A Living Illustration of Artistic Ideals

String Quartets at Curtis

Date: September 10, 2014 Category:
The Joachim Quartet by Ferdinand Schmutzer, 1904
Louis Bailly with the Swastika Quartet, c. 1929
The Curtis String Quartet, c. 1938
Mischa Schneider coaching chamber music, 1973
The Guarneri Quartet in Rehearsal by Gary Logsdon, 1995
The Dover Quartet in front of the painting of the Guarneri Quartet by Gary Logsdon '72

The long legacy of string quartet playing at Curtis began in the school’s first two years, with the appointment of two former members of distinguished quartets. A faculty quartet–the first to carry the school’s name–was formed, to serve as a “living illustration of what [students] must strive for if they are to attain to the artistic ideals of the school.” This archival exhibit follows the history of quartet coaching and performance at Curtis, from the 1925–26 school year to the rise of the Curtis String Quartet; and from the influence of the Guarneri Quartet to today’s very active chamber music curriculum.

 

 

 

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The first beginnings: Louis Bailly and the early string quartets

The first two faculty members appointed to teach chamber music at Curtis were two violists: Louis Svecenski, a founding member of the Kneisel Quartet; and Louis Bailly, a former member of the Capet and Flonzaley quartets. During his first year Bailly and fellow faculty members Carl Flesch (violin), Emanuel Zetlin (violin), and Felix Salmond (cello) formed the Curtis Quartet. In addition to playing at faculty recitals, the quartet performed in major cities. “Not since the days of the Joachim Quartet has it been possible to assemble in a permanent organization four musicians of such pre-eminence,” a New York program boasted in 1927.

Although the quartet was meant to be an integral part of the school, it only existed through the 1929–30 school year. By the time it dissolved, Bailly was coaching two student ensembles: the Casimir Quartet, named after the school’s new concert hall; and the Swastika Quartet, named after the home of Mary Louise Curtis Bok at Merion, Pennsylvania.

 

The Joachim Quartet by Ferdinand Schmutzer, 1904

The Joachim Quartet by Ferdinand Schmutzer, 1904

The Joachim Quartet, depicted in this etching by the Viennese portrait artist Ferdinand Schmutzer, was regarded as Europe’s finest string quartet in the late 19th century. It was founded in 1869 by the famous Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (second from left), a friend of Johannes Brahms and the dedicatee of his Violin Concerto. All the musicians in the painting taught at the Academy of Music in Berlin, of which Joachim was the musical director. When Bailly posed with the Swastika Quartet in early 1929 it was in front of this etching, which presently hangs in the Salzedo Room in the main building.

The Joachim Quartet by Ferdinand Schmutzer, 1904
First recital given by Svecenski’s ensemble students, March 16, 1925

First recital given by Svecenski’s ensemble students, March 16, 1925

In the early days at Curtis, quartet playing fell under the heading “Ensemble,” along with duet playing, chamber music, and choral singing. During the first school year the subject was taught by Louis Svecenski (1862–1926), who already taught at Juilliard. When Louis Bailly and Felix Salmond joined the faculty in 1925 they, too, coached chamber music. [Source: Student recitals, March 16, 1925]

First recital given by Svecenski’s ensemble students, March 16, 1925
Program for the Curtis Quartet performance in New York, March 14, 1927

Program for the Curtis Quartet performance in New York, March 14, 1927

This was the last public performance by the quartet before Flesch and Zetlin left the faculty in 1928. From left to right: Louis Bailly (viola), Emanuel Zetlin (Violin II), Carl Flesch (Violin I), and Felix Salmond (cello). According to Henri Temianka (Violin '28) the members of the quartet did not get on well. (Read a “standard joke.”) [Source: Recital programs, March 14, 1927]

Program for the Curtis Quartet performance in New York, March 14, 1927
Curtis Quartet with Lea Luboshutz and Edwin Bachmann, c. 1928

Curtis Quartet with Lea Luboshutz and Edwin Bachmann, c. 1928

This photo was taken in the 1928–29 school year, after the quartet’s original violinists had left the faculty. In its new configuration the Curtis Quartet performed together for the first time in January 1929, but only existed until the end of the school year. From left to right: Lea Luboshutz (Violin I), Felix Salmond (Cello), Edwin Bachmann (Violin II), and Louis Bailly (Viola). [Source: Curtis photograph collection]

Curtis Quartet with Lea Luboshutz and Edwin Bachmann, c. 1928
Louis Bailly to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, March 14, 1928

Louis Bailly to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, March 14, 1928

In a six-page letter—of which this is a fragment—Bailly asked Curtis’s founder to support public appearances of his student quartets to stay ahead of the “epidemic of second- and third-rate Chamber Music organizations” who were “hurting the Chamber Music cause because they are boring the public to death with stupid performances.” In the following school year Bailly organized a series of chamber music concerts with the support of Mrs. Bok. [Source: AD 2.2 Founder’s records—President’s correspondence]

Louis Bailly to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, March 14, 1928
The future Casimir Quartet with Henri Temianka, c. 1928

The future Casimir Quartet with Henri Temianka, c. 1928

Originally Bailly’s favorite student quartet, this group was named the Casimir Quartet after the graduation of Henri Temianka (Violin ’28)—who later would found the Paganini Quartet. It consisted of (from left to right) Henri Temianka (Violin ’28, Conducting ’29), John Richardson (Violin ’29), David Freed (Cello ’29), and Max Aronoff (Viola and Chamber Music ’34). In 1929 Max Aronoff joined the Swastika Quartet. The Casimir Quartet would continue to exist through the 1934–35 school year. [Source: Curtis photograph collection]

The future Casimir Quartet with Henri Temianka, c. 1928
Louis Bailly with the Swastika Quartet, c. 1929

Louis Bailly with the Swastika Quartet, c. 1929

The Swastika Quartet, a student ensemble named after the home of the founder of the Curtis Institute of Music (the swastika is an ancient Hindu symbol for good luck) was formed in 1927 and gave its first performance on February 6, 1928. The group gave Sunday concerts in Arden, Delaware throughout the summer of 1929. That fall Max Aronoff replaced Sheppard Lehnhoff as violist. From left to right: Gama Gilbert (Violin ’33), Benjamin Sharlip (Violin ’34), Louis Bailly, Sheppard Lehnhoff (Viola ’30), and Orlando Cole (Cello ’34). On the wall an etching of the Joachim Quartet.

Louis Bailly with the Swastika Quartet, c. 1929

 

 

Establishing a tradition: The Curtis String Quartet

Although Bailly initially rated the future Casimir Quartet more highly, it was the Swastika Quartet that would ultimately rise to fame. In 1932 Jascha Brodsky replaced Gama Gilbert and the quartet took the name of the school. (By this time the original name was closely associated with the rising power of the German Nazi Party, who had adopted the ancient Hindu symbol for good luck as their symbol. Mary Louise Curtis Bok and her husband also changed the name of their home.)

After all its members graduated in 1934, the Curtis String Quartet quickly became famous. On February 12, 1934, it performed in the White House; and in 1935 and 1936 it toured in Europe, the first American quartet to do so. In 1935 the group also made its first recording: a now-famous performance of Dover Beach by Samuel Barber (Composition ’34) in which Barber sang the vocal part. By this time, Charles Jaffe (Violin ’35), a former member of the Casimir Quartet, had replaced Benjamin Sharlip. In the next 25 years, until Jaffe retired in 1959, the group’s membership would remain constant. The quartet officially disbanded when Max Aronoff died in 1981.

 

The Curtis String Quartet on Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933

The Curtis String Quartet on Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933

This photo was taken by fellow student Walter Vassar (Voice ’34). From left to right: Max Aronoff, Jascha Brodsky, Benjamin Sharlip, and Orlando Cole. [Source: MS 08 Walter Vassar collection]

The Curtis String Quartet on Rittenhouse Square, c. 1933
Thank-you gift from President Roosevelt, 1934

Thank-you gift from President Roosevelt, 1934

After performing in the White House on February 12, 1934, the Curtis String Quartet received an autographed photograph of President Franklin D.  Roosevelt as a souvenir. The wooden frame reads: “This wood was part of the White House roof erected about 1817 and removed in 1927.”

Thank-you gift from President Roosevelt, 1934
Visit to the Colosseum with Samuel Barber, 1936

Visit to the Colosseum with Samuel Barber, 1936

Barber initially intended his String Quartet, Op. 11, with its famous “Adagio,” to be premiered by the Curtis Quartet during its European tour in 1936; however, he failed to finish it in time. This photo, printed in Overtones, was taken when the quartet performed in Rome in November 1936. [Source: Curtis photograph collection]

Visit to the Colosseum with Samuel Barber, 1936
The Curtis String Quartet at Moennig’s, c. 1937

The Curtis String Quartet at Moennig’s, c. 1937

Initially the Curtis String Quartet played two Stradivarius violins, a Nicolo Amati viola, and a Montagnana cello—all owned by Curtis. When after 1941 the school sold the instruments due to financial constraints, violinmaker William Moennig made copies to replace them. From left to right: Orlando Cole, Jascha Brodsky, William Moennig, Max Aronoff, and Charles Jaffe. [Photographer unknown—Agency Alix Williamson]

The Curtis String Quartet at Moennig’s, c. 1937
The Curtis String Quartet, c. 1938

The Curtis String Quartet, c. 1938

From left to right: Jascha Brodsky, Max Aronoff, Orlando Cole, and Charles Jaffe. [Curtis Photograph Collection]

The Curtis String Quartet, c. 1938
Tea with Mary Louise Curtis Bok, 1938

Tea with Mary Louise Curtis Bok, 1938

In 1938 the Curtis String Quartet became the official school quartet. In this photo the group’s members are having tea with Curtis founder Mary Louise Curtis Bok in the new cafeteria on the fourth floor of Knapp Hall at 1720 Locust Street. The photo was taken during a 1938 photo shoot by photographer Fritz Henle for LIFE Magazine (view the photo exhibit). From left to right: Max Aronoff, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, Charles Jaffe, Orlando Cole, Jascha Brodsky. [Photographer ©Fritz Henle]

Tea with Mary Louise Curtis Bok, 1938
Performing at Eell's Boat Barn, Rockport Maine, Summer 1941

Performing at Eell's Boat Barn, Rockport Maine, Summer 1941

In the wake of the Great Depression, Curtis founder Mary Louise Curtis Bok bought up the harbor and surrounding land in Rockport, Maine and had them fixed up. Through the 1930s and 1940s Rockport became the school’s summer music colony, with weekly performances by the Curtis String Quartet in Captain Eell’s Boat Barn. On the front row, from right to left: Curtis faculty members Eva Braun, Lea Luboshutz, and Randall Thompson, who was Curtis’s director from 1939–41. [Photographer unknown]

Performing at Eell's Boat Barn, Rockport Maine, Summer 1941

 

 

The revival of chamber music: The Guarneri Quartet

In the mid 1950s Orlando Cole, Max Aronoff, and Jascha Brodsky returned to Curtis as members of the faculty, with Brodsky coaching chamber music. The subject had remained part of the curriculum since Bailly had left Curtis and Efrem Zimbalist had become director in 1941. Even after the new appointments, however, quartet playing was never seen as a future career.

Still, students were increasingly drawn to playing chamber music for its own sake. They found an outlet at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont, founded in 1951 by Rudolf Serkin—who had joined the Curtis piano faculty in 1939—and other Europeans. During the 1960s Marlboro became Curtis’s de facto summer program, with Serkin and violinist Felix Galimir as guiding spirits.

In 1964 John Dalley (Violin ’57), Arnold Steinhardt (Violin ’59), and Michael Tree (Violin ’55), whose passion for chamber music originated at Curtis, joined forces with veteran cellist David Soyer to become the Guarneri Quartet, the first of many formed at Marlboro. In the subsequent decades the group became one of the leading American quartets, the subject of books and a documentary. When Soyer retired in 2001, his onetime student, Curtis faculty member Peter Wiley (Cello ’74), succeeded him. The Guarneri retired in 2009, after a remarkable 45-year career as full-time chamber musicians.

 

Founders of the Marlboro Festival, 1951

Founders of the Marlboro Festival, 1951

Rudolf Serkin founded the Marlboro Music Festival with his father-in-law Adolf Busch and Busch’s brother, the cellist Hermann Busch, as well as French flutist Marcel Moyse and his son Louis Moyse, and daughter-in-law Blanche Moyse. (Read about the festival's history). From left to right: Marcel Moyse, Nathan Chaikin (visitor), Louis Moyse, Rudolf Serkin, Blanche Moyse, Hermann Busch, Adolf Busch. [Photo courtesy of the Marlboro Festival and School]

Founders of the Marlboro Festival, 1951
Felix Galimir at the Marlboro festival, 1978

Felix Galimir at the Marlboro festival, 1978

Violinist Felix Galimir, a central figure at Marlboro beginning in 1954, headed Curtis’s chamber music department from 1972 to 1985 and joined the violin faculty in 1992. From left to right: Karen Dreyfus (Viola ’79); Felix Galimir, Julius Levine, double bass; Colin Carr, cello; and Judith Serkin (Cello ’73). [Photographer: George Dimock; courtesy of the Marlboro Festival and School]

Felix Galimir at the Marlboro festival, 1978
"Indivisible by Four" by Arnold Steinhardt, 1998

"Indivisible by Four" by Arnold Steinhardt, 1998

The Guarneri Quartet was the inspiration for several books. In 1998 first violinist Arnold Steinhardt added to this list with his book Indivisible by Four. The photo on the cover depicts the quartet in Munich in 1969.

"Indivisible by Four" by Arnold Steinhardt, 1998
The Guarneri Quartet in Rehearsal by Gary Logsdon, 1995

The Guarneri Quartet in Rehearsal by Gary Logsdon, 1995

The Guarneri became famous for its frank, democratic, and sometimes argumentative approach to rehearsal, discussing every detail. Former student Gary Logsdon (Viola ’72)—principal viola of the New Mexico Philharmonic and a painter working as Gary van Zals—attended rehearsals at the June Music Festival in Albuquerque and caught this spirit in his painting. From left to right: Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley, David Soyer, and Michael Tree.

The Guarneri Quartet in Rehearsal by Gary Logsdon, 1995
David Soyer passes on the bow, 2001

David Soyer passes on the bow, 2001

In 2001 David Soyer retired, leaving his position to his student Peter Wiley (Cello ’74), to whom he ceremoniously passes on the bow (read an article in Overtones). Soyer died in 2010. [Photographer: Dorothea van Haeften]

David Soyer passes on the bow, 2001

 

 

Passing on the tradition

When Rudolf Serkin succeeded Efrem Zimbalist as Curtis’s director in 1968, he appointed all four members of the Guarneri Quartet to the faculty of a new chamber music department headed by Jascha Brodsky. From 1972–95  the department was under the direction of Felix Galimir. Since then, the Curtis faculty has included many distinguished chamber musicians, including Shmuel Ashkenasi, first violinist of the former Vermeer Quartet; and Steven Tenenbom, violist of the Orion Quartet, who has been strings chamber music coordinator at Curtis since 1996. In the last few decades alone a majority of major quartets in America have included at least one member who studied at Curtis.

In 2013 Curtis introduced a quartet in residence program, appointing the Dover Quartet, which formed at Curtis in 2008, as its first resident ensemble. The rehearsal studio assigned to the resident quartets is adorned by the painting of the Guarneri in rehearsal, displayed above. Over eighty years after Bailly posed with the early Curtis String Quartet in front of the Joachim Quartet etching, it still watches over the young quartets that rehearse here including the current resident group, the Aizuri Quartet.

 

Mischa Schneider coaching chamber music, 1973

Mischa Schneider coaching chamber music, 1973

Mischa Schneider, cellist of the Budapest Quartet and member of the Curtis chamber music faculty from 1970–85, is seen coaching string students Sara Johnson (Violin '80), Anne Williams (Cello '76), and Geraldine Lamboley (Viola '72). [Photographer: George Krause]

Mischa Schneider coaching chamber music, 1973
David Soyer teaching a cello student, 1973

David Soyer teaching a cello student, 1973

David Soyer joined the cello faculty in 1968 and coached chamber music throughout his Curtis career. [Photographer: George Krause]

David Soyer teaching a cello student, 1973
Arnold Steinhardt teaching a student, 1973

Arnold Steinhardt teaching a student, 1973

Arnold Steinhardt joined the chamber music faculty in 1968 and has been a member of the violin faculty since 1972. [Photographer: George Krause]

Arnold Steinhardt teaching a student, 1973
Michael Tree performing with the Audobon Quartet, 1986

Michael Tree performing with the Audobon Quartet, 1986

Michael Tree  performed with the Audobon Quartet during an alumni recital on February 23, 1986, performing Dvorak’s Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 97. Tree began teaching chamber music at Curtis in 1968 and joined the viola faculty in 1972. From left to right: David Salness (Violin '85), Thomas Shaw (Cello), David Ehrlich (Violin), Michael Tree (Viola), Doris Lederer Horwitz (Viola '76). [Photographer: George Bilyk]

Michael Tree performing with the Audobon Quartet, 1986
Orlando Cole and Jascha Brodsky receive the Artist Teacher Award, 1990

Orlando Cole and Jascha Brodsky receive the Artist Teacher Award, 1990

In 1990 Orlando Cole and Jascha Brodsky received the Artist Teaching Award from the American String Teachers Association (ASTA), awarded annually to pedagogues of the highest stature. Previous designees from the Curtis faculty included violinists Ivan Galamian and Efrem Zimbalist, violist William Primrose, and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky. (Read the article in Overtones)

Orlando Cole and Jascha Brodsky receive the Artist Teacher Award, 1990
Dover Quartet in the resident quartet studio, 2014

Dover Quartet in the resident quartet studio, 2014

The Dover Quartet, formed at Curtis in 2008, became Curtis’s first quartet in residence with the inauguration of the string quartet program in 2013. Here the ensemble rehearses in the studio assigned to the quartet in residence. From left to right: Joel Link (Violin 2011), Bryan Lee (Violin 2011), Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (Viola 2011), Camden Shaw (Cello 2011). On the wall is the painting The Guarneri in Rehearsal by Gary Logsdon (’72).

Dover Quartet in the resident quartet studio, 2014

 
Read Matthew Barker’s article about string quartets at Curtis in Overtones, Fall 2014
View recordings by the Curtis String Quartet in the Curtis library (for internal use only)
View recordings by the Guarneri Quartet in the Curtis library (for internal use only)

 
DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.