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What are the typical violin combinations in a quartet?


Derek Law
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7 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

For me a quartet must be "assembled" on the basis of the sound characteristics, not on the aesthetic aspect of the wood. The wood could also be, and maybe it would be even better, not from the same log. As first violin I would choose the brightest, trying to get a darker sound for the second, the viola should be different enough to be able to stand out and not be confused with the cello or the violins (in the case of a too bright viola).I think that the stylistic coherence of the luthier should emerge from his working style, rather than from the choice of similar models, which would only make the whole more boring.

Just my personal opinion, maybe that's why I never even remotely touched the idea of making a quartet to participate in a competition.:)

From an amateur quartet player's perspective I might argue in favour of the opposite contrast between first and second violins' inherent sound quality. Playing mostly in a higher register automatically confers greater penetration on the first, which can therefore "float" over a dense contrapuntal texture (or "a lot of noise") with relatively little effort. It's the middle parts that could sometimes benefit from a bit more edge to the sound. I don't think this question can be answered by a formula.

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4 hours ago, matesic said:

 

From an amateur quartet player's perspective I might argue in favour of the opposite contrast between first and second violins' inherent sound quality. Playing mostly in a higher register automatically confers greater penetration on the first, which can therefore "float" over a dense contrapuntal texture (or "a lot of noise") with relatively little effort. It's the middle parts that could sometimes benefit from a bit more edge to the sound. I don't think this question can be answered by a formula.

Exactly, there is no formula that can be suitable for everyone, because the playing style of the players is also decisive, and it is exclusively up to them to find the right balance between instruments and playing style, also determined by their taste for the aesthetics of the music, which makes the sound of each Ensemble different from one another (thankfully). This is why I am always amazed when someone orders a quartet from the same luthier with the aim of obtaining a homogeneous sound through the same wood and the same style of construction. I don't think the musicians would agree, and they won't necessarily agree to play on those instruments.

And then it would be a condemnation to have to play those four instruments of the same luthier in order to respect his intentions, without the possibility of change if they felt the need based on their sensitivity.:D:rolleyes:

 

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9 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

 ( ... )  This is why I am always amazed when someone orders a quartet from the same luthier with the aim of obtaining a homogeneous sound through the same wood and the same style of construction. I don't think the musicians would agree, and they won't necessarily agree to play on those instruments.

 ( ... )

So given any ideal, there are those who like object to be broken down to it's simple elements.

One argument, however absurd or extreme, is that the development of the string quartet bridges between the keyboard, a Harpsichord a fortepiano a pianoforte, and the vocal four part of soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The extremes of the ranges being very expressive, if desired, and clinical, if desired.

Beethoven, Mozart, likely started on bowed stringed ( can not remember about FJ Haydn... update: wiki tells me that a singer first then violin and keyboard ) that keyboards were essentials in their development of their compositions, which given many of us compose/ work at keyboards, that SQs had to have been "heard" as keyboard voicings.

If we were to bias towards the keyboard sound, that a more uniform SQ made sense. Thus from that intellectual juncture, we might hear and play all the composers to Brahms. I would love to play the Brahms Piano Quintet with uniform instruments. It was re- written... It could have been two pianos, with perhaps Clara Schumann? What glory. More uniform instruments also implies more uniform playing, if the goal were to achieve two equals.

So Maestro Darnton's observations of the Hutchin's Octet lack of interest is how I see it. Too homogeneous a characteristic may not be as much of an interest when other possibilities are far more interesting. 

From an academic point of view or as part of a day dream, the single maker quartet... hell, why not an orchestra, is important. There are plenty of us who would love to ( additionally work for free to ) "advance" bowed instrument literature. But composers will not invest time into a project unless there is good wood.  

  

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52 minutes ago, GoPractice said:

....

From an academic point of view or as part of a day dream, the single maker quartet... hell, why not an orchestra, is important. There are plenty of us who would love to ( additionally work for free to ) "advance" bowed instrument literature. But composers will not invest time into a project unless there is good wood.  

  

Even a quartet with a uniform sound can be fine, if one so wishes, the variety of ideas is always welcome. I would probably agree that it would be boring, but it's just one opinion among others. An entire orchestra ordered to the same luthier? Well, there are authoritative precedents, such as the orchestra that Carlo IX had commissioned to Andrea Amati, so perhaps for the music of that period could be a good choice.:)

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6 hours ago, Davide Sora said:

Even a quartet with a uniform sound can be fine, if one so wishes, the variety of ideas is always welcome. I would probably agree that it would be boring, but it's just one opinion among others. An entire orchestra ordered to the same luthier? Well, there are authoritative precedents, such as the orchestra that Carlo IX had commissioned to Andrea Amati, so perhaps for the music of that period could be a good choice.:)

Turning to Andrea Amati - it actually gets back to the original question. Andrea Amati has two models of violin, the smaller one, some called 'Violino Piccolo', has LOB of ~340mm. I read that these are not child's instruments, and may have a different sound quality (we don't know how they are actually tuned). Just going from small to large instruments, I would assume that these small violins are first violins. But are they? 

On another note - after Andrea Amati, has any luthier been documented to have made a whole set of (string) instruments for an orchestra?

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21 minutes ago, Derek Law said:

Turning to Andrea Amati - it actually gets back to the original question. Andrea Amati has two models of violin, the smaller one, some called 'Violino Piccolo', has LOB of ~340mm. I read that these are not child's instruments, and may have a different sound quality (we don't know how they are actually tuned). Just going from small to large instruments, I would assume that these small violins are first violins. But are they? 

On another note - after Andrea Amati, has any luthier been documented to have made a whole set of (string) instruments for an orchestra?

To avoid confusion - the violino piccolo is an instrument of itself, known to be tuned Bb-F-C-G or C-G-D-A. Used most notably in Brandenburg 1, but elsewhere in the repertoire. 

If we consider Andrea as the progenitor of the violin family, which is one prevailing hypothesis, let's keep in mind that it was early days and it seems as though he was experimenting (actually, it seems all of us are across the history of the instrument). I'd hesitate to make any conclusive claims about the sizes, how they were used, in what context, without more information. 

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On 5/25/2022 at 6:05 AM, Davide Sora said:

Exactly, there is no formula that can be suitable for everyone, because the playing style of the players is also decisive, and it is exclusively up to them to find the right balance between instruments and playing style, also determined by their taste for the aesthetics of the music, which makes the sound of each Ensemble different from one another (thankfully).

I agree. Different quartets can, and often do want different things.

To me, someone outside the quartet attempting to assemble the ideal set of instruments for that group of players would be an exercise in futility, unless all the players are more attracted to lore with supposed magical qualities, than really "liking what works".

Sure, I'd like an antique 16 million dollar Ferrari in my garage, and to many of the most vulnerable, this would suggest that I am a much better racetrack driver than I really am. :lol:

So goes human nature.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Related to this topic, I read in this months' Strad article on the Brodsky Quartet:

 

"Belton describes the sound of his Maggini violin (whose date has recently been adjusted to c. 1620) as being 'like chocolate. It is 5mm longer than a Guarneri and because it's a bit bigger than the quartet's first violin and smaller than the viola, it makes a perfect second violin, visually and soundwise too,'"

 

Ian Belton is the quartet's second violinist. From the quote, it sounds like in his view the size of the second violin should be "between" the size of the first violin and the viola. And possibly he implies that having a chocolate sound (I guess it means dark and sweet"?) is perfect for a second violin.

 

So by implication, a perfect first violin which should be small, bright, loud and soprano? 

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To address the OP, the modern string quartet music form developed in the hands of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, et al.   This was a little after the time that distinctions between sizes of violins and violas were a significant thing. 

The publication of Haydn's 1772 opus 20 quartets helped establish the form.  By then, the time of making big tenor violas and small violins shorter than 350mm had faded about a century earlier. 

Not to say there weren't some later exceptions.

I doubt Beethoven or even Haydn would expect physically different 1st and 2nd violins in a quartet, or 1st and 2nd violas in a quintet.

 

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