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Thread: Why are string quartets with bass so uncommon?

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    Default Why are string quartets with bass so uncommon?

    Just out of curiousity I checked to see how many quartets were written with Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, omitting the Violin II. Obviously this isn’t conventional so I wasn’t expecting to find much but I saw that that this instrumentation is almost non-existent. Is there any particular reason for this? I thought that at least some notable composers would have tried this before

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    Senior Member shirime's Avatar
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    For reasons of registral balance, and also out of the tradition it grew. Regarding that double bass evolved from the viol family puts it in a different category to begin with. Typically it was never used as an instrument that did anything aside from thicken the bass line in orchestral music anyway. A full string section without it sounds quite treble heavy, but in the context of a string quartet it could potentially give a bit too much oomph to the bass register. You gotta consider that in a full string section as well the proportion of violins to violas and cellos are a more extreme ratio than they are in a string quartet. Nowadays, composers are more inventive in how they use bass, but typically the standard string quartet lineup is still sufficient.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    It may also be that bassists of sufficient skill were a bit rare. The string quartet developed largely with amateur players as the economic audience (that is, buyers of sheet music). The first "commercial" string quartet wasn't founded until about 1808.
    Last edited by KenOC; Oct-14-2018 at 03:29.


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    I agree with KenOC. "Beautiful" bass playing didn't exist until well into the 20th c. I think half of Beethoven's intended humor in writing the tripping bass line in the Trio to the Fifth Symphony, was the likelihood that in the first decade of the nineteenth century, it must have bordered on sounding awful.
    Last edited by MarkW; Oct-20-2018 at 04:52.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    There was evidently the occasional virtuoso. I'm kind of fond of a few of Bottesini's bull fiddle works from the mid-1800s.



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