BBC4 has just reshown an interesting diachronic trawl through the archives in Classic quartets at the BBC, for you to catch online before it disappears again.
Apart from the inevitable Amadeus quartet, there are vignettes from groups like the Borodin, Lindsay, Arditti, and Kronos quartets, as well as the Smith quartet playing Steve Reich’s extraordinary Different trains, and the Brodskys’ work with Elvis Costello.
I like the early footage of the Allegri led by Eli Goren, predecessor of Hugh Maguire. Here one can’t help noticing James Barton, left-handed fiddle-player—part of a small group that notably includes Charlie Chaplin:
And among hours of harmless fun on YouTube:
How can I resist reminding you that the divine Ronnie O’Sullivan is ambidextrous—though I’m not sure he stretches to Bach.
Of course, the life of a quartet (actually, any performing group that works together regularly—few are so constantly in each other’s pockets as Li Manshan‘s Daoist band) resembles that of a marriage, or (still more thornily) a ménage a quattre—a worthy ethnographic topic (see e.g. articles here and here, and Anthea Kreston’s diary on slippedisc.com).
But I digress. I love the quaint early vignettes, as if the swinging 60s never happened—the clipped tones of announcers, and musicians gamely clambering into their dinky little cars (before long we will all look quaint) to play for expectant audiences keen to worship at the altar of High Culture after the tribulations of the war… Which leads nicely to the delightful thankyou letter to the Martin string quartet!