So, it’s been two years, many different waves, many different trials and tribulations during the lockdowns and restrictions, but things are looking up. Most ‘normal’ aspects of life are back – travelling interstate, going to the movies or to your favourite restaurant, seeing friends and family, and with lockdowns very firmly a thing of the past, it’s looking good to keep on the way it’s been. But what about weddings? Both state and federal governments have also put their word down that they’re back and here to stay, so for folks that have been trapped inside, waiting to plan their special day but have been majorly hindered by the virus, it’s time to get back on the wedding planning trail!
You probably already know a little bit about us here at String Musicians. We’re Australia’s leading group of classical musicians, winning national and international prizes, and being fortunate enough to be members of several different variations of symphony and chamber orchestras. Outside of performing for the world, we offer our services to you, our audience. Whether it’s a small corporate function or a wedding, we cater to everything, guided by principles of personalisation, professionalism, and creativity.
We can plan for just about any occasion, and even do requests – just let us know ahead of time! But string quartets, the feelings they evoke, the ease of access and approachability with price, even the formation itself, is one of our favourites. A string quartet – consisting of two violins, a viola and a cello, provides the perfect amount of acoustic volume and rich harmonics, can fit just about anywhere, and with four musicians can play just about anything in our or your repertoire. Of course, while we can perform anything to your taste, we’ve got a few all-time favourite string quartets; ones that have stood the test of time and have come out on top.
Featuring visionaries and famous names like Beethoven, Mozart, and Debussy, as well as some lesser-known names (at least to the general population) like Janáček or Britten, this list is not exhaustive by any means, or even necessarily in order of best to worst! It’s more just a way to let you know what some of our favourites are, and perhaps give some guidance to what you might like to hear and see at your wedding. We’ve also given some guidance about the best performances or recordings by other quartets. Here goes nothing!
Top 10 Famous String Quartets of All Time
- Joseph Haydn: String Quartet, No. 3, Op. 76, ‘Emperor’, performed by The Lindsays
This particular recording is worth of mention, as it elevates esteemed composer Haydn’s compositions to another level. The work is complex, lively, and almost melodic in sections, carrying the listener across the work like a warm summer’s breeze, with The Lindsays’ recording adding an extra layer of polish to this otherwise astounding work. Haydn is, of course, celebrated for works like these, as they are an absolute delight to listen to. Imagine hearing this live at your wedding with us on board to guide you through!
- Franz Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D. 810, “Death and the Maiden,” performed by the Amadeus String Quartet
The result of one of Schubert’s periods of creative prosperity, this composition is all about dynamics and duality. Of life and death, of high peaks and frosty lows, of panic and then calm, all related to the central theme, naturally, of death and the maiden. Most notably, this piece evolves from being simple and relatively plain, through to intense complexity and emotionality. Perhaps not the most appropriate one to play at a wedding, but beautiful nonetheless, Schubert shines in this particular string quartet.
- Leoš Janáček: String Quartet No. 2, ‘Lettres Intimes’, performed by the Diotima Quartet
It appears that there are two predominant versions of this strange, challenging composition, that is an outpouring of romance from Janáček – hence the name: Intimate Letters. One version before the Bärenreiter edition, put out by the German classical music publishing house, and one after, perfectly recorded by the Diotima Quartet. Overall, the composition feels raw, frenzied, and gripping through the use of plucked notes, while still building towards huge crescendos and big moments. This one would be perfect for a wedding with a bit more bite, some suspense, and some much-needed intensity.
- Dmitri Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 110, performed by the Emerson String Quartet
Far more solemn, and as many others have noted, almost essential Russian in character, this Shostakovich piece is defined by stabbing timbres, dramatic changes in pace, and chilling, mellow largo sections. If you wanted guests to enter feeling eager, and ready for the next chapter, this might be a great one to request. Otherwise, the Emerson String Quartet have nailed the recording, so for the ceremony itself or just for home listening, this one is a fantastic number.
- Philip Glass: String Quartets No. 2-5 performed by the Kronos Quartet
Clearly, Philip Glass is one of the most noteworthy and innovative composers of the modern age, mostly for his minimalistic, ethereal harmonies, and simple, pleasing music that progresses throughout his works. Glass’ string quartets are no different and are an almost perfectly simple execution of his creativity. They are an absolute delight to listen to, no matter the scene or the time of day, and would be perfect for either the reception, ceremony itself, or nibbles to kick off the event. Recording wise, the Kronos Quartet perform Glass’ works excellently, doing them total justice in a contemporary format.
- Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131, performed by the Takács Quartet
There are a huge multitude of reasons why Beethoven is categorised as the best to have ever composed classical music, and some of his last compositions, like this one, only add to that notion. They are hugely awe-inspiring, dramatic, riveting, and wholly diving in terms of their impact on the ear. This final form took a lifetime for the artist to master, and for that reason, it is a total wondrous joy to listen to. Peak performances for stunning weddings! Again as for the recording facet of this composition, the Takács honour Beethoven’s work, with their balanced, careful approach to this body of work. Similarly, we take a comparable approach when performing, making sure to perform works to their utmost best.
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: String Quartet No. 19 ‘Dissonance’, K. 465, performed by Quatuor Mosaïques
Speaking of Haydn’s composition above, this work titled ‘Dissonance’ from Mozart is dedicated to his works, but gains its title from the gradual, tension-inducing introduction, full of disharmonious notes over a warbling cello line. Having said that, after the buildup is complete, it feels like one of the most naturally pleasant occurrences of classical music out there. Filled with detail, as rich as cream, and lovely on the ears, this could easily be a contender for the number one spot on this list! Additionally, having this sitting in the background of your wedding would be truly engaging, and a great choice that would agree with all your patrons.
- Claude Debussy: String Quartet in G major; Maurice Ravel: String Quartet in F major
Third last, we of course have Debussy, another widely celebrated composer. Originally composed in revolutionary style, that is, breaking from the norms and trends of early classical music, this quartet makes the listener feel buoyant and surprised. On account of there being two composers, that is, Ravel on the second quartet, these masterpieces take a variety of turns, and are often performed together due to their similar feel and intention. For something a bit longer form and varied, this might be the perfect one to request on your special day.
- Benjamin Britten String Quartet No. 2, Op. 36 performed by the Belcea Quartet
In ninth place, Britten’s quartet strikes a delicate balance between harmony and melody, of playfulness and seriousness, for a gripping composition. Even though the work is inherently dramatic, somehow, the Belcea Quartet manage to take it up a notch, without making it seem strained or too busy. It is captivating, reflective, and with plenty of ups and downs that make a work of art exciting.
- Bartók String Quartet No. 5, Sz. 102, performed by the Heath Quartet
Lastly, we have Bartók’s string quartet No. 5, performed on the recording by the Heath Quartet, who take a more subjective approach to Bartók’s sounds. It again feels sombre, but interjected by bright, expressive elements, and transforms remarkably across the movements of the piece.
While this was just a short-list of our favourite string quartets, we hope it has given you some insight into the potential options you may request for your wedding. We’re almost positive that if you hire us for your next wedding, big or small, local or interstate, close friends or extended family, it will be an absolutely unforgettable experience, soundtracked to perfection. Call 1300 997 923 today, or visit https://www.stringmusicians.com.au/ to get started on curating your perfect wedding now!