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Hey all,

I've been wanting to write a string quartet for a while now and decided to take the plunge. I'm very very new to small ensemble writing so I know this can use a lot of work. And that's where you come in.. I'm particularly looking for advice on the instrumentation and how the distribution of musical elements between the instruments can be improved, though I'm totally open to any kind of suggestions. I've attached the rough draft score and a very bad midi recording for your perusal. Thanks so much in advance for any help. P.S. I only added bare bones articulations and dynamics at this point so ignore that aspect! 

Quartet

-Robert

P.S. This is the first movement of the quartet of which I am planning on three. 

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Thanks for the feedback Bob. I made some minor adjustments based on your advice. You can find the revised versions of the score and audio at the same link with the title quartetm1v2. I'm still debating and experimenting with whether I want to add another section with harmonic variation. 

I like that. I like the build up, the adding and removal of layers. You create some good movement in the piece by dong that. It's still rhythmically the progression wise the same all the way through, and a pause or two, and a bridge of some kind would be a good addition to keep the interest up. But I do love the feel of it, and the melody.

Thanks Rick, I'll look into your suggestions. 

Fredrick, perhaps I should have clarified, this is only the first movement. Or does your confusion lie somewhere else? 

Fredrick - Yes, I do feel that the music is best served with an intimate sound. Also, a part of why I wanted to write a string quartet was so I would actually have a chance at a live recording, which I don't ever see happening with an orchestra. That said, I did consider a quintet by adding bass but it's my understand that such an arrangement sounds a lot worse in person than it does vst. I'm not really sure what a second viola would add but I'm willing to experiment.

Like the others who have replied I also like what you have here, it is appealing.  I think the suggestions you have received are good as well. 

Repetition is a double edged sword for us, it can be hypnotic and attractive, and it can be boring.  You have cycled the cello pattern through some chords which is good, but I would like to hear more done with it than that, perhaps passing it around to the other instruments or mutating the pattern a bit more to give the piece more variation.

If this is like a prelude to other movements perhaps it should just be shorter, that way you get the maximum value from your ideas before they wear thin. I hope you will make the effort to get a better recording also, it may change how you view the your work, I know that happens to me at least.

Thanks for the feedback Ingo. I'm holding off on making big changes for right now as I'm almost done with the 2nd movement and I'd like to see how the feedback of it might also affect what I do with this movement. Regarding the recording, I would really, really, like to have this recorded live but I'm having trouble finding a quartet and studio that's within my budget. I shall not give up though! 

You might want to look in to using an audio library, some of them are reasonably priced. Some of the recordings posted here using audio libraries sound very good. I find that I write differently when I hear a more accurate rendering of what I have written.

Robert Fisher said:

Thanks for the feedback Ingo. I'm holding off on making big changes for right now as I'm almost done with the 2nd movement and I'd like to see how the feedback of it might also affect what I do with this movement. Regarding the recording, I would really, really, like to have this recorded live but I'm having trouble finding a quartet and studio that's within my budget. I shall not give up though! 

Hey all,

I've completed the 2nd and 3rd movements and added them to the folder which you can find under the original link. Oh and although I first said I was doing 3 movements, I've decided to add one more which should be done within a week. Thank you! 

Robert

Listened to the 1st mvmt. My first impression was that while this was scored for a string quartet, the musical material seems ill-suited for it. It seems to me that the repeated arpeggio figures would be much better suited for a keyboard instrument like a piano, or perhaps a string section. The repeated pairs of dotted half notes seem more well-suited for some kind of wind or brass instrument, or perhaps a cello or bass section (as opposed to the solo instruments in a quartet). Or perhaps your entire accompaniment texture should be carried by a piano or other keyboard instrument, since it seems much more idiomatic to those instruments than a quartet.

Your melody lines also seem to be asking to be scored for a larger ensemble, perhaps an orchestra with string + woodwind doublings that vary over the course of the movement to impart a much-needed variety of timbre. It would be difficult, IMO, to retain the interest of the audience on a quartet because of the way your melodic motifs repeat.  Had you scored for a larger ensemble, you could add interest by the swell of instruments thickening the texture as the melody intensifies, and thinning away as it ebbs. It's considerably harder to do this in a quartet setting where the number of instruments is at a premium, and the timbral palette is much more constricted.

Harmonically, this movement is also quite simplistic; again, something difficult to pull off successfully in a quartet setting. It could work in a larger ensemble where the repetitiousness can be offset by the variety of timbral colors that can be put together to build up the mood you're going for. This would work as a soundtrack of sorts, for example.  But I have a hard time imagining how this would work as a quartet -- the musical material seems to want lots of sustained chord tones, but you don't have that with solo string instruments. If you had included some wind or brass instruments, for example, you could have them hold the chord tones while your string play their arpeggios, and it would be more effective IMO.

But if you're insistent on making it work as a quartet, I'd recommend reworking the accompaniment. For the kind of mood you're going for, you'd need long sustained notes in addition to the arpeggios -- as in, long, multi-bar sustained notes. Maybe dedicate the cello for this purpose. Or maybe replace your arpeggios with tremolo figures, which might work better in a quartet setting. Or better yet, reduce the amount of accompaniment figures and write instead countermelodies interacting with the main melody line. In a large ensemble background fillers work well, but in a quartet, everything is in the foreground so the way you write accompaniment figures should adapt accordingly.

The main melody also needs to be more elaborated, perhaps more ornamented. Since you're dealing with solo instruments, take advantage of the fact that they are solo instruments -- so they do well with independent lines, soloistic "flairs", like multiple stops, leaps, and other such ornamentations that you wouldn't normally write for a string section, for example.  Take advantage of different manners of articulation like pizzicato. Pizzicato may be advantageous as an initial accompaniment texture to lead in to sustained notes. Or as a change in timbre accompanied by register shifts.

Teoh: Thank you so much for your detailed critique and advice. I understand the points you've made and it's clear I have a lot of thinking to do. The reason I was so set on a quartet was so I'd stand a chance of actually recording it, though it seems that it just may not work. I'll experiment with a piano quartet or quintet to attempt to address these issues. Thanks again. 

Quartet writing is known to be one of the harder mediums to write for. At least, that's the word on the street. :-)  But if you're not fixated on a pure quartet, then there are more options, like adding a piano, or some winds for color, etc.. You can probably find a small ensemble combination that works well, and that doesn't require breaking the bank.

this is the only work of yours ive heard, and i dont know what style you write in, who you listen to or anything. this is just from what ive heard.

its very cleanly written, and i like it. the form is clear and i can tell when the movements climax or reach their high point. the ideas are clear. 

the layering of the 4 voices is a little rigged. i know this may just be the midi not doing it justice, but if its performed, i personally would like to hear some more of the ensemble as apposed to what im receiving as 4 separate voices. chamber music is really weird about being connected with each other as musicians. i played in a sax quartet and we might have had the music learned, after a couple rehearsals, but it was really about a month in until we started playing together, learning each other as the roles we play in the beautiful machine we know as chamber ensembles. if you know any string players that can make a quartet, GET THEM TO PLAY IT. buy them a case of beer, call them pretty, whatever. get it played by people. 

the midi is good and conveyed a basic thought, but im eager for the "discussion" of a live performance.

best of luck.

-Jon 

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