The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Which are the most famous and most popular string quartets? And which ones are your favorites?

May 26, 2016
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Does The Ear ever love chamber music!

And it has been a good few days for him and for other Madison fans of string quartets.

On Saturday night, The Ear heard the Ancora String Quartet (below) in outstanding performances of the “Dissonance” Quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the late String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, “Rosamunde,” by Franz Schubert.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

Then on Monday night, the Ear heard the terrific Rhapsodie Quartet (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made up of players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, perform the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak followed by the sublime and profound Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp (below bottom) sat in as the extra cellist.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

Parry Karp

At the Ancora concert, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, made the case that Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet is well known for its apt nickname and is probably the best known or most popular of Mozart’s string quartets.

That got The Ear to thinking:

What are the most well-known and most popular string quartets?

And which string quartets are your favorites that you would recommend to other chamber music fans?

The Ear drew up a list of candidates of the first honor of being well-known.

He suspects that the “Emperor” Quartet — with its famous and infamous slow movement theme that was turned from an homage to the Austrian emperor into an anthem for Nazi Germany — by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet of Schubert and the “American” Quartet of Dvorak all rival or surpass the public reputation of the Mozart’s “Dissonance,” although that one is certainly and deservedly famous to the general public.

As to The Ear’s favorite quartets: The Ear is especially partial to the six early Op. 18 string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which often take a back seat to the same composer’s middle quartets and late quartets. But of the famous last ones, The Ear loves the very last one, Op. 135, with its return to classical structure and clarity.

Beethoven big

He also loves all of the Op. 76 string quartets by Haydn (below top) and is especially partial to the “Sunrise” and the “Quinten” or “Fifths” quartets. He also loves Haydn’s earlier Op. 20 “Sun” quartets; and all six string quartets that Mozart (below bottom) composed for and dedicated to Haydn, generally considered the father or the modern string quartet who also played string quartets  with himself on violin and Mozart on viola.

Haydn

Mozart old 1782

The Ear likes Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” well enough, but he is always blown away by Schubert’s last quartet in G major, which was used as a soundtrack in Woody Allen’s great movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

He also loves the lyrical quartets on Dvorak (below), especially the Op. 51 “Slavonic” as well as the “American.” (You can hear the opening of the “Slavonic” String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

dvorak

As for Johannes Brahms, The Ear prefers the string quintets and string sextets to the string quartets.

Francophile that he is, The Ear also loves the single string quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Among other modern string quartets, he loves the third and fifth of Bela Bartok, the second one by Sergei Prokofiev and the eight and 11th by Dmitri Shostakovich. He also adds the String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass.

Well, that’s enough for today and for this post.

What string quartet do you think is the most famous or most popular?

And which string quartets are your favorites?

Leave word, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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