The world’s longest running string quartets

The Fitzwilliam Quartet, one of the earliest champions of the Shostakovich cycle, will mark its 50th anniversary in March with one founder member, Alan George, still playing.

Founded by four Cambridge students, it may not hold a world record for string quartet longevity.

Still, we’d like to know of any other quartets still playing that have lasted longer, or thereabouts.

If you send us enough, we’ll publish a chart.

OK, here goes. * signifies no original members still playing

1808 Gewandhaus Quartet, Leipzig*

1912 Pro Arte Quartet, Brussels-Wisconsin*

1919 Zagreb Quartet*

1945 Borodin Quartet, Moscow*

1946 Fine Arts Quartet, Chicago*

1946 Juilliard Quartet, NY, 1946*

1947 Janacek Quartet, Brno*

1953 Allegri Quartet, London*

1964 Talich Quartet, Prague*

1969 Fitzwilliam Quartet, Cambridge

1969 Portland String Quartet

 

 

 

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  • I do not mean to be confrontational, Norman, but my view has always been that if more than one original player in a string quartet has been replaced, it’s a new quartet.
    In other words, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr do not constitute The Beatles.
    But, heck – if any quartet keeps playing Shostakovich, I’ll give ’em a thumbs up!
    (Just to play along, though, the longest-lived quartet despite personnel changes has GOT to be the Juilliard. They’ve been around since 1946.)

    • To me the test is whether new members co-existed with prior members with an unbroken chain back to the beginning. I’d agree that entirely new personnel all at once breaks the chain. Similarly for chamber orchestras such as I Musici, or for full symphony orchestras for that matter.

      On that basis I suppose the initial presence of Piero Farulli in the Nuovo Quartetto Italiano made it a continuation of the “real” Quartetto Italiano.

    • I agree with Kevin more than with Spenser, but there’s a point to both arguments. IMHO the fun of the discussion, and the thought it provokes, is more important than “winning” it.

  • I wish to amend my earlier statement about the Juilliard Quartet: perhaps there are some “eastern bloc” (what a potent and yet nostalgic description) quartets that may have had a longer run – the Borodin and the Beethoven come to mind.
    Moral: don’t hit the send key too soon!

  • The Budapest Quartet: 1917 to 1967.

    The Juilliard Quartet: founded in 1946 and still in existence.

    I think both have had more continuity in personnel over their long histories than has the Fitzwilliam.

    I have fond memories of the Fitzwilliam’s Shostakovich Quartet cycle at Lincoln Center, the first time the cycle was given in New York. Does anyo e know whqt happened to the other three original members who were young men wt the time?

    • None of these players was around in 1919!

      Perhaps some qualification from Norman is needed when defining the “quartet longevity”.

  • Get the ball rolling…

    Pro Arte Quartet, 1912- present
    Fine Arts Quartet, 1946- present
    Borodin Quartet, 1945-
    Juilliard Quartet 1946-
    Talich Quartet 1964-

  • The Gewandhaus-Quartett was founded in 1808 and is still going. However, none of the original members is currently active.

  • Amadeus, 40 years without a personnel change; Beethoven Quartet of Moscow, 41 years without a change, 1923-early 1980s; Janácek Quartet of Brno has been going since 1947; Borodin Quartet since 1945, since 1955 under that name; Aeolian, 1927-81 under various names; Allegri from 1953 and still going; Juilliard 1946 and still going. Guarneri did pretty well.

  • The Portland String Quartet, based in Portland Maine USA, is in its 50th year with two of its original members still playing. The original four were together for more than 40 years.

    • A brilliant quartet with many fantastic recordings on Tacet, including their superb Haydn cycle. Unfortunately, however, they announced last year that they will be quitting in 2021:

      „Am 8. März feiern wir unseren 37. Geburtstag – Zeit auf unsere nächsten Aktivitäten hinzuweisen!
      Zeit aber auch, um unseren Abschied in 3 Jahren anzukündigen. Dann, im Sommer 2021, werden wir den „Rekord“ unserer großen Vorbilder Guarneri und Amadeus übertroffen haben:
      40 Jahre Quartettspielen in der gleichen Besetzung.
      Aber bis wir dann endgültig aufhören gibt es noch viele Gelegenheiten uns zu hören!“

      • A pity, to be sure, but it’s a valid way to “protect the brand” (that’s not a criticism).
        I believe the Végh Quartet also lasted 38 years with its original members, and disbanded a couple years after a change.

  • Coull Quartet have been going since 1974. Violin 1 and 2 Roger Coull and Philip Gallaway are still the original two violins

  • The Pro Arte has been in existence for over 100 years from its Belgian roots, to its stranding in America during WW II. It was then picked up as the Artists-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin where it has remained ever since to this day, obviously with many personnel changes. The University has published a book on the history of this quartet. When the original leader, Alphonse Onnou died in the early 1940s, Rudolf Kolisch who had his own quartet in Europe and emigrated to America with the rise of the Nazis, became the leader (and was when I was a student there in the early 1960s, I took classes from him and had violin lessons with other Pro Arte members.)

    • For much of the 1960s, the quartet existed in name only. If my memory from the book is correct, Kolisch walked away when the university wouldn’t hire his wife. I was a student there from 1965-69, and there was no quartet performing when I arrived. A piano quartet performed from time to time, and I remember a joint concert with members of the Pro Arte and the Fine Arts Quartet, but they played quintets and sextets that evening.

      Finally around 1967 or 68 the quartet started performing again with Norman Paulu the new first violin, Thomas Moore on 2nd, and Richard Blum, Viola and Lowell Creitz, cello continuing from the earlier group.

      The group went through various other personnel changes until the current lineup started to gel in the 1990s.

      Here’s a history of the group, though the continuity chart is quite inaccurate for the 1960s years.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pro_Arte_Quartet

  • I’m not good at dates (I even occasionally forgot my wedding anniversary) but I do think the Hungarian Quartet and the Italian Quartet should be somewhere on the list (I think someone had the good grace to include the Italians). And when did we, know-alls, first come across the Tokyo Quartet (first edition)? Has anyone included the Talich Quartet or the Takacs Quartet? And, to satisfy my own patriotic urges) The Nederlands Strijkkwartet?

  • Since its founding in 1965, the Ciompi Quartet of Duke University has delighted audiences and impressed critics around the world. All its members are professors at Duke, where they teach instrumental lessons, coordinate and coach chamber music, and perform across campus in concert halls, libraries, dormitories and classrooms. In a career that spans five continents and includes many hundreds of concerts, the Ciompi Quartet has developed a reputation for performances of real intelligence and musical sophistication, with a warm, unified sound that allows each player’s individual voice to emerge.

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