|The Beethoven String Quartet from the USA; Gustav Dannreuther (violin), Adolf Hartdegen (cello), Otto K. Schill (viola), Ernest Thiele (violin). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
It is seen as one of the most important forms in classical with most major composers writing music for this genre. Traditionally it will have four movements with a large structure similar to that of a symphony. The outer movements are fast while the inner movements consist of a slow movement and a dance movement like a minuet or scherzo. The twentieth century has seen this structure abandoned by most composers. Other chamber groups can be seen as a variation on the string quartet.
Historians have come to the conclusion that the string quartet arose by accident. Composer Joseph Haydn was working in Germany for a rich baron who wanted to hear music immediately and as it happened the only available players were two violinists, a violist, and a cellist.
The baron suggested that Haydn try his hand at composing something that these four musicians could perform and so the string quartet was born. This form of music proved to be so popular that Haydn continued writing pieces in this form and the style soon spread.
Quartet composition flourished in the classical era. Both Mozart and Beethoven wrote a series of famous quartets and to this day remains a popular form and are seen as a true test of the composer's art.