Romantic quartet movements with great viola and cello parts

May 28, 2023, 12:46 PM · One of the chamber-music performance organizations in DC requires auditions, and I'm trying to help some new collaborators do the quartet audition.

We've got the rest of the program put together, but we need one movement of a Romantic quartet, preferably not too long (though we can cut repeats). In particular, we need the work to have juicy viola and cello parts (they needn't be solos, but they should demonstrate the skill of both players).

I can easily think of things that have great viola solos (like the Smetana No. 1) and things that have great cello solos (like Borodin No. 2). But not things that have both.

(I thought of the Dvorak Cypresses, since they often repeat the melody, passing it around the instruments, but the cello sadly gets left out.)

Anyone have a suggestion?

Replies (34)

Edited: May 28, 2023, 1:07 PM · The Dvorak American Quartet is marvelous for cello - so too is the Schubert C major quintet - if you can find a 2nd cellist. (Be warned that the published cello part uses both bass and treble clefs and the treble clef is to be read an octave lower, which can be mind-bending for many cellists, because they are also trained to play treble clef at pitch. However, parts transposed to tenor clef are available on line. (This use of treble clef was sometimes used in the 19th century - it is not a problem for keyboard players!)**

If a violinist and cellist can find a pianist, so many trios are wonderful, but in my mind nothing beats Schubert Op. 99 and both Mendelssohn trios for cello fun and the violin parts are also great. Beethoven's got some "good ones" too. I had fun with that sort of trio stuff for about 40 years.

If a violinist and violist can find a pianist, the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante is sublime. In my opinion, the "Masonic Key" (E-flat major) is perfect for a violist).

** The day I was handed my first cello I had no cello music so I played some of my violin pieces on the cello, a skill that I lost during my years of cello studies and decided not to attempt to restore in later years, when it would have been helpful for some chamber music because I anticipated succumbing to clef-confusion.

May 28, 2023, 12:58 PM · It's got to be this configuration, and specifically works for string quartet.
May 28, 2023, 4:46 PM · The only quartet that comes to mind is not romantic and the solos are rather short though there are several for both the viola ands the cello: Mozart quartet in F, K590, first movement. It is the last of the so called "Cello Quartets" and Mozart appears to have gotten bored with giving so much to the cello, so he let the viola in on the fun.

Dvorak's American quartet, slow movement, has no viola "solos", but all violists I have known love their part in the movement. And the cello does have its solos alright.

May 28, 2023, 4:53 PM · Lydia, look at other Dvorak quartets, as he is a genius in writing well for inner and lower parts. A pity that the Schubert C major quintet doesn’t qualify.
May 28, 2023, 5:12 PM · I second the Dvorak quartets. We were just reading Opus 51 and there's lovely writing for the lower strings.
May 28, 2023, 5:59 PM · How about Grieg No. 1, first movement?

If you don't mind going far off the beaten path, look at one of my favorite obscure string quartets, the F major quartet by Laura Valborg Aulin. The fourth movement may fit the bill: it starts with an extended fugal passage with some fireworks in all four parts.

May 28, 2023, 6:14 PM · Schumann A Minor perhaps.
May 28, 2023, 11:15 PM · I would check the Faure. The last movement in particular.

May 28, 2023, 11:21 PM · I also think the Brahms and Mendelssohn Opus 12 and 13 quartets tend to have a lot of juicy parts for everyone. Brahms is really hard to pull off w/out a lot of rehearsing (but worth it IMHO); Mendelssohn less so. Check out the first or last movement of Brahms Opus 51 #2; the second movement of Brahms Opus 51 #1, the Canzonetta (2nd movt) of Mendelssohn Opus 12, and the first movement of Mendelssohn Opus 13.
Edited: May 29, 2023, 12:02 AM · It isn't easy is it? I expect it was uppermost in the mind of the better romantic composers that their string quartets should be a conversation between equals.
May 29, 2023, 12:06 AM · I second the First movement of Mendelssohn op 13.

What would you say is too long for a movement?

May 29, 2023, 1:32 AM · I'd prefer sub-10 minutes; the shorter the better, and preferably it wouldn't require a ton of rehearsal time, since this is effectively a gate -- an audition that has to be passed, completely distinct from any future repertoire to be performed.
Edited: May 29, 2023, 11:55 AM · Haven’t heard Verdi for a while, but would bet on that. A great cello solo in the Trio, and a fair bit of evenly-distributed counterpoint that allows the violist to show what they can do.
May 29, 2023, 9:43 AM · There's also the Kreisler (I'm listening to it on YouTube at this very moment - Pugnani/Lanner it's not!).
I haven't heard that much of Janácek, but I can't imagine that his string quartets would leave either violist or cellist with nothing much to do!
May 29, 2023, 12:08 PM · Does anybody know of any fugal movements in the repertoire? Maybe Mendelssohn op. 13 slow movement; the middle part is a fugue and would expose all four players along the way. I'd think it would clock in below 10 minutes but it is quite long for a slow movement.
May 29, 2023, 12:29 PM · "Wouldn't require a ton of rehearsal time" ... that pretty much rules out Janacek. I always considered Mendelssohn string quartets as firmly grounded in the classical tradition.

The first movement of Borodin No. 2 is also nice. That's the same piece that has the famous slow (3rd) movement. The 2nd and 4th movements of the Borodin 2 are frightful.

May 29, 2023, 1:23 PM · My daughter suggests the first movement of Brahms no. 3. (Really nice viola part in the third movement too.)
May 29, 2023, 1:50 PM · If you don't have a ton of time I'd stick with the first movements of Mendelssohn Opus 13, Borodin 2, or Dvorak (the American, although overplayed, is the most obvious choice because most chamber musicians have at least read it and so you can spend more time polishing – the late Dvorak quartets are really hard and Opus 51 is lovely but tricky to pull together on not-much-rehearsal time.)

I agree that Mendelssohn straddles the border of classical and romantic traditions but unless people are going to be pedantic, I think you should be able to get away with it.

Edited: May 29, 2023, 5:30 PM · Albrecht asks about fugal movements. Schumann tended to write fugal stuff, but I can't remember his quartets well enough to identify any movement in particular.
Christian's suggestion of the Fauré is a good one. It gets more demanding both technically and harmonically as you go from one movement to the next, but I don't think we were completely defeated by the last movement when we played through it. There is a lot of counterpoint.
May 29, 2023, 6:36 PM · Fugal? If you don't need Romantic, there is the Mozart K 387 finale. Not too juicy for the individual players, though.
Edited: May 29, 2023, 7:12 PM · Again, as fugal movements go, I pointed out the fourth movement of Laura Valborg Aulin's F major quartet, which has fairly long fugal passages. It's on IMSLP. And the rest of the quartet is worth preparing for a performance at some point in the indeterminate future.

Here's a recording. The part shown in the video is first violin.

May 30, 2023, 3:13 PM · Well, if you're prepared to class Beethoven as romantic for this purpose, there's the Grosse Fuge! If you were to accept a Mozart Fugue, there's K546! But I'm not sure that either meets the requirement that Lydia presents us with.
Edited: May 30, 2023, 3:21 PM · (Borodin 2 is GREAT, but it doesn't give the viola (or the 2nd) that much to do)
May 30, 2023, 8:05 PM · The requirement is three works, one of which must be presented in full. The works must be of contrasting periods and styles.

We have a Classical and a 20th century work, so we need a Romantic work, single movement, and not too long. The audition evaluates individual players and not the group, and therefore there need to be opportunities for the jury to clearly hear the non-violinists in contexts that are meaningful for judging their skill.

May 31, 2023, 3:06 PM · Would a middle period Beethoven be considered Romantic? Certainly the Op. 59 quartets, particularly #1 and #3 are fairly equally divided among the players in terms of times to shine. The 3rd movement of #1 is about as romantic as it gets...
May 31, 2023, 5:50 PM · Karl, I heard a professional quartet playing that quartet and was not satisfied with their slow movement. Those 'cello rising arpeggio-type solos weren't noticable until the last 2 notes of each (When my family were studying it, I made my brother really pound them out). Beautiful vibrato, but the whole arpeggio needed to boom out.
Lydia, if you opt for this movement, you'll need to make sure those 'cello solos are prominent from the beginning of each.
May 31, 2023, 6:25 PM · Regarding the Razumovsky Quartets (Beethoven Op. 59) I've played those recently and the last movement of No. 3 is that devilishly fast fugue -- but it does open with the viola. I also played the viola part of the Brahms No. 3 (it's a big stretch for my technique, I had to fake a few things) but it's very lovely, I second Stan's daughter on that one! It's also complex. If you can pull off that quartet, you're going to win ANY amateur competition.
May 31, 2023, 8:24 PM · That's an interesting question. I usually prefer not to walk the line on allowable repertoire, though.
May 31, 2023, 9:14 PM · Are the judges string players? Will they be cutting off the group in the middle of each piece?

I agree with Dvorak American’s first movement. It plays itself, has a clear viola solo at the beginning and great cello solos. If the judge stops the group midway, at least they’ll hear some of what they’re supposed to hear.

Or Schumann quartet Op. 41 No. 3 movement 2? The parts are balanced and there are solos for the viola and cello throughout the piece.

Mendelssohn Op. 13 (movement 1) or Mendelssohn Op. 44 no. 2 might work for an audition, but the scoring is busy, and that risks burying the violist unless the group spends time rehearsing sensitively.

Glazunov quartets also have a lot of cello and viola solos. Maybe the first movements of quartets No. 2 or No. 3?

Edited: June 1, 2023, 12:14 AM · In this post-pandemic era, the audition is by video, so the works will have to be recorded in whole. The judges are usually a mix of instrumentalists. Last I recall the audition slots ran 45 minutes per slot.

I did this audition live, many years ago, and in that case, yes, we were stopped midway through our pieces, since it was basically an hour's worth of repertoire. We prepared the Dvorak American in its entirety (I think we performed almost the whole first movement, as well as bits of the other movements), the Gershwin Lullaby (the whole thing), and a movement from a Haydn quartet (to my recollection they only heard bits).

I'll take a look at your suggestions, Frieda. Thanks!

Edited: June 1, 2023, 7:31 AM · The cutoff between Classical and Romantic at the Fischoff is 1810, so there the Razumovsky quartets and Ghost trio are considered Classical and Serioso can be allowed in either (1810), but with the additional stipulation that you need approval if something else you submit in a different category was composed within 12 years of the other piece.
June 1, 2023, 1:50 PM · To add to Frieda's suggestion, the Glazunov Novelettes spread the love to the viola and cello pretty well.
June 26, 2023, 1:00 PM · The Third Brahms quartet is a big viola show, perhaps the 3rd or 4th movement? The third is all viola, and the last is a theme and variation that gives everyone a little spotlight.
June 27, 2023, 12:26 PM · What did you end up deciding on, Lydia?

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