Thanks to Joseph Haydn, the acknowledged father of the string quartet, the medium evolved into a genre. It is Haydn’s compositions for the medium above all — he composed 68 of them — that established the formal conventions and aesthetic values that secured the string quartet a special status and significance in Western musical culture. As developed by Haydn, the quartet became the preferred vehicle through which composers ever since, from Mozart to John Adams, have honed and displayed their compositional craft.
Technique and expression go hand in hand. The German poet Goethe described the quartet in terms of a musical conversation. For the audience, Goethe wrote, a quartet performance is like “listening to four rational people conversing among themselves.” Reflecting aesthetic sensibilities commonly associated with the genre in the Enlightenment age of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the conversation metaphor nicely captures two defining features of the genre: its intimate, personal nature as well as its capacity to convey profound musical thought through the essential ingredients of four-part harmony and counterpoint. And, as Haydn’s compositions amply demonstrate, the medium of the string quartet can also lend itself to the expression of wit and humor.
Defining the String Quartet is designed to appeal to participants with different musical backgrounds and levels of musical literacy. The ability to read music is not required, although we do supply musical notation for those of you who wish to follow along, and have developed some technology to help you do that: instead of being displayed in the usual black, the notes being played are highlighted on screen in red. Intended as tests of comprehension and knowledge, the quizzes are offered in two degrees of difficulty, indicated thus: ♪ (entry-level) and ♪♪ (advanced). We hope you enjoy the course!
Do I need to buy a textbook?
No. All of the required course materials (lectures, musical examples, digital scores, and performances by the St. Lawrence String Quartet) are included here online.
How much time can I expect to spend on the course each week?
This is a self-paced course. Although it is recommended that you work through the materials in the prescribed sequence from start to finish, you may study and review the lessons, listen to the performances, and do the exercises at your own chosen speed.