B1052. NAT BRANDT. Con Brio, Four Russians called the Budapest String Quartet. New York, Oxford University Press, 1993. 272pp. Index; Bibliography; Photos; DJ. 0-19-508107-2
“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 Jeno 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 début recital of the new Budapest String Quartet took place in December 1917 in Kolozsvár, then in Hungary.
The quartet was established with quite forward-looking rules:
All disputes, musical or business, were to be resolved by a vote. In case of a tie, no change.
Players were not allowed to take engagements outside the quartet.
Players were paid equally—no preference was given for the leader (first violin).
No wives or girlfriends were permitted at rehearsals or discussions.
No previous quartet had attempted to live entirely on the proceeds from its concerts. It was a brave decision for the time. Much later, in July 1930, the current members added another rule to resolve tied votes. One player, chosen by lot, would have a deciding vote. His initials would be written on the music and he would always have the extra vote for that piece. If he were replaced, his successor would take on his voting rights.
The original members were Emil Hauser, aged 24, from Budapest; Alfred Indig, aged 25, from Hungary; István Ipolyi, aged 31, from Újvidék in Hungary; and Harry Son from Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
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.
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.
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.
Jascha Heifetz was once quoted as saying: ‘One Russian is an anarchist. Two Russians are a chess game. Three Russians are a revolution. Four Russians are the Budapest String Quartet’.”
- Ned Ludd