The string quartet as a foundation for larger ensembles

Lawson, C. (2003) The string quartet as a foundation for larger ensembles. In: The Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet. Cambridge Companions to Music . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 310-327. ISBN 9780521801942 (hardback) 9780521000420 (paperback) 9780511074790 (e-book)


Ensemble combinations based on the string quartet have inspired some of the most expressive and intense pieces of all chamber music. The various genres examined in this survey attracted a remarkable array of composers, so their vast field of work can only be given a brief overview here. There is no space for detailed musical analysis or even a listing of every work of notable significance. Such enduring masterpieces as Mozart's G minor Quintet and Schubert's C major Quintet are illustrations of the inspiration afforded by the addition to the quartet of just one stringed instrument. However, the necessity to integrate extra players within an established quartet means that such works have tended to find their way into the concert hall only on an occasional basis. Long before these pieces were familiar through recordings, Walter Cobbett in 1929 went so far as to advocate the formation of string quintets specifically for touring purposes, as a way of doing justice to both the quality and the quantity of the repertory. The age of recording has consolidated the reputation of many of the pieces discussed below, including larger-scale string pieces such as Brahms' sextets and Mendelssohn's Octet, whose live performance has continued to be inhibited by practical and economic considerations.

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