String quartet (Fr. quatuor à cordes; Ger. Streichquartett; It. quartetto di cordi, quartetto d’archi)
- Cliff Eisen,
- Antonio Baldassarre
- and Paul Griffiths
(Fr. quatuor à cordes; Ger. Streichquartett; It. quartetto di cordi, quartetto d’archi)
A composition for solo string instruments, usually two violins, viola and cello; it is widely regarded as the supreme form of chamber music.
No immediate precursor for the string quartet can be identified. Four-part writing for strings occurs in pieces titled sonata a quattro or concerto a quattro, in the Italian sinfonia and the French sonate en quatuor and ouverture à quatre, but these works were apparently intended for orchestral performance and may have included keyboard continuo (Alessandro Scarlatti’s Sonate a quattro per due violini, violetta e violoncello senza cembalo, c1715–25, are an isolated exception; with their alternations of ripieno and concertino they resemble the concerto grosso). Closer in spirit and style to the quartet are the south German and Austrian symphonies in four parts, some of which may have been performed without continuo; frequently their style is indistinguishable from one-to-a-part solo ensemble music. With the exception of the accompanied sonata, the quartet was probably the most widely cultivated genre of ‘chamber music’ between about ...