string quartet, n.
1. An ensemble of four musicians playing stringed instruments, usually two violins, a viola, and a cello.
2. A composition for such a group.
3. Two violins, a viola and a cello, made to be played together by such a group.
Chamber musicians respond not only to the other members of their ensemble, but also to the instruments they and their colleagues are playing. This interactive process between players and instruments suggests that a particular quartet of instruments can lead to new and exciting, if not entirely predictable, results.
The true communicative value of an instrument lies less in its intrinsic quality of sound than in its ability to convey meaning through contrasts of volume and color, or the shapability and flexibility of the sound in the player’s hands. I value the clarity and harmonious interaction of the voices in the quartet over a seamless blend, and I want to keep in touch with each vocal personality as the music unfolds. So I aim for individual strength of character and personality in each instrument, with enough flexibility in each to allow for seamless blend when desired.
Because I love working in the style of Guarneri del Gesù, I used that style as a unifying visual and tonal theme. I chose similar top wood — the material that does most to affect power and ease of response — to help achieve balance of power. The spruce for violins and viola comes from the same log. I chose contrasting back wood — which does most to affect the tone color of the instrument — to give each instrument its own voice and personality.
“It was challenging and exciting figuring out how to get the very different sounds. But as far as making the instruments blend as a quartet, we quickly figured out we didn’t have to worry. That’s what they were made to do.” — Danielle Simandl, 2008 Viridian Quartet, Lawrence University
The 2009 Matched Quartet in the greenhouse.