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Thread: Greatest String Quartet cycles of the 20th century

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Default Greatest String Quartet cycles of the 20th century

    I wish to speak about bodies of multiple works rather than individual quartets here. In your eyes, which composer of the 20th century left behind the greatest legacy of String Quartet literature?

    The obvious towering figure over the century in this genre is Béla Bartók, who wrote 6 string quartets, each of which is hailed as a masterpiece and a classic. While I haven't heard all of Shostakovich's quartets, it is tempting to put him in that same elite class as Bartók, as those of his quartets I have heard demonstrate mastery of idiomatic quartet writing and deep evocation of feeling, while never straying far from the classical string quartet form.

    Who is next up after these two? What other 20th century composer left behind a great cycle of string quartets? Hindemith? Schoenberg? Ligeti? Feldman? Cage? Webern (for the sake of inclusivity, I will include works that may not be titled "String Quartet" but are written for same instrumentation)?

    Please feel free to contribute with others I may have missed!

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    As voted elsewhere -- composers of 20th-century of string quartets:
    1 - Bartók, Bela
    2 - Shostakovich, Dmitri
    3 - Schoenberg, Arnold
    4 - Schnittke, Alfred
    5 - Martinù, Bohuslav
    6 - Holmboe, Vagn
    7 - Nørgård, Per
    8 - Krenek, Ernst
    9 - Bloch, Ernest
    10 - Villa-Lobos, Heitor


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    Senior Member CnC Bartok's Avatar
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    Janáček desperately needs mentioning, even though he only composed two Quartets.

    Aulis Sallinen has composed six, the first five are recorded, and are excellent.

    How about Elizabeth Maconchy too?
    Last edited by CnC Bartok; Jun-08-2019 at 19:11.

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    I'd put Shostakovich first, Weinberg second, and Bartok third. Diamond's string quartets also deserve some exposure
    Last edited by Bulldog; Jun-08-2019 at 19:15.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I wish to speak about bodies of multiple works rather than individual quartets here. In your eyes, which composer of the 20th century left behind the greatest legacy of String Quartet literature?

    The obvious towering figure over the century in this genre is Béla Bartók, who wrote 6 string quartets, each of which is hailed as a masterpiece and a classic. While I haven't heard all of Shostakovich's quartets, it is tempting to put him in that same elite class as Bartók, as those of his quartets I have heard demonstrate mastery of idiomatic quartet writing and deep evocation of feeling, while never straying far from the classical string quartet form.

    Who is next up after these two? What other 20th century composer left behind a great cycle of string quartets? Hindemith? Schoenberg? Ligeti? Feldman? Cage? Webern (for the sake of inclusivity, I will include works that may not be titled "String Quartet" but are written for same instrumentation)?

    Please feel free to contribute with others I may have missed!
    The 20th century was a very successful period for the quartet, and there are tons of exciting exploratory avant garde cycles. But to start with I'd single out Ole-Henrik Moe, and then Helmut Lachenmann and Horațiu Rădulescu.

    I think you're wrong to say that Shostakovich and Bartok are towering figures -- except in the sense of number of concerts or CDs made or something like that. The towering figure is Schoenberg.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-08-2019 at 20:26.

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    Senior Member flamencosketches's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    The 20th century was a very successful period for the quartet, and there are tons of exciting exploratory avant garde cycles. But to start with I'd single out Ole-Henrik Moe, and then Helmut Lachenmann and Horațiu Rădulescu.

    I think you're wrong to say that Shostakovich and Bartok are towering figures -- except in the sense of number of concerts or CDs made or something like that. The towering figure is Schoenberg.
    I'm not familiar with any of those composers you mentioned, were they prolific in this genre?

    I can understand you denying Shostakovich's contribution to the genre, but Bartók, really? I thought it was pretty much consensus that his quartets are some of the greatest. Schoenberg's quartets, while great, seem to be not quite as singular of an achievement as Bartók's, and certainly not as central to the composer's work as a whole.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bulldog View Post
    I'd put Shostakovich first, Weinberg second, and Bartok third. Diamond's string quartets also deserve some exposure
    I`m going to put shostakovich first. for me they stand as great "human'" documents.

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    Schnittke has some interesting SQ's, But I'll have to go with,,,lets see ,,,real tough choices here,,,so many great SQ cycles to choose from,,,geee I'm in a ~~pickle~~~,,,well you say, pick your best suggestion right?

    Well then,,I'll have to go with. Henze 1-5 SQ's.

    Last edited by paulbest; Jun-09-2019 at 05:21.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    I'm not familiar with any of those composers you mentioned, were they prolific in this genre?

    I can understand you denying Shostakovich's contribution to the genre, but Bartók, really? I thought it was pretty much consensus that his quartets are some of the greatest. Schoenberg's quartets, while great, seem to be not quite as singular of an achievement as Bartók's, and certainly not as central to the composer's work as a whole.
    I really think that it’s crazy to try and rank the Bartok and Shostakovich cycles against each other!

    The Schoenberg cycle seems to me to take the medium into new, exciting places.

    Radulesku wrote a very large number of quartets.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-09-2019 at 07:39.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I really think that it’s crazy to try and rank the Bartok and Shostakovich cycles against each other!

    The Schoenberg cycle seems to me to take the medium into new, exciting places.

    Radulesku wrote a very large number of quartets.
    I was looking into Ole-Henrik Moe and couldn't find any of his string quartets online. Too obscure for my blood.

    I don't know about ranking them against each other either, I just think that together they inhabit a space beyond your typical 20th century string quartets. Kind of like how Beethoven's, Mozart's, and Haydn's quartets inhabit a space beyond Boccherini's and Dittersdorf's. Of course, as my ignorance may come to prove, I could easily be wrong, and in fact I made this thread to be proven such.

    As is increasingly clear, my previous analogy may not be at all representative of the 20th century, though, as there are perhaps far more great string quartets in this time than in any previous.
    Last edited by flamencosketches; Jun-09-2019 at 15:36.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post
    Too obscure for my blood.
    You see how powerful the media is in forming people’s opinions, that’s to say, because someone isn’t easily accessible on YouTube you write them off as too obscure.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-09-2019 at 16:51.

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    Here’s Radulesku Quartet 4, which I think is very good, you’ll see how much the idiom has moved on since Bartok and Shostakovich. Lachenmann must be easy to find.



    And here’s an Ole Henrik Moe quartet

    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-09-2019 at 16:33.

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    Quote Originally Posted by flamencosketches View Post

    I don't know about ranking them against each other either, I just think that together they inhabit a space beyond your typical 20th century string quartets. Kind of like how Beethoven's, Mozart's, and Haydn's quartets inhabit a space beyond Boccherini's and Dittersdorf's.
    Well if you mean a qualitative space then I don’t think so. How are you going to argue that Bartok and Shostakovich wrote more exciting music for string quartet than Horatio Radulescu or Ben Johnson or Heinz Holliger or Brian Ferneyhough?

    In all fairness some of the music I’ve been proposing is probably C21!
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-09-2019 at 17:01.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    You see how powerful the media is in forming people’s opinions, that’s to say, because someone isn’t easily accessible on YouTube you write them off as too obscure.
    That was a bit of a joke, and I'm hardly one to write off a composer, artist, musician, or otherwise on grounds of obscurity. But seriously, how am I going to explore a composer's music (more specifically, one I've never heard of but once) if I can't find it?

    In any case, this Moe piece was composed in 2006! 21st century music is its own beast.

    I will check out the Radulescu later on today, and perhaps the Moe as well. I am hardly familiar with any 21st century classical at all. As for Ferneyhough, I've heard a few string chamber works of his including the trio and at least one of the quartets, and was not terribly impressed with any of it. I bet I'll return to it later on down the road though.

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    As a tangent off of the notion of the string quartet idiom "moving on" from dinosaurs like Bartók and Shostakovich, what do you think of Ligeti's quartets? Is he a dinosaur now too?

    I think this one is phenomenal. From the same Arditti Quartet:


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