Con Brio: Four Russians Called the Budapest String Quartet

Nat Brandt, Author
Nat Brandt, Author Oxford University Press, USA $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-508107-7
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Historian Brandt (whose father-in-law was Boris Kroyt, the Budapest violist) has done an excellent job of limning the complex history of this most celebrated of all string quartets. Although the Budapest was formed in 1917 in the city from which it takes its name, the quartet first flourished in Germany in the '30s, by which time its members were Russian Jews. They fled the Nazis, became the first resident quartet at the Library of Congress and, at a time when recordings and energetic promotion were awakening Americans to the glories of classical music, helped create a large audience for an essentially intimate form of music. They worked with great dedication, constantly traveling, initially earning very little, only gradually achieving the reputation (like Toscanini's) that American audiences love--a kind of guarantee of quality. Plagued by recurring health problems and by a succession of second violinists, the quartet finally disbanded, sadly, in the mid-1960s. Only Alexander Schneider, of the great days from the mid-'30s to the late '50s, is alive. Brandt's book is affectionate as well as scholarly, full of lively anecdote, and placing the Budapesters firmly in their cultural context. Photos not seen by PW . (June)
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