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QuartetWeb emerged from a casual question about repertory from a member of the Lafayette String Quartet. Its goal is to assist performers, composers, researchers, publishers, recording companies, broadcasters, listeners, and retailers in the subject of quartet repertory and personnel of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The website grew to take in potentially all string quartet compositions and performers since about 1914. It won’t actually achieve that, because the subject is beyond vast and of course expanding. Still, this site contains some material not available elsewhere and much not easily available, certainly not in one place. It continues to grow, as a work in perpetual progress.
1914 is not a firm cutoff date. If a composer wrote string quartets after 1913, the earlier quartets are included. If a performing group premiered or recorded music written after that, information for the earlier compositions is also included. You may rightly infer, however, that a group who did not premiere or record music from the last hundred years or so isn’t included.
The site’s database is easy to use. Composers and string quartet compositions are linked to string quartet performing groups and individual performers mostly by first performances and recordings. Users may discover this in browsing any of the site’s categories.
Sources of information. We’re careful about sources, especially if they’re on the Internet. Usually a reference isn’t indicated if it’s a composer’s or group’s own website, a national or other large library catalog, or a well-known publication such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians or Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart.
Because good sources also have errors, listing a reference on this site does not imply approval of any part of it. This website also has errors, necessarily, even if fewer than others. If you find any, please let us know.
Some Internet references mentioned on this site have a date in square brackets. That indicates the last date a site was accessed for the information it relates to.
What does the database include? Please look around. Click on icons, names, and words highlighted when your cursor moves over them. Search for composers, performing groups, and individual performers. (More about this below.) Here’s a table of all the icons and what they mean and do:
Words in blue indicate that you may click on them to go to other views. In the Performers view, you may click on any column heading to sort by it. If you want performers of a particular instrumental part, you may filter the names accordingly. Placing the cursor over the heading Instrument sets up that choice.
Names. We readily admit to simplifying. You will see performing groups referred to in their main entries without String or Quartet. Elsewhere, we usually omit String. Some groups are known with Quartet, some with both words, and many with either usage. A few don’t use either word. But we trust no one is going to be confused by our not caring about confusing nomenclature.
There’s enough difficulty anyhow in names. Some quartet groups’ names change or have alternate versions. The latter also occur for composers and composition titles.
We try to shield you from these problems, ironically by occasionally providing variant names or spellings.Okay, not that many. Most names with a variant in the database have only one.
Compositions. In the main entry we include subtitles, alternate titles, and sometimes translations of titles. Translations tend to be in Italics.
One may be driven to deleterious distraction by the variety among the titles Quartet No. 2, String Quartet No. 2, Second Quartet, Quartet II for Strings, and more, when there is really no difference. Composers, performers, researchers, and others may use who knows what version of the generic title, and may be inconsistent within their own practice. So we simplify again. We use the first example above unless there’s a compelling reason not to.
When we know about a composer’s composition but not its exact title, we may call it Quartet, Untitled, Movement, or Fragment, or use a movement description, because the composer may not have indicated a title. Usually that applies to early works that few people have ever seen. The designation incomplete does not by itself distinguish between a work the composer did not complete and one which was completed but whose extant copy is not complete.
Sometimes it’s hard to know whether a composition was completed and later revised, or left in less than a final state and later completed or at least moved towards completion, especially if there were substantial changes. (The most famous example is probably Pierre Boulez’s Livre pour quatuor, to which the notion complete may never apply.)
Dates everywhere in the database (not just for compositions) may have a u in place of a numeral. The u indicates unknown.
Languages. Perhaps a surprise here. Anglophones will find more foreign words on this site than they may expect. There are a few reasons for that. One is to not be quite as anglocentric as many anglophone sites are. Another is simpler: if you’re going to look for or use a name elsewhere (which is a prime reason for this site’s existence), you may need its proper spelling, in Latin characters or in another script.
It’s often impossible to transliterate from other scripts consistently, even an alphabetic one like Russian Cyrillic. We think squaring a circle is easier. So, on this site you will find inconsistency—intentional inconsistency, we like to think.
Searches. The search function does not require you to spell using diacritical signs (accents and the like). You may get Bartók by typing either Bartók or Bartok, or any part of his name.
Simple searches may be performed on any page under Site navigation: Music & performances. Type part or all of the name you’re looking for. More complex searches may be performed using date ranges, locations, and other criteria under Additional searches.
Countries. There are a few issues here. We haven’t decided yet when to use England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland as opposed to Great Britain. Some composers born in Ukraine have been Russian. Some born in România have been Hungarian. And a composer may take up a new land of residence without taking a step: consider Bohemia becoming part of Czechoslovakia in 1918, or the German Democratic Republic becoming part of Germany in 1990. We’ve also treated some regions as countries, choosing not to use the too broad desgnations Imperial Russia, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Austro-Hungarian Empire.
History outside of the Americas illustrates the difficulty of determining what a country even is, or a nationality.
Bohemia, Czechoslovakia, and the German Democratic Republic didn’t exist as countries when this map applied: 1914. The northeast of the country of Germany (large light blue area) was in present-day Poland.
Meanwhile, if a composer has gone travelling for a time, you won’t know it from this website. Countries listed for a composer are only a guide (to residence, not nationality).
What does the database include? We didn’t really answer this above, apart from the first two paragraphs at the very beginning of this note. In another sense, the question is mildly impractical. Anyone who knows what a string quartet composition is or isn’t in the 21st century is invited to tell us. It’s impossible to rely always on a composition’s title.
In the last hundred years, composers have considered string quartets to include speaking, shouting, singing, silent text, dancing, a few percussion instruments, amplification, prerecorded sound, live electronics, an offstage performer or two, costumes, staging, video or audio projection, as well as other equipment, elements, or media.
There are works labelled string quartet that include a woodwind instrument or are written for violin, viola, and two cellos, for four violins, or for violin, viola, cello, and string bass. We don’t include most of those, although we do mention the last two combinations, when necessary, in the Notes column.
There are incomplete works, arrangements, works in idioms that are far from classical (whatever that means), and works that are lost or perhaps were never written down. We include arrangements (which we call adaptations) if they’re by the composer listed, with few exceptions. (There are exceptions to everything.)
Similar problems occur for performing groups. When is a collection of two violinists, violist, and cellist an ongoing string quartet? Such a group may not have a name. It may exist for a very short time or intermittently. That may not matter. There have also been quartets formed to play the music of one composer, one composition, or one concert.
It’s sometimes hard to determine definitively who have been the members of a string quartet. When you ask “When did they become a member, and when did they leave?” you add a level of difficulty, especially if a quartet has more than one person for a position or ad hoc membership. Some quartets have no fixed membership, being part of a larger performing organization that supplies four players from time to time for quartet performances.
The year a string quartet started as a group may also not be obvious. Still, we try. On this site, the year indicated is when a quartet was formed and continued, according to some good source, regardless of when its first concert was. An occasional quartet (e.g. Gewandhaus, Pro Arte, Fitzwilliam) had a hiatus of a few years but continued afterwards.
Performing groups for whom there are sufficient data have a timeline available, from which you may see at a glance who the members were in any chosen year.
For recordings, we may be unusual in including label (company) names but not catalog numbers. To include numbers would result in pulling a lot of hair that we don’t have. The names should be sufficient to find references to them and more information elsewhere.
Publishers of music are listed, if not all of them for any chosen composition, and without cities or years. Again, we try to avoid hair-pulling while pointing you in the right direction.
An ante-penultimate word. There’s much that’s not on this website yet. The connections and accuracy we strive for mean that the site grows slowly. Please don’t throw up your hands when you discover that a composer, composition, performing group, performer, premiere, or recording isn’t here. There’s much partial information in all categories. A list of recordings, for example, no matter how big, does not imply it is complete. Very little is complete; that’s especially true for premieres and recordings.
Information may be present for an odd reason. There are composers and performing groups we’ve come across whom almost no one has heard of; there are famous ones who aren’t included yet. The important word is yet. We also plan to develop additional search filters and navigations.
You are welcome to send additions or corrections if you have first-hand information or documented reliable sources which you send copies from or refer to. To register on this site and add information to it directly, go to Site navigation in the menu bar above and, under Resources, choose “Registering on this site.”
We think the richness, variety, and history of string quartets (both compositions and performing groups) and their worlds are worth knowing about, documenting, and above all experiencing.
Why a website about string quartets? The immediately preceding generality may be explained a little. The string quartet is the best-known and oldest instrumental chamber-music format in Western culture. From its beginning in the mid-18th century, it has both remained unchanged and been radically altered. That paradox may be explained by considering the instruments involved since its beginning (two violins, one viola, one cello) and the way they have been used. Although the changes in their physical characteristics may appear ro have been slight, the technique and expression of the string instruments have expanded enormously in the last quarter millennium, accompanying some material transformations that have been substantial, even if not radical.
By cultural consent, some of the greatest Western artistic creations are written for the string quartet. Its repertory is also by far the largest of that of any chamber music format. As already suggested, within that vastness lies magnificent music, especially from the past hundred years, waiting to be better known or, in some cases, merely discovered.
The principal operator of this website is Paul Rapoport. He has a PhD in musicology and wrote articles, reviews, and books about music for many years. He reads several languages—and as an amateur did play a string instrument for a time.
Thank you for your interest in QuartetWeb.
This website was launched on the 130th anniversary of the birth of Béla Bartók