One of the greatest 20th century string quartets
Good "mid-fifties" sound quality from two 1940 recordings!
Review of this release: Audiophile Audition
|A full CD-quality movement from this recording appears on the free FLAC download Pristine Classical - The 2009 Collection - click here for details|
Notes on the recording:
The first of these two recordings arrived amongst a group of LPs from our Belgian friend Jean-François Lambert on a 10-inch Philips LP from the mid-50s. Assuming this was therefore a recording from that era, I got to work on the transfer and restoration of the recording.
Initially I was somewhat put off by the sound quality, which seemed a little poor for a major quartet of this era, but thanks to some brand new restoration software i've recently been testing, this was largely overcome and I began to feel we had something worthwhile and nearly ready for release.
With this in mind, I was delighted to receive a transfer from Dr. John Duffy, intended initially for our PADA Exclusives catalogue, of both the Ravel and Debussy quartets, from which I was able to use the Debussy to compliment my own Ravel transfer. Dr. Duffy, too, had worked from an LP source, this time a US Columbia issue, and had dated its release to 1950. Given the quality both he and I had achieved (I was able to squeeze a little more top end out of the Debussy with some nifty XR remastering) I was content that these were pretty good recordings for a 1950 release date.
I was therefore utterly astonished when I came across the Budapest Quartet discography at Youngrok Lee's superb music pages (which contain some of the best-researched discographies to be found online) and discovered that both of these recordings were made way back in New York 1940! The frequency response and low noise levels gave no indication whatsoever of this vintage, and as a result I now up my technical quality rating for this release from good to amazing!
The vintage - predating any claims for full-frequency response recordings by several years - does explain one or two rougher edges at times, but overall any lover both of this music and this quartet are in for a real treat with this splendid issue.
Notes on the 24-bit download: Please see this page for test files and further information regarding this format. Although restoration work is done at a sample rate of 44.1kHz, we have upsampled the final 24-bit master to 48kHz for additional replay compatibility of our FLAC download.
Our twenty-four bit FLAC downloads can be replayed in full quality using a standard DVD video player, a DVD writer and an inexpensive piece of PC software - see here for more information about replay from Video DVD discs.
The Story of The Budapest Quartet, 1917-67
biographical notes from Wikipedia
The Budapest Quartet was a string quartet in existence from 1917 to 1967. It originally consisted of three Hungarians and a Dutchman; at the end, the quartet consisted of four Russians. In its last decade it recorded for Columbia Records.
The Budapest String Quartet was formed in 1917 by four friends, all members of opera orchestras that had ceased playing owing to World War I The members were all protégés of Jenő Hubay (violin), a Hungarian pupil of Joseph Joachim and David Popper (cello), a Bohemian. Hubay and Popper had helped to make Budapest a major centre for musical education, attracting famous students such as Josef Szigeti. Hubay and Popper had supported Sándor Végh and Feri Roth in the formation of quartets, and were themselves part of an earlier Budapest Quartet, the new quartet being named partly in honour of that. The debut recital of the new Budapest String Quartet took place in December 1917 in Kolozsvár, then in Hungary, now called Cluj-Napoca, in present-day Romania.
The quartet was established with quite forward-looking rules:
1. All disputes, musical or business, were to be resolved by a vote. In case of a tie--no change.
2. Players were not allowed to take engagements outside the quartet.
3. Players were paid equally--no preference was given for the leader (first violin).
4. No wives or girlfriends were permitted at rehearsals or discussions.
No previous quartet had attempted to live entirely on the proceeds from its concerts. This was a brave decision for the time. The original members were Emil Hauser, aged 24, from Budapest; Alfred Indig, from Hungary; Istvan Ipolyi, aged 31, from Újvidék in Hungary; and Harry Son from Rotterdam, Holland.
In 1920 Indig resigned in the hope of advancement; he was replaced by Imre Pogany. Pogany came from Budapest and had studied under Hubay and Kodály. After resigning, Indig became a soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. In 1931 he became Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. When the Nazis came to power, Indig fled to Paris where he led a quartet for a while. Nothing more is known about him.
A Move to Berlin
In 1921 or 1922, owing to unrest in Budapest, the quartet moved to Berlin. There they developed a large repertoire. The quartet received mixed reviews, however. In 1925 they played in London and signed a recording contract with His Master’s Voice, making recordings at Abbey Road Studios.
In May 1927, without telling the others, Pogany traveled to Cincinnati to see his friend Fritz Reiner about a job in the symphony orchestra there. He was offered Principal Second Violin but refused it. The other members of the quartet were furious because if he had left, they would have found it very difficult to find and rehearse a replacement player in time for the new season. In the ensuing row Pogany resigned. He emigrated to America and joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and also taught at the local Conservatory of Music. In 1929 he joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini as principal second violin. He remained there until his retirement in 1958.
Josef Roismann – Second Violin
The man recommended to replace Pogany was Josef Roismann. Roismann was born on 25 July 1900 in Odessa. He started on the violin at the age of six with Pyotr Stolyarsky, who was also the first teacher of David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein. After the tragic early death of Josef’s father, a wealthy Odessa woman made it possible for Josef, his sister and mother to relocate to Berlin so that Josef could study with Alexander Fiedemann. There Josef befriended Boris Kroyt, another Odessan studying with Fiedemann. At the outbreak of World War I the family returned to Odessa where Josef continued his studies with Naoam Blinder, another Odessa player who had just returned from England.
After the Russian Revolution, Roismann was co-opted to play at farms and factories. He managed to escape in 1923 while working near Poland. He traveled to Prague, then to Berlin. In Berlin, Roismann met up with Kroyt, who found work for him in a film orchestra. It was during this time that the quartet offer came. Roismann was comfortable and secure in the orchestra but his first love was chamber music. In the end his wife Polo persuaded him to take the financial risk and sacrifice involved.
Immediately he began to regret it. Hauser and Son were constantly in dispute and soliciting his vote. Moreover, Roismann had his own issues--in particular Hauser and Ipolyi, who could not play Spiccato (German Springbogen), so that the quartet was forced not to use it. The rest of the quartet had had to become expert in using another technique (German Spitzen) to get around Hauser and Ipolyi's inability to play spiccato. Roismann found it hard work to catch up. He had to spend many hours practicing and he was unhappy with the result. In Germany, the quartet was called das Spitzenquartett (not a compliment) because it substituted Spitzen for Springbogen.
Finally in 1930/31 Son could stand the rows no longer and resigned. He emigrated to Palestine and played in concerts there and abroad. Shortly before World War II he made the unfortunate decision to return to Rotterdam. When the Germans invaded Holland, he and his wife were arrested and never heard of again.
Mischa Schneider – Cellist
The new cellist was originally named Mojzesz Sznejder, later rendered in German as 'Mischa Schneider'. Born in 1904 in Vilna, Russia (now Vilnius, Lithuania), Schneider had a difficult upbringing. The family had little money and his father was a tyrant. Mischa often found himself defending his younger brother Sasha against their father. In 1920, at the age of 16, Mischa left home to study in Leipzig under Julius Klengel, his teacher’s teacher. Fellow students included Emanuel Feuermann, Gregor Piatigorsky and Benar Heifetz. After graduating he moved to Frankfurt, where he taught at the Hoch Conservatory. He found that he suffered from stage fright when playing solo, a problem that didn't exist when playing in a quartet. He joined the Prisca Quartet but resigned after a while due to a personality clash with two of the other members. The Prisca had often played in Cologne and there he got to know the Reifenbergs, whose daughter Eva had married Emanuel Feuermann. It was Frau Reifenberg who introduced Schneider to the Budapest Quartet.
In January and February 1931, the quartet made its first United States tour. Reviews were fairly good but financially the tour was unrewarding. Arguments about Spitzen and other matters continued and relations became difficult. Then in 1932, Hauser wanted to play some concerts with Alice Ehlers. The quartet refused to allow this deviation from the rules and Hauser resigned. He emigrated to Jerusalem, formed a quartet and founded the Palestine Music Conservatory. Hauser helped violinist Bronisław Huberman rescue many Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany and was instrumental in founding the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. In 1940 he moved to the U.S., teaching first at Bard College in upper New York State, and later at the Juilliard School of Music. Hauser returned to Israel in 1960.
Roismann becomes the Leader and Alexander Schneider the Second Violinist
Having lost Hauser, the quartet needed a new leader. Introducing an unknown person as leader is a risky step for a quartet. Owing to the established relationships and 'comfort level', a transition from Second Violin to First is safer. For this reason, Roismann was persuaded to make the switch from Second to First.
The new Second was Mischa Schneider’s younger brother Alexander (Sasha), born Abram Sznejder. At 13, Abram almost died of tetanus after cutting his knee in an accident. The tetanus distorted his joints and recovery was long and painful. Sascha left Vilna in 1924 and joined his brother in Frankfurt, securing a scholarship to study violin with Adolf Rebner, the principal violin tutor at the Hoch Conservatory. In 1927, Alexander became leader (concertmaster) of an orchestra in Saarbrücken. In 1929 he was appointed leader of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchestra in Hamburg. In 1932, he lost his job as a result of the ongoing Nazi campaign against Jews. It was time to leave Germany and the Budapest vacancy happened at just the right moment.
After Sascha's arrival, the Quartet's level of performance improved immediately and the group began attracting larger audiences. Successful tours of the U.S., Dutch East Indies, Australia and New Zealand ensued, and in exchange for relocating to Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation guaranteed the quartet six months of work a year. Still, personal relations within the Quartet were poor. Sasha was often outvoted; he hated this but Ipolyi was usually able to pacify him. Ipolyi himself had mental 'issues'. Mischa had divorced his wife and remarried. The group was still not profitable.
By 1934, Jews had been expelled from all German orchestras but the Quartet, as 'Hungarian' visitors, had been spared. However, one night they received threats from a Nazi group. Overnight, they switched headquarters from Berlin to Paris, never to return to Germany. They toured Europe and the U.S. but always lived in inexpensive hotels and ate cheaply.
The Last Founding Member Leaves
Ipolyi became an isolated member of the quartet, the only Hungarian among three Russians. He was also the only Spitzen player left, old-fashioned in style and undergoing a nervous breakdown as well. In 1936 the others persuaded him to resign. He settled in Norway, but during the German occupation was arrested. He was freed thanks to the intervention of Count Bernadotte, head of the International Red Cross. He fled to Sweden but returned to Norway after the war. Ipolyi became a Norwegian citizen, taught a quartet in Bergen and became a professor. Mischa Schneider made sure that Ipolyi received the royalties due to him. He died in 1955.
Boris Kroyt becomes Violist
It was urgent to replace the viola player Ipolyi. The Australian Broadcast Corporation had engaged the Quartet for a twenty-week tour to start in May 1937 with four performances a week and the option of another ten weeks in New Zealand. They needed the money. They also had regular engagements in Europe and America. Roismann nearly engaged Edgar Ortenberg, whom he had known when they were both children in Odessa and then again in Berlin in 1926. However Ortenberg’s wife wanted him to stick to the violin. Roismann then tried to locate his teenage friend Boris Kroyt in Berlin. Until the Nazis had become all powerful Boris Kroyt had lived well but the Nazis had stopped all Jews from working except in Jewish groups. He had a wife and children to support and they were all in danger. The offer of the Budapest job came at the ideal moment and he was an outstanding natural player. He was such a natural player that he could get away without spending much time practising. They took time to get used to one another but they reached a very high standard.
In November 1936 they reached New York and critics were impressed as never before, comparing them with Toscanini and Schnabel. Concerts were well attended. After the US they went on to Australia, New Zealand and Dutch East Indies with equally good results. After playing in France and Britain they reached New York again in March 1938. After a difficulty with the Immigration Service their first US concert was very much praised.
All the US concerts were negotiated by Annie Friedberg from New York. This continued throughout their time in the US, beginning with very little money and ending with excellent returns for them and her. On April 25th 1938 they recorded the Mozart Clarinet Quintet with Benny Goodman for the Victor label.
In 1939 they again had good results in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Norway and Britain but not in Spain and Italy where people were more concerned with political issues. From the US they received a request to play five Stradivarii string instruments which needed regular use at the Washington Library of Congress. These instruments had been purchased and donated by Gertrude Clarke Whittall who had a continuing influence. The recital hall in the grounds of the Library had just been built with money donated by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a major benefactor of chamber music and of several music festivals. At that time they felt it would keep them away from existing relationships in Europe.
U.S. becomes the home base
In the summer they were back spending three months in the US at Mills College in Oakland California, a place where they could relax. The Pro Arte Quartet normally did this but this year they preferred to be in Belgium. They never returned and the Budapest went to Mills for the next fifteen years. That first year at Mills they learned that World War II had started in Europe and their European contracts were now void. The Library of Congress offer now sounded more attractive and they accepted it. Their concerts at the library continued for many years and created an important relationship for them.
Since 1925 they had been making recordings for His Master's Voice, first at the Beethoven Saal in Berlin, then at Abbey Road Studio in London and from 1938 at Camden, New Jersey for RCA Victor, the US subsidiary of HMV. The HMV contract was valid until June 1940. It was not paying well and RCA had a good stock of recordings not yet published. They were not keen to make any more recordings in 1939. The quartet found it difficult to persuade RCA to give them as much work as they wanted or to pay them as their new reputation might justify. RCA were also in no hurry to extend the existing contract. The quartet felt that with their increasing reputation in the US they could do better with Columbia Recording Company. Columbia were delighted to sign a deal and make as many recordings as the quartet wished as they had no existing stock. The deal was made and kept secret as long as possible. When they finally learned about it RCA wrote, “We are astonished…close to a definite breach of faith”. They should have realised that that they had no right to be the only negotiators in a deal. Over 35 years the quartet recorded 89 pieces, some of them several times. For many years it was Columbia’s leading classical music seller, quite a loss to RCA.
Alexander Schneider replaced by Edgar Ortenberg
Sasha felt he could and needed to work outside the quartet. As second violin he didn’t get the same challenges as the leader. After thinking about this a lot, he finally reached his decision and told the others on November 26th 1943. He was still only thirty-five years old, having spent eleven years in the quartet and needed to expand his range. In January 1st 1944 the quartet selected the new second violin. He was Edgar Ortenberg, the man who had nearly been the violist.
Like Joe and Boris, Edgar had grown up in Odessa. Until the Russian Revolution his father had been the director of a bank. Afterwards they were very short of money. In 1921 he won the gold medal at the Odessa Conservatory and was immediately hired to teach there. In 1924 he moved to Berlin to do better, just as Joe, the Schneiders, and Boris had done. After reaching Berlin he immediately got a scholarship at the Hochschule für Musik. He changed his name from Eleazer to Edgar. He started a quartet and they toured Europe until 1933 when the Nazis sacked them all and he quickly moved to Paris. There the Russian Conservatory formed a quartet and they had some success in Europe. When war was threatened he joined the French Army. In April 1940 he left because of illness. He and his wife left Paris just before the Germans got there. They went to Portugal and caught the very last Spanish ship to travel from there to the US. After struggling in New York for some time he received a second offer from the Budapest Quartet in December 1943 and this time accepted it.
Edgar was generally considered a fine replacement for Sasha. However, some critics and all the players felt that he should play more forcibly. On the other hand he felt their playing was a bit rough. He also wanted to spend more time rehearsing since he needed to get used to their methods and accustomed to their large repertory. The others, especially Boris, were not so keen to rehearse. It took Edgar two years to feel fully at home. However, the others felt Edgar should do more private practice and he was becoming audibly nervous. Critics still felt the quartet was wonderful but not quite as good as before. Ortenberg was exhausted by the constant traveling. Late in 1948 the others told him they wanted a different second violinist. As soon as it was made public, Ortenberg was swamped by other offers. Ortenberg made his last performance with the quartet on March 10th 1949 at Cornell University. He joined the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and stayed there until he retired in 1984. He also taught at Temple University from 1953 to 1978.
The new second violin was Jac Gorodetzky. He was born in Odessa but the family moved to London when he was only one, to avoid a pogrom. They moved to the US before the war, settling in Philadelphia. He was well thought of as a student and secured good positions in orchestras and quartets. However his playing, like Ortenberg’s, was a little quiet. He was well thought of at the Budapest auditions and was in his mid-thirties.
In 1950 the quartet went to Europe for the first time after the war. They agreed not to go to Germany, especially because Schneider had lost his mother and sister at Auschwitz. This tour, together with the continual demand in the US put heavy stress on Gorodetzky. He developed stage fright, sometimes demanding extra rehearsals of works they had already played.
Then in September 1952 they played in Japan. There were the first quartet to arrive there after the war. The whole season was sold out in two hours. 3000 people were present at the first concert. There were staff to attend to their every need and cars to take them everywhere. One night they felt the need to get some exercise in Okayama. They were walking on a narrow road. Joe fell into a nine foot ditch and broke his left wrist. They had it set at the US Military Hospital in Tokyo. On return to the US they were told the wrist had been improperly set and it had to be broken and reset. Concerts were switched to trios and piano quartets. After months of hard work Joe resumed duties in Portland, Oregon on January 12th 1953.
In 1954 they had another Japanese tour with even greater success but Jac was getting more uncomfortable. In February he told the others he wanted to leave. They hoped to talk him out of it. No one realised how unwell he was. Finally in November 1955 he killed himself in a small hotel in Washington. The others felt awful. They played benefit concerts at the Settlement Music School. Later Mischa left them most of his music and on his death Joe left them most of his money.
Alexander Schneider Returns
Joe refused to accept another new second violinist but fortunately they managed to persuade Sasha to return. Against their previous rule they allowed him to spend some time working independently because they needed him and they did not want to take as many engagements as before. As soon as he returned they all felt happier than for many years and the critics were fulsome in their praise.
In the ten years he was away Sasha had been very busy. He rejected offers to lead the Pro Arte and Paganini Quartets. He toured with Ralph Kirkpatrick. He played unaccompanied Bach. He played trios. He studied with Pablo Casals in Prades and persuaded Casals to start festivals in Prades, Puerto Rico, Israel and Marlboro in Vermont. He started a quartet to record all the 83 Haydn quartets for the Haydn Society although they ran out of money before it was finished. He persuaded Mrs Coolidge to finance the provision of free outdoor concerts in Greenwich Village. He played with the Budapest when Ortenberg or Gorodetzky was not well.
As the 1960s approached the quartet was very happy. It was the most popular and famous quartet, with 55 record albums published by Columbia and two million copies sold and playing in many famous venues and festivals. However in 1960 Joe started to have periods of poor intonation apparently owing to a mild heart attack at the end of 1960. Only then did he tell the others that, as early as 1939 he had been told that his blood pressure was high. Occasionally he had had intonation problems but in 1960 it got worse.
In March 1962 they played their final concert in the Library of Congress. There had been a number of issues of which Joe’s intonation had been the worst. Critics and listeners had complained and Mrs Coolidge herself had complained. They were replaced by the young Juilliard Quartet. Then in the Autumn they were in Europe when suddenly Joe suffered a slipped disc. He restarted playing in early 1963 and they returned to Australia after twenty six years away. Joe’s energy was declining and they cut down the number of concerts year by year.
In 1955 Sasha had joined the Summer Festival at Marlboro College in South Vermont. It was a School, a Music Festival and a Summer Retreat. He was a whirlwind. He pushed the young players to stretch their talents. In time he brought the other Budapest players and they made the place a breeding ground for a generation of chamber musicians. The school had been founded in 1950 by the violinist Adolf Busch and flautist Marcel Moyse and their families. Busch died before Sasha arrived but his son-in-law Rudolf Serkin was still very active and the two men became staunch friends. Sasha spent the next twenty summers there.
In 1962 Sasha persuaded Mischa to come too and the next year the whole quartet came. Many experienced musicians came. Many talented younger players came and reached high standards. Students found Sasha assertive and his manner was a bit hard on those who were nervous or not reaching for the highest standards. For the best however he was perfect. Mischa and Boris were gentler. They were very willing to try new ideas from their students and each side was inspired by the enthusiasm of the other.
Sasha persuaded Michael Tree, Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley and David Soyer to form a quartet – a daunting challenge for any player – and Boris suggested the name Guarneri. They spent a lot of time together at Marlboro and the Guarneri Quartet may be regarded as the musical heirs of the Budapest Quartet.
In later years the Budapest played fewer concerts and saw each other only for concerts. Audiences filled the halls and they were admired but they didn’t practice very often either individually or together. There were errors of detail but the general effect was still good. Sasha felt he wanted to share what he was still learning but Joe wanted to stay as he was.
In January 1965 the group spent twelve days recording Dvořák’s American Quartet and Smetana’s Quartet “From My Life”. Joe had major intonation problems and Mischa had trouble with his back. A recording of the Dvořák was spliced together from multiple takes and published but the players refused to accept a similar splice of the Smetana. Then Mischa and Boris and the Guarneri performed and recorded Tchaikovsky's “Souvenir de Florence” with success. Immediately Mischa had to have an operation on his back, which had troubled him since 1930. The operation failed, and a second attempt also failed. Misha never played again but he did teach extensively.
In 1977 Sasha abruptly left Marlboro. He never explained why but he and Serkin remained fast friends. In 1969 Boris died of cancer. In 1974 Joe had a heart attack and died. In 1993 Sasha had heart failure and died having played almost to the end.
The Budapest String Quartet had a huge influence on Chamber Music in the United States and internationally. When they began in the late 1930s it was hard to get big audiences. The concerts in Washington and New York, the radio broadcasts and the many records gradually raised audience numbers, made them famous and wealthy and set a high standard which was influential on many later players.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Quartet
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