Most important things to know about string quartets in 2023

Aaaaaah, the string. Today, we’re going to visit an all-time classic and something we in
particular are very fond of. If you take a look at our program, you’ll see why this is no joke.

String quartets have an exceptionally long and meaningful history within the genre of classical
music, maybe even more so than you might initially think. I mean, the first ever known string
quartet was written in 1650. That was 373 years ago. Crazy!
But before we dive in, head first and full blast, let’s start at the beginning.

What IS a string quartett?
Glad you asked…
A string quartet is a type of chamber music ensemble consisting of four string instruments:
2 Violins, 1 Viola and 1 Cello.

Is there a specific way these instruments work together?
Yes, absolutely! Let’s look at their musical makeup first:

The Violin
The violin is the highest-pitched of the four and is often considered the «lead» instrument. It has
a bright, clear tone and is capable of producing a wide range of expressive sounds, from a
sweet, lyrical tone to a piercing, intense sound.

The Viola
Slightly larger than the violin, has a deeper, warmer tone and is often used to provide harmony
and support to the other instruments. It has a deeper, richer sound that is often used to provide
a sense of warmth and depth to the music.

The Cello
The largest of the four, has a deep, rich sound and is often used to provide the bassline and
foundation of the piece. The cello has a powerful, resonant sound that can evoke a wide range
of emotions, from melancholy to joyousness.

Why do they always sit in the same order?
Okay, so you might have noticed, that string quartets usually look the same. First, the violins,
then the violist and then the cellist. So it goes highest to lowest from left to right.
Well, I need to break it to you: this might be the most common and most traditional way of
seating, which is why you’ve seen it the most, but it’s not the only one. In fact, it changed over the centuries and it changed with composers. Originally, the second violin and the cello were
switched…I know…scandalous.
Usually the first violin is always to the left. This is the same throughout. The first violinist usually
signals the start and end of a piece and therefore it’s important their orientation stays the same.

You may even know the German saying “Immer die erste Geige spielen müssen” which literally
translates to “Always having to play the first violin”. If someone says that to you, it’s rarely a
compliment and means you’re a bit bossy and always have to have the first and last say in
everything. Regardless of its rude undertone, the string quartet is where that saying originates

Are there any String Quartets out there I should have heard of?
We knew you’d ask this question. Especially if you’re just introducing yourself to this topic. You
need to start with the biggest players:

  • The Kronos Quartet, for example, is known for its innovative approach to music and its ability to blend different genres and styles.
  • The Guarneri Quartet, on the other hand, was known for its precise and technical performances of classical repertoire.


Other famous quartet:

  • The Emerson Quartet
  • TheTakács Quartet
  • The Borodin Quartet.


What are famous pieces for string quartets?
Let’s start with some of our favorites:

  • Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C# minor, known as the «Moonlight» quartet
  • Mozart’s String Quartet No. 19 in C major, known as the «Dissonance» quartet.
  • Claude Debussy String Quartet g-moll, Op.10


Whilst the late quartets of Beethoven, in particular, are considered some of the most profound
and complex works of the genre, we would like to let you know:

This kind of music turns people into musical gourmets and even though Mozart and
Beethoven’s pieces are some of the most well known and most respected, listeners and fans
have a particular liking for Shostakovich, Debussy, Schubert, Brahms and Haydn.

Who was the most influential composer of string quartets?
That is an excellent question. Before we give you the answer, we want to let you know: they are
all amazing and we love them all equally. Ok now that we’ve got that out of the way:
There is someone who was often referred to as «father of the string quartet”.
We’re, of course, talking about Joseph Haydn. He wrote a whooping 68 string quartets, whereas
Beethoven wrote 16 (which are all wonderful, this is not a competition).

His works are known for their clear and precise melodies, their elegant and balanced structure,
and their careful attention to harmonic relationships and development. Haydn’s quartets also
incorporate many of the conventions of the time, such as the use of sonata form, the use of
themes and variations, and the development of musical motifs.

One of Haydn’s most famous quartets is his String Quartet No. 62 in C major, known as the
«Emperor» quartet. This work features a set of variations on a theme from Haydn’s own
composition, the Emperor’s Hymn.

Haydn was one of the first composers to explore the full range of sounds and techniques
available to the string quartet, using a wide range of bowing techniques, pizzicato, harmonics,
and other effects to create a rich and varied sound.

His works really set the standard for the genre. You don’t get the title “father of…” for nothing.
This guy worked for it.

Why many classical pieces are originally written for string quartet.
What’s funny is: The reason why so many pieces are written for string quartet isn’t a very
complex, scientific, sophisticated one. It’s simple:
String quartets are a small ensemble. That means it allows for greater subtlety and nuance in
the music, as well as greater control over dynamics and expression.

For Example:
Imagine four people talking to each other and then imagine 50 people talking to each other.
What conversation will you be able to follow better?
Additionally, the four-string instruments are capable of producing a wide range of sounds and
textures, making them ideal for conveying complex emotions and ideas. So to put it simpler
words again: It just sounds good.

But hey, this is just us talking. We’re complete fanatics when it comes to strings. If you really
want to know, you need to hear it for yourself. We have good news: there’s no need to empty
your pockets and exhaust your vacation budget. Fancy music doesn’t always come with fancy
Visit our ticket shop, sit down at the great St.Peter’s Church and then you’ll know what we’re
talking about.

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