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Naxos proudly presents specially chosen packages of String Quartets highlighting the development from the early classical models to the highly expressive Romantic period to contemporary, individual ways of composing for this sophisticated genre. Expand your classical music library at a special price when you buy a complete package or purchase the featured ClassicsOnline Exclusive Sampler and get a discount code you can use on ANY title in this feature. We present the String Quartets in two parts.

Browse String Quartets Part I



Part 1 - Boccherini & Rarities

The string quartets of Italian cellist and composer Boccherini are somewhat lighter and brighter than those of Haydn and Mozart. Those included here were composed between 1780 and 1787. While the influence of Haydn is obvious, Boccherini developed his very personal style by merging Viennese, Italian and Spanish traditions.

Discover delightful and charming string quartets by Anton Zimmermann, an acclaimed contemporary of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom influenced his string quartet writing.

Ignaz Pleyel, who studied with Haydn for several years, was both a highly regarded composer, and a successful music publisher and manufacturer of pianos. Mozart wrote about a set of Pleyel’s string quartets: “They are very well written and most pleasing to listen to. You will also see at once who was his master. Well, it will be a lucky day for music if later on Pleyel should be able to replace Haydn“.

You can also discover rarities by Spanish composer Juan Crisóstomo de Arriaga and Czech composer Jakub Jan Ryba who was influenced by Haydn, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Mozart. In the first movement of his D Minor quartet a reminiscence of Mozart’s 'Dissonance‘ quartet can be heard.

Part 2 - Beethoven

In each of his three compositional periods Beethoven was drawn to the string quartet. His early quartets op 18 are composed in a classical style, but already expand the dimensions and expressiveness beyond those of Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven’s middle period quartets – the three ‘Rasumovsky’, the ‘Harp’ and the ‘Serioso’ Quartets – rank among the most famous and beloved of string quartets today, but were rejected by Beethoven’s contemporaries because of their extremely daring and progressive form, harmonies and melodies. In the mature works of his last period Beethoven went even beyond these models, shocking early 19th century listeners with ever-changing moods, dramatic gear shifts and overpowering beauty. Today they are regarded as outstanding treasures.


Russian String Quartets

The beautiful melodies and harmonies that characterise Tchaikovsky’s famous symphonies can also be found in his highly emotional string quartets. The famous Andante cantabile of the first quartet moved Tolstoy to tears. Borodin’s second string quartet is a musical gem, its beloved ‘Notturno’ also appears in the musical Kismet, as And This is My Beloved. Taneyev, a student of Tchaikovsky, is best known for his symphonies, but he composed six beautiful string quartets. Also included are two energetic string quartets by Arensky, a friend of Tchaikovsky and Taneyev.

Transition from the Romantic period to the 20th Century

Scandinavian, North American & Australian String Quartets

American composer Arthur Foote’s first string quartet was first performed 1883. It was praised for its “warmth of feeling, directness of expression, simplicity of means, and clarity of structure”. His second string quartet contains influences of Tchaikovsky and Schumann. Foote’s third string quartet was premiered in 1912. It is a delightful piece with vivid changes of mood and tempo, daring harmonies and contrasting textures.

Ives’ two string quartets are contrasting in musical sources and content. The first quartet makes use of the revival and gospel hymns he loved so much, whereas his highly complex second quartet was described by Ives himself as “four men – who converse, discuss, argue ... fight, shake hands, shut up – then walk up the mountainside to view the firmament”.

Also included is a selection of delightful pieces by American emigrants of Jewish background, including Darius Milhaud.

Australian-born composer Alfred Hill studied at the Leipzig Conservatory where he met Brahms, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky. The influence of the latter two can be heard in his beautifully Romantic melodies and expressive harmonies. After his studies Hill settled in New Zealand where he made contact with Maori culture. He titled his first two string quartets ‘Maori‘ and ‘A Maori Legend in Four Scenes’.

Some beautiful string quartets by Grieg and Nielsen as well as some Nordic rarities, including some contemporary pieces, complete this lovely package.

20th Century

Part 1 - Czech, Hungarian, Austrian & Italian String Quartets

Here’s an exciting mixture of rarities and famous string quartets by Austrian, Czech, Hungarian and Italian composers.

Schoenberg composed his tumultuous second string quartet between 1907 and 1908 in Vienna. In a highly unusual move, a solo soprano joins the string quartet players in the last two movements.

Enjoy Janáček’s beloved two quartets, titled ‘Kreutzer Sonata‘ and ‘Intimate Letters‘, in which the Czech composer portrays the tragic outcome of a husband’s jealousy (based on a tale by Tolstoy) and expresses his own love for a much younger married woman.

Bartók’s six string quartets are milestones of 20th century string quartet composition and occupy a central place in the repertoire of most famous string quartets. In the first quartet (1909), his very personal use of folk-song elements, intense harmonies and expressive melodies emerges. Written during the months before the outbreak of World War II, Bartók’s sixth quartet reflects these dramatic and tense circumstances, but also shows the harmonic and tonal lucidity of his final decade.

Two rarities by Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, pieces by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů and Czech-born Erwin Schulhoff complete this versatile package.

Part 2 - North American String Quartets

Here is music for both the head and the heart.

Enjoy some North American favourites and rarities by George Antheil, John Alden Carpenter, Gloria Coates, Jacob Druckman, Ralph Evans, Bernard Herrmann, and Dan Welcher. Also included are outstanding yet contrasting string quartets by Philip Glass, Quincy Porter and Elliott Carter. The latter’s string quartets, in particular, are regarded as pinnacles of Modernist composition, tense and expressive, complex and impactful.

In Morton Feldman’s string quartet, nicknamed ‘100 minutes’ as the performance of this huge piece lasts nearly that long, the strings are muted throughout the piece, creating mysterious and subtly-changing timbres.

Benjamin Lees admires the unexpected changes and the sardonic wit of Shostakovich‘s works as well as Britten’s refined ability to modify harmonies in a masterful way that surprises the listener. Influences of these great composers can be heard in Lee’s music, but he merged these elements with his own very personal style.

Carter wrote after the premiere of Roger Sessions‘ first string quartet in 1937: "every detail, the cadences, the way the themes are brought in, the texture, the flexibility of the bass, were such as to give constant delight, and at times to be genuinely moving. His sense of a large line gave the music a certain roominess without ever being over expansive."

Part 3 - South American String Quartets

Each of Alberto Ginastera’s highly individual and engaging string quartets abounds in kinetic energy, glowingly evocative writing and the ever-present rhythms and sounds of his native Argentinean music.

The 17 string quartets of Villa-Lobos were highly influenced by Brazilian folklore as well as by Bach’s fugues and Franck’s cyclic form. He expressed his passion for the string quartet: "I love to write quartets. One could say that it is a mania."

*Special offer available from February 3 to March 2, 2010 only



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