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Thread: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

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    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    I've read about mandolin quartets playing straight from string quartet scores, but have never heard any. Has anyone got recommendations, links, etc? Not being a bowed-string player myself, I always thought it must be wonderful to take part in a decent string quartet. The repertoire is among the best.

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    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Okay, I took a trip to youtube. This really works well..



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    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    But what about the old Classical and Romantic mandolin quartet ensembles?

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    You might try the Modern Mandolin Quartet http://www.modernmandolinquartet.com/

    There are some videos on Youtube of them, with links from their website.
    There's nothing better than first-hand experience.

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    Registered User Martin Jonas's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Here are a few:











    And if you don't mind an added guitar to make it a quintet:



    Martin
    Last edited by Martin Jonas; May-15-2020 at 5:53pm.

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  10. #6

    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    . . . And regarding dedicated repertoire (although I have no idea if such stuff is of interest), "quartetto classico" (Googling on the term may bear some fruit) is common parlance for an ensemble of two mandolins, mandoliola/mandola in C, and mando-cello/mandoloncello (or "liuto"). Some regular ensembles to perform or have recorded as such are the Motus Mandolin Quartet (dedicated mandolin repertoire), the Modern Mandolin Quartet (arrangements), the Uptown Mandolin Quartet (arrangements), the Melonious Quartet (arrangements), the Kerman Mandolin Quartet (mix: they have an all-Mozart album in the works), and subsets of the Orchestra di Mandolini e Chitarre "Città di Brescia" (dedicated mandolin repertoire). I'm sure I could think up a few others with a little effort.

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  12. #7

    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    This arrangement of a Zappa piece was never intended as a string quartet, but it does amuse me:


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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Evidently the whole of this album has been playlisted in evidently random order: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...gaKJf0-jNGc_Xn

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    “But what about the old Classical and Romantic mandolin quartet ensembles?”

    Hi Rob,

    As with most topics in mandolin history, there is more (much) work to do. It is useful, as always, to begin with Sparks, The Classical Mandolin (TCM). Paul covers the basics, starting with the first known ensemble, Carlo Munier’s Florentine Quartet (M1, M2, mandola in G, liuto moderno; see TCM, p. 33), whose repertoire included string quartets by Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart (TCM, pp. 33, 54), and which performed for roughly two decades up to Munier’s death in 1910. Paul also discusses the development and introduction of the true classical quartet by Embergher and Maldura in the late 1890s (TCM, p. 64, 66). Because TCM’s compass is global, coverage of any country is necessarily limited; in the case of the US, Paul gives very little information on the relevant early history.

    I am currently working on the US side, with the aim of writing one or more articles for the CMSA’s Mandolin Journal. I am not yet at the point of putting pen to paper, but here is a broad outline, in brief:

    --the classical mandolin quartet enjoyed a short period of modest popularity in the US in the 1910s. Activity centered initially in New York, where Valentin Abt founded the Abt Plectrum Quartet in 1908 (Sparks does mention this, TCM, p. 122). The APQ was Abt on M1, Myron Bickford on M2, Frederick Berthoud on mandola in C, and William Edward Foster on mandocello. This was around the time that Bickford was in the process of extricating himself from his first marriage, having taken up in a long distance relationship with a much (much) younger woman, the guitarist Ethel Lucretia Olcott, whom he had met at one of the early American Guild (of Banjoists, Mandolinists, and Guitarists) conventions, quite a scandal at the time. The ABM’s repertoire included Beethoven, etc. quartets plus arrangements of some of Abt’s solo works, such as “The Brooklet”. The ABQ continued at least through 1912 or so, but Abt was drawn off into other projects. Meanwhile, Bickford, Berthoud and Foster formed another group, the Plectrio, which performed classical string trios from original scores, plus a few original work The trio was very active (with occasional changes in personnel) until Berthoud’s untimely death just after WW1. Abt and Bickford are best known today, but Berthoud was a figure of enormous importance. He had extensive contacts into the European mandolin world; he introduced Demeterius Dounis to American mandolin audiences, who was a sensation; and Calace dedicated his third prelude to Berthoud. Berthoud played viola professionally (Bickford played violin, ditto) and was a fierce advocate for performing “classical” music on plucked instruments, and for reading from the original clefs. From time to time Dounis would join the Plectrio for quartets (sort of like Chris Thile joining the MMQ) and allegedly wrote an original quartet, although I have never seen it. There are other groups of importance in New York, such as the Kitchener Quartet, which used liuto moderno instead of mandocello.

    --the other early center of activity was in Providence RI where the main figure was William Place Jr, who was one of Giuseppe Pettine’s early and, in the end, most influential students. Ca. 1910 Place formed the Place Mandolin Quartet (PMQ), a professional group that toured the Northeast and performed at several Guild conventions. The PMQ’s repertoire included Haydn, et. quartets but also a few late 19th century pieces; Place also wrote at least one original work, the “Petite Quatour,” a four movement work that was the PMQ’s signature piece, which was published by Gibson in universal notation, although the PMQ played everything in the standard clefs. Place had numerous students, mostly female; these formed other mandolin quartets that were very active in Providence in the first part of the 1910s, the Calder quartet, the Fischer quartet, and the Hazard quartet (named after the players who formed them). All of these groups had a repertoire that overlapped with the PMQ and played from the original bowed string parts. Around 1915 or so, Place left Providence for Jackson MI and later Kalamazoo, before returning to Providence where he opened up a music store ca. 1920. The PMQ continued to perform for many decades in the Providence area with varying personnel, including at various times Walter Kaye Bauer and Place’s student Hibbard Perry who, late in life, taught Mark Davis and Marilyn Mair. The PMQ made at least two 78rpm recordings (I have not heard them).

    --by the 1920s the mandolin was in decline, but there were still pockets of activity for the next several decades, one of which was the New York metropolitan area, where there were several groups, predominantly Jewish, that specialized in classical arrangements and transcriptions. Plucked string quartets were popular, and there is occasional mention of their activities in Pettine’s Fretted Instrument News from time to time. Sol Goichberg came out of this environment; late in life he formed the MandoArts quartet, which had a brief period of activity in the early 1960s (TCM, p. 177.). There may be private recordings of the MandoArts quartet; I am not sure. These groups played from original bowed string parts.

    The more recent activity is mainly covered in some of the other postings here, to which I would add that, several quartets performed at CMSA’s 2005 convention in Denver – the New Mandolin Quartet (performing, among other pieces, a movement a Haydn quartet) and the Emerald City Quartet (performing, among pieces, Borodin, Boccherini, and Turina’s well-known “La Oracion Del Torero,” a staple of the 20th century string quartet literature that was originally written for the Aguilar (bandurria) quartet in the 1930s. There are extant recordings of Aguilar). There are live recordings of performances at the Denver convention on the CMSA website, but these are behind the firewall (you have to be a member).
    Robert A. Margo

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Reading this, too bad the string quartets of Ben Johnston are beyond the scope of fixed frets. Ah well . . .

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    "too bad the string quartets of Ben Johnston are beyond the scope of fixed frets. Ah well . . . "

    I have the recent recording of the Johnston string quartets. Definitely beyond plucked strings.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    It's good to see the Melonious Quartet (who are French) get a mention. I always thought they were great.
    They don't seem to be active these days, as far as I can see.
    David A. Gordon

  20. #13

    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Quote Originally Posted by margora View Post
    I have the recent recording of the Johnston string quartets. Definitely beyond plucked strings.
    Perhaps too far afield, but the complete set by Kepler? Fantastic, eh?

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    "Perhaps too far afield, but the complete set by Kepler? Fantastic, eh?"

    Kepler, yes, and yes, fantastic. Not really far afield. The post-1900 string quartet has evolved so much that one cannot really imagine any of it, except for an occasional snippet (such as Glass) on anything other than the original bowed instruments. I wish there was a plucked string version of the JACK quartet. There isn't.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Great post, Robert. I'm reading Paul Spark's book now. I met him and James Tyler some 15 years or so ago, when we were all invited to Portugal, to deliver papers on the "English Guitar" - my contribution was the "guittar" in Scotland, ca. 1758-80. I actually sold a 10-string classical guitar to Paul :-) And I met him again recently when he played a 30-minute recital with the guitarist, Jelma van Amersfoort, at a meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society. I enjoyed his playing very much, and he's a very likeable gentleman.

    It would be good to know more about the early classical ensembles in the US, and the modern ones too, of course. One question I have is when did US players turn from using Italian bowl-back instruments, tater bugs, to the new-fangled Gibson/Loar instruments? Were the Gibsons taken seriously by the classical mandolin ensembles of the day?

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    One question I have is when did US players turn from using Italian bowl-back instruments, tater bugs, to the new-fangled Gibson/Loar instruments? Were the Gibsons taken seriously by the classical mandolin ensembles of the day?
    That transition, of course, followed targeted campaign by the Gibson Co. In addition to Sparks' text, a couple documents worth considering:

    —Hambly, Scott. 1977. Mandolins in the United States since 1880: An Industrial and Sociocultural History of Form. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania.
    —Ruppa, Paul. 1988. The Mandolin in America after 1880 and the History of Mandolin Orchestras in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. MM thesis, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

    I've read both via interlibrary loan, but it's been years (actually, decades by now). I unfortunately don't own copies of either for more direct reference. It's possible that both are now available electronically, but I haven't looked. I may after the day's yard labors.
    Last edited by Eugene; May-17-2020 at 1:50pm.

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Also, lots of early-20th-c. photos like these survive in the USA:

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    https://forward.com/schmooze/199190/...s-labor-roots/

    Check out this old thread: https://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/t...chestra-photos

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  27. #18

    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    One question I have is when did US players turn from using Italian bowl-back instruments, tater bugs . . .
    Also of course, U.S. makers had their own strong tradition of building Neapolitan-type mandolins, especially in the northeast and Chicago. Granted, most were built to serve amateur interests, but man, they were abundant. U.S. brands were largely what the archtop mandolin in the wake of Gibson supplanted here.

    Circling back 'round, some of the earliest known mandolas (in C) and mando-cellos came out of U.S. shops like Waldo, Howe–Orme, and Gutman (possibly a brand built by somebody else) around the same time as Embergher's near Rome and comfortably before Gibson's efforts in the full quartet/orchestra arena.

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    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Did the Embergher design ever take off in the US?

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Quote Originally Posted by Rob MacKillop View Post
    Did the Embergher design ever take off in the US?
    Not much, at least not until recently. There seems to be modern and growing fandom for Roman-type instruments. However, "golden-era" U.S. builds pretty exclusively tended to emulate the Neapolitan type. U.S. efforts at the full family seem to me to have been concocted independently, directly referring to their bowed equivalents and oblivious or ambivalent to Embergher's work or the fact that, at the time, "mandola" had precedent in continental Europe as an instrument tuned from G.

    Personally, I think Embergher's concert instruments are some of the most exquisitely crafted mandolins in history. Conducting my business from North America, I do own one Roman-type mandolin, a Giovanni de Santis, mostly for the historic significance (de Santis is widely credited with inventing—with compiling the defining features that we've come to think of as—the modern Roman type). However, the Roman type is pretty awkward in my own hands. The fingerboard is just so skinny at the nut.

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    "Great post, Robert. I'm reading Paul Spark's book now. I met him and James Tyler some 15 years or so ago, when we were all invited to Portugal, to deliver papers on the "English Guitar" - my contribution was the "guittar" in Scotland, ca. 1758-80. I actually sold a 10-string classical guitar to Paul :-) And I met him again recently when he played a 30-minute recital with the guitarist, Jelma van Amersfoort, at a meeting of the Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society. I enjoyed his playing very much, and he's a very likeable gentleman."

    Thanks, Rob! Paul and I correspond from time to time and we met in person in 2018 when I attended a meeting of The Lute Society (UK) in London, where Paul gave a paper. Every so often the Society holds meetings on historical mandolin, and this was one of them. He is an excellent musicologist and a very fine musician.
    Robert A. Margo

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    "Were the Gibsons taken seriously by the classical mandolin ensembles of the day?"

    Leading professionals shifted to Gibson very quickly. In the photo of the Abt Plectrum Quartet on the cover of The Crescendo in April 1910, both Berthoud and Foster are clearly holding Gibson mandolins. Bickford adopted Gibson very quickly. Probably the most important exception was Giuseppe Pettine, who always played a bowl back during his entire career, which lasted into the early 1950s.

    Although we might refer to this early period as "classical" mandolin, that is largely an anachronism for historical categorization. Some of the music that was played was "classical" in origins, and many professionals certainly had higher aspirations. But the majority of the music that was performed was of the popular (White) variety of the day. Gibson certainly ran a serious marketing campaign, but so did Calace, when he went on his business trips throughout Europe promoting his own instruments. I think the majority of American players of the era preferred the sound, ease of playing, and durability of the Gibson instruments.

    I am working on another article for the CMSA Mandolin Journal on early performances of the Calace preludes in the US, certainly among the most iconic of "classical" mandolin music. Sheet music from Italy was widely available in the US at the time, and this includes Calace's publications. American mandolinists began performing Calace's first three preludes soon after they were published. With one exception, the earliest performances were by Giuseppe Pettine and his students, and were played on bowl back instruments. However, late in the 1910s, Pettine took on a new student from Minneapolis, Albert Bellson. Around 1919 or so Bellson began regularly playing Prelude #1 in public, and he continued to play them throughout his career -- always on a Gibson mandolin, first on an F-4, then a Loar. Bellson was a master of all the "fretted instruments" -- he gave a performance of the Bach Chaconne on the tenor banjo at one of the American Guild conventions in the 1930s, and he was also an important teacher of (and performer on) classical guitar -- one of his guitar students was Jeffrey Van, who later taught Sharon Isbin. Late in his life, Bellson taught mandolin to Richard Walz.
    Robert A. Margo

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  34. #23
    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    In my all-too brief dalliance with the mandolin a few years back, I had an Yngve Barslev mandolin, a Belgian guitar maker, and it was a copy of an Embergher. I bought it as I was under the spell of the Het Consort and Ralf Leenen. Well, it was a fine instrument, but I found it a bit of a nightmare to play. The nut was very narrow, designed to have one finger play two courses, I assume, with quite a camber to the fingerboard, plus the sound was all treble. It was just a pain to play, and I sold it soon after, and went back to lutes and guitars. But I still love the playing and sound that Ralf and the Hets get with them, but they are not designed for my big hands. Since then a friend bought one from one of the top luthiers, a specialist in Embergher, and I have to say it is an exquisite little thing, and he is quite rightly over the moon with it.

    Now that my musical compass is pointing in the direction of the mandolin again, I've been through A Great Debate in my own skull as to which path to take: an historical instrument, such as an early Vinaccia, or gut-strung Brescian, a six-string early - or late - Milanesian, a new German mandolin, like Cat Lichtenberg plays...so many choices. Well, it looks like I've ended up with none of the above. A mandola in G will find its way from France to Scotland by the middle of the week, not expensive, by A. Di Mauro, flatback (see pic below) - not what I anticipated at all, but I'm looking forward to it. It will get me back into things until I have a clear way forward. It would be nice to play in a quartet, playing a mixture of old and new material, but that's unlikely round here, but we shall see.

    I appreciate all the comments I've troubled you with in response to my various questions this last week or two. I've learned a lot, and heard some great performances. Many thanks to all.

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    French A.Di Mauro Octave Mandolin (european mandola)
    Fully restored
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    Leveled fretboard, new frets, bone nut, original rosewood bridge,
    French new tailpiece.
    Cedar top mahogany back and sides
    Fisoma F3120D new strings GDAE
    Low action 2mm
    Scale 45cm

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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    A great thread Rob, good to hear that you are still twanging! I look forward to examples of your dalliance with mandolins!
    best wishes
    Your neighbour
    K

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  38. #25
    Registered User Rob MacKillop's Avatar
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    Default Re: Recordings of Mandolins as String Quartets

    Hmmm. K. Who might that be, I wonder? :-)

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