The String Quartet is an
four string players, consisting of one first and one second violin, a viola and
a cello. It is the most important kind of
music group. The word quartet derives from French quart
which means four. The players usually form permanent
quartets, because they need to play together all the time in order to excel in
performance. No one instrument dominates the others, all are
equal, and the players must listen to each other very carefully. Players other
than the first violinist get the tune often, so the music is fun for all four players. This
ensemble is highly suited to playing intimate, subtle music, a strong contrast
to the force and power of the orchestra.
Haydn is credited with the creation of the string
quartet, so this ensemble is pre-eminent in the classical
period. Previously, the
harpsichord was alway used with other instrumental groupings, to play the basso
continuo, or chord sequences read from a figured bass. Haydn did away with the
harpsichord, allowing the clarity of music written for just 4 string instruments
to shine through. He wrote over 70 works for this ensemble, and this
category of music is also called a string
and Schubert all wrote many string quartets.
Much wonderful music has since been composed for string quartets in the
and modern periods also.