Can you hear your own sound while playing in a string quartet, a piano trio, a full symphony orchestra? With so much going on around you, it’s easy to abdicate your autonomy as a musician and follow the crowd. You may find over time, the most basic aspects of your playing changing not entirely to your liking. However, the meaning of this card is to infuse your sound in and with the other voices of the ensemble. The question is, can you hear someone else’s sound through your sound? Can you reflect another musician’s interpretation, tone, and vibrato without losing yourself in the process?
The image on this card depicts a string quartet playing a circle game such as “Ring Around the Rosie.” Quartet members tug and pull on each other as they dance to the song. The archetypes in the quartet represent artistry, devotion, sensitivity, and leadership. I’ve heard it said many times that playing in a string quartet is like being in a marriage. You love each other, you love the music and each other’s playing but personalities in the relationship will inevitably manifest conflict. Staying together long term requires commitment, respect, taking responsibility for your role in the ensemble, patience, willingness to work together and work things out, but still being yourself and following your own intuition. The forces that act upon the quartet come from the musicians within the group, real life outside the group, and the music itself.
‘At whatever age and level of accomplishment the players may be, the basics of quartet playing are the same, and they are principally to do with communication. First young players have to learn to listen.’ The Strad, August 2008
‘Play together as frequently as possible if you would play quartets well. Let each member of the small party make his suggestions as to the performance of certain passages; let each suggestion be weighted, and that adopted which is decided to be the best — but once having fixed on a certain plan, keep to it, as nothing will tend to mar the beauty of your ultimate results so much as chopping and changing about.’ The Strad, September 1893
‘The master composers have left us a most precious literature in their works written expressly for interpretation by two violins, viola and violoncello. This group of stringed instruments seems to have appealed to them as a means of expression second to none, judging from the transcendent beauty and variety of the ideas we find intrusted to it.’ The Strad, July 1896
‘The quartet demands not only complete technical and artistic acquirement of each individual, but likewise must have a conception and sympathy as though the quartet formed one instrument. In other words, it should be as one mind.’ The Strad, June 1906
‘In true quartet playing no instrument ought to predominate, all four should have their equal share of the work to perform. In the Beethoven quartets each player has an important and independent part to perform throughout, yet a homogenous whole is produced, and it is for this reason that the great composer’s works in this form are such perfect models.’ The Strad, April 1908
‘You have to be comfortable with yourself because in an ensemble you are subjected to a lot of criticism and if you are too sensitive to it, you will have a difficult time. You must respect the people you work with and allow them to express and air their views. One of the most frequent problems in string quartets is that one person starts to dictate and egos get involved and people start guarding their turf.’ The Strad, November 1988
‘There is a systematic way to learn quartet repertoire and it is very different from working on a solo piece. Often you have to do a bowing or a fingering which is awkward in order to accommodate another member of the group, in order to convey a musical thought. You begin to look at music like a pathologist – what is this music all about? What is it saying? You also have to learn how to listen to the other parts. A good quartet player is one who is 25 per cent aware of what he is doing and 75 per cent aware of what the others are doing.’ The Strad, October 1989 1
‘The string quartet is undoubtedly one of the highest and most perfect means of expressing the deepest musical thoughts.’ The Strad, April 19081
1. ‘8 pieces of advice for happy string quartets.’ 2020. Thestrad.com. (Accessed April 1, 2021).