listening to the most.
1. Mozart C Major Quartet K.157(Most likely where we will start regardless of preference)
2. The first 3 quartets in Hayden Op. 76
3. Dvorak American
4. Mendelssohn Op. 13 No.2
5. Shostakovich Quartet No.8(We will probably save this one for much later though)
Does any one have any idea how to tackle these pieces, in what order, or whether to disregard the idea to play some of these quartets entirely. Any advice would be appreciated.

Replies (17)

April 5, 2021, 8:48 PM · Enjoy the Mozart. Quite possibly it is even a little easier than the Haydn, at least the first movement is not terribly hard.
April 5, 2021, 9:10 PM · Greetings,
I would start with the second movement of haydn Opus 76 number three. Then do the first moment and at the same time work on the first moment of the Dvorak. Cheers
buri
April 5, 2021, 10:01 PM · Those are all great, a lot of variance in difficulty. The Mozart is a good place to start and there's a lot of Mozart quartets that are a joy to play and not super challenging. The second movement of Haydn op76 no3 is a gem.
April 6, 2021, 8:50 AM · Just to add to Buri's recommendation: While op. 76/3 has a playable (and unique) slow movement the other three movements are among the harder Haydn you can choose. This is true for all 6 quartets in op. 76. Of the late ones op. 77/1 is the most accessible and is often played by amateurs.

As to Mozart: My favorite among the early quartets is not K. 156 but K. 157 in G. Alfred Einstein (in his Mozart biography) recommends this one as a stand out and I agree with him. It is the first movement that is special, the second and third are not quite as perfect.

About the Dvorak: You might know this already but in case you don't this is critical information: If there is a violin clef in the cello part it must be played an octave lower than the violin clef in "normal" circumstances. A few composers used to write their cello parts that way (rather than using the tenor clef); Dvorak being the most important among them. This adds some difficulty for the cellist. Here is a "corrected" cello part for op. 96 from IMSLP, typeset by Alan Chen using the customary tenor clef (I can't guarantee its accuracy but it looks good to me though the customary rehearsal marks are missing):
https://ks4.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/9/9e/IMSLP180320-PMLP28526-Cello.pdf

April 6, 2021, 7:15 PM · The first thing you do before getting together for the first time is to number your measures and make sure you have all the same rehearsal marks. For measure numbers it's hard to beat the Bennington database.
Edited: April 6, 2021, 7:44 PM · Greetings,
while you are at it here is a little bit of advice that many may not agree with which is fair enough. I did get it from a professional violinist / quartet player. You will find out that once the initial excitement wears off, rehearsing quartets is actually rather difficult even among the best of friends. It is, according to the advice I’m finally getting to, have one person lead the rehearsal. Next time you get a different member to lead and so on. The designated hitter of that rehearsal chooses what and how to practice, of course listens to others but has final say for that session on how something is to be played. When I was in a quartet we took this real seriously. For example, if one player with a good ear decided that the intonation needed working on then they chose to work on mainly slow scales absolutely -ruthlessly- matching intonation and then a short session at then working on a few bars of a quartet literally note by note. Nobody could object if this was what that DH wanted to do!
Incidentally, if you use this practice methods occasionally with any small group and then -just play- the movement as a performance you will be amazed how tight the intonation is and how miraculously pure the sound has suddenly become. Intonation is the nuts and bolts of chamber music if you want to sound ok....
Cheers,
Buri
April 7, 2021, 8:43 AM · I think Buri's suggestion is great. Whenever I have played chamber music with people, thats always been how its been done.
April 7, 2021, 9:57 PM · Let me add one more post to accompany those with advice on how to rehearse. Consider hiring a coach if you find you are serious and want to keep the group going. You can ask your violin teacher to coach you or--better--find an experienced chamber musician to coach you.
April 7, 2021, 10:28 PM · The ACMP ( https://acmp.net/ ) "Associated Chamber Music Players"(formerly "Amateur Chamber Music Players) had a coaching program wherein a group could hire a professional chamber music coach one time for 1/2 price FOR EACH PLAYER IN THE ENSEMBLE WHO WAS A MEMBER OF THE ACMP. The ACMP paid the other half of the fee. In the last quartet I was in on a regular (weekly) basis all 4 of us joined ACMP so we could hire our coach for 4 sessions to help us prepare a concert we were planning. This was about 11-12 years ago. It worked out very well.

It can be an important thing to do. You don't want to ruffle feathers in an ensemble - especially if you are all amateurs. Having a coach is one way to get criticisms out there without what seem like personal attacks. (If the coach doesn't try to fix things, you can probably get away with them.) Believe me, those frictions arise because there is often someone who does not do things right - according to someone else. However, a group that manages to stay together long enough can usually iron thee things out. It's easiest if you just don't plan to perform, but only play for your own "amazement."

April 7, 2021, 11:11 PM · Albrecht’s idea is really important. If you split the cost four ways it might be doable fairly cheaply.
April 8, 2021, 5:45 AM · K157 was the first quartet I ever played in as a child (My father regarded it as the easiest - It may well be), though my favourite was "The Hunt" K458 (Nowadays my favourite Mozarts would be K.421 D-Minor and K465 "The Dissonance"). I like to try to sound like a lady crooner from the Deep South if I play 1st in the slow movement of the American (I prefer some of Dvorak's earlier non-American chamber music).
Have any of you listened to the Borodin 2nd (perhaps not the most interesting of inner parts) or the Fauré, or Smetana's "From My Life" (Good for Viola)?
I'm told Haydn piano trios have unrewarding cello parts - This may not be true of his string quartets.
April 8, 2021, 5:45 AM · K157 was the first quartet I ever played in as a child (My father regarded it as the easiest - It may well be), though my favourite was "The Hunt" K458 (Nowadays my favourite Mozarts would be K.421 D-Minor and K465 "The Dissonance"). I like to try to sound like a lady crooner from the Deep South if I play 1st in the slow movement of the American (I prefer some of Dvorak's earlier non-American chamber music).
Have any of you listened to the Borodin 2nd (perhaps not the most interesting of inner parts) or the Fauré, or Smetana's "From My Life" (Good for Viola)?
I'm told Haydn piano trios have unrewarding cello parts - This may not be true of his string quartets.
Edited: April 8, 2021, 7:22 AM · In the other thread it was revealed that the 2nd violinist is at the Bach-Double level. Therefore I think most Smetana, Borodin, and non-"American" Dvorak are probably too hard for this group unless they are just cherry-picking the slow movements. Even if they're all great players, if you have not played a lot of chamber music before, then you should start with easier Haydn and Mozart because then you can work on essential ensemble skills, which are not trivial. String-quartet playing is not just four people sawing through their parts at the same time.
April 8, 2021, 7:59 AM · Also, the ACMP suggestion might not be applicable; the other thread indicated that this is a high school group.

Considering that second violin is a Bach double level player, and viola and cello are self-described intermediate, the Shostakovich seems far over their heads and the Dvorak might be a stretch.

Edited: April 8, 2021, 8:17 AM · I do think "Bach-Double level" is sufficient for a lot of second violin parts. The Bach does not exceed third position; so do almost all second violin parts. If you play that concerto reasonably well and have a decent spiccato (plus acceptable intonation like all four players) you are good to go for 2nd violin. You may want to go ahead with more violin lessons to upgrade your skills so you can play first as well. I believe switching roles in the group is a good idea.

A propos ACMP: There is no age limit as far as I know. High schoolers can apply (acmp.net). They don't even ask your age. The yearly contribution is $25; peanuts compared to violin lessons, bow repairs, cost for sheet music or strings. The coaching program seems tailor-made for the OP (I have never used it myself so far).

April 8, 2021, 3:45 PM · Yes.
actually I find this Bach Doule level way of defining standard a little unhelpful. I mean, if you can play the Bach double superbly well then you are a pretty high level player and there is quite a wide variety of works you can play. on the other hand, if you are struggling to play it then you are not actually at that l level. I do admit it gives some kind of impression of level. However, I think it is a useful exercise to actually sit down and specify exactly what can and can’t be done. This process also enables a player to focus on a specific aspect of their playing that is weak and improve it which will result in an overall drastic improvement in playing level, especially if you use a book like Simon Fischer’s ‘The violin lesson’ or ‘Basics’.
Cheers,
Buri
April 9, 2021, 3:08 PM · Another piece you could consider is Metro Chabacano by the Mexican composer, Javier Alvarez (and recorded by the Brodsky quartet in 2002). The challenge there would be handlings the shifts in meter more so than the notes, Here's a performance by a string orchestra based in Havana.


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