Style and tradition in string quartet performance : a study of 32 recordings of Beethoven's op. 131 quartet
Thirty-two recordings of the Op. 131 string quartet by Beethoven, dating from 1924 to 1995, are compared to examine questions concerning changes and differnces in the performance style of string quartets. The background and historical context of the ensembles involved are explored and discussed, and the recordings are analysed using a number of objective measurement techniques. Aspects of performance style including choice of tempo, tempo flexibility, portamento and vibrato are measured and subjected to statistical analysis in order to determine the existence of trends over time or other stylistic groupings. Current theories and assumptions concerning historical change and national styles of performance are tested in the light of this evidence. It is concluded that the aspects of performance style studied offer no support for theories of national style or the influence of teaching, and that historic trends can only be partially substantiated in the case of portamento and vibrato. The evidence as a whole suggests a wide diversity of performance style at all periods, and contrasts with the conclusions of previous studies in other musical genres including solo instrumental and orchestral. Consideration of this evidence against the background of performance philosophy and some sociological studies of string quartets leads to the conclusion that the string quartet ensemble is uniquely constituted to encourage a searching, co-operative and innovative approach to the development of a performance-oriented interpretation and to discourage the thoughtless ossification of a handed-down performance template.