A string quartet is a musical ensemble consisting of four string players – two violin players, a viola player and a cellist – or a piece written to be performed by such a group. The string quartet is one of the most prominent chamber ensembles in classical music, with most major composers, from the mid 18th century onwards, writing string quartets.
The string quartet was developed into its current form by the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, with his works in the 1750s establishing the genre. Ever since Haydn's day the string quartet has been considered a prestigious form and represents one of the true tests of the composer's art. With four parts to play with, a composer working in anything like the classical key system has enough lines to fashion a full argument, but none to spare for padding. The closely related characters of the four instruments, moreover, while they cover in combination an ample compass of pitch, do not lend themselves to indulgence in purely colouristic effects.
Quartet composition flourished in the Classical era, with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert following Haydn in each writing a number of quartets. A slight slackening in the pace of quartet composition occurred in the later 19th century, in part due to a movement away from classical forms by composers such as Franz Liszt, Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Then it received a resurgence in the 20th Century with the Second Viennese School, Béla Bartók, Dmitri Shostakovich and Elliott Carter producing highly regarded examples of the genre. In the 21st century it remains an important and refined musical form.
This post is part of the Wordless Wednesday meme,
and also part of the ABC Wednesday meme.
Here is Alexander Borodin's String Quartet No 1, performed by the Moscow String Quartet.