Words of instruction and inspiration on quartet playing from the pages of The Strad


‘At whatever age and level of accomplishment the players may be, the basics of quartet playing are the same, and they are principally to do with communication. First young players have to learn to listen.’

The Strad, August 2008

‘Play together as frequently as possible if you would play quartets well. Let each member of the small party make his suggestions as to the performance of certain passages; let each suggestion be weighted, and that adopted which is decided to be the best — but once having fixed on a certain plan, keep to it, as nothing will tend to mar the beauty of your ultimate results so much as chopping and changing about.’

The Strad, September 1893

‘The master composers have left us a most precious literature in their works written expressly for interpretation by two violins, viola and violoncello. This group of stringed instruments seems to have appealed to them as a means of expression second to none, judging from the transcendent beauty and variety of the ideas we find intrusted to it.’

The Strad, July 1896

‘The quartet demands not only complete technical and artistic acquirement of each individual, but likewise must have a conception and sympathy as though the quartet formed one instrument. In other words, it should be as one mind.’

The Strad, June 1906

‘In true quartet playing no instrument ought to predominate, all four should have their equal share of the work to perform. In the Beethoven quartets each player has an important and independent part to perform throughout, yet a homogenous whole is produced, and it is for this reason that the great composer’s works in this form are such perfect models.’

The Strad, April 1908

‘You have to be comfortable with yourself because in an ensemble you are subjected to a lot of criticism and if you are too sensitive to it, you will have a difficult time. You must respect the people you work with and allow them to express and air their views. One of the most frequent problems in string quartets is that one person starts to dictate and egos get involved and people start guarding their turf.’

The Strad, November 1988

‘There is a systematic way to learn quartet repertoire and it is very different from working on a solo piece. Often you have to do a bowing or a fingering which is awkward in order to accommodate another member of the group, in order to convey a musical thought. You begin to look at music like a pathologist - what is this music all about? What is it saying? You also have to learn how to listen to the other parts. A good quartet player is one who is 25 per cent aware of what he is doing and 75 per cent aware of what the others are doing.’

The Strad, October 1989

‘The string quartet is undoubtedly one of the highest and most perfect means of expressing the deepest musical thoughts.’

The Strad, April 1908

Photo: Louise Mather / Maxwell String Quartet