Firstly, sorry if some of you guys know some of this. However, I’ll try to include some interesting String Quartet information, so bear with me…
We love string quartets. And by that we can mean the groups of players as well as the music played by them. In the classical world, it’s the most popular and highly revered genre of ‘chamber music’ (small ensemble music.)
So what is a quartet – isn’t it just four string instruments played together?
Well, technically yes, but in its more conventional sense, it’s specifically 2 violins, a viola* (a what?) and a cello being played together.
Why is it 2 violins, viola and cello?
One good reason to have this line up is that it nicely mirrors vocal / choral music. Choirs for instance have two treble lines – Soprano & Alto, a tenor line and bass Music was around for centuries before most instruments, therefore the line up nicely reflects a way of making music that had evolved over many years. The violins being similar to the sopranos and altos, the viola like the tenors and cello taking the place of the bass.
Another interesting thing linked to the range of the group is that we’re not sensitive to all sounds equally. We tend to hear some frequencies more easily than others. The string quartet, like choirs cover the ranges most audible to our ears. For more info on the science behind the notes, check THIS website out.
Why isn’t it a double bass, cello, viola and violin instead?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like double basses** …It’s just that whilst they are big and bass-y (duh!) – they are perhaps just too bass heavy when there is already a cello in the line up. A cello can go low – really quite low. The bottom string of the cello goes down to about 65 Hz. (More info on what a hertz is HERE). That’s lower than most bass singers in choirs can sing. So if there was a cello and double bass, it might be like trying to understand what the people upstairs are arguing about. There’s lots of noise and the room is shaking, but you can’t understand what they’re actually saying.
You say it’s so popular – Who came up with the idea?
People were writing for a group of instruments that closely resemble the modern quartet as early as 1600. However, it wasn’t until the infamous composer, Haydn, that it really got going. Haydn was writing the pop music of his day for a wealthy prince. He sometimes needed to create music that could be played by a small number of players for parties and banquets so the quartet was perfect. He wrote so many pieces for the group that he became known as ‘the father of the string quartet’
This is all well and good, but I like 80s rock, isn’t it a bit out of date?
Some of the same great reasons that helped make the quartet so popular in the past are still relevant today. The fact it covers such a good and easily heard frequency range means that the string quartet is super versatile. In my last blog post I wrote about a guy that did a complete u-turn with his ideas about the group. He went from thinking it wasn’t for him to being one of our most enthusiastic clients in less than a minute once he heard us do a 90s pop track at a Bride Magazine Wedding Show.
A quartet can play arrangements of pretty much any popular song – with 4 different lines of music being played at once. For instance, the rhythm of the drums can be written out for the cello or viola, and the vocal line / guitar riffs might be transcribed into the violin parts. We played Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody at a wedding last year that got the whole party singing along!
…We think that the string quartet is a genre that will never go out of date!
Questions? Anything to add?
So there you have it, a little bit of info about the string quartet as a line up. Hope you found this interesting – feel free to contact us if you’d like more information or if you have anything to add, comment below!
* a viola is the butt of many jokes in the musical world (some of which can be found HERE on the classic FM website). One of my favourites not on that list is:
‘What’s the difference between a viola and a trampoline?’
‘You take your shoes off to jump on a trampoline.’
… But seriously, a viola is bigger than a violin but quite a bit smaller than a cello. It doesn’t have the highest violin string but shares the lower 3 strings of the violin but with an extra lower one.
** Check out my friend Alex Verster’s Youtube channel – he’s amazing!