I heard a remarkable new piece of chamber music this past January. The work, the String Quartet no. 4 (1988) by the thirty-seven-year-old composer George Tsontakis, was performed in its world premiere by the American String Quartet at New York’s 92nd Street YM-YWHA. By its excellence it not only buoyed my often drooping musical spirits; it also prompted in me some thoughts on the general subject of American quartet music, both old and new.

The composers of American classical music may be pardoned for wondering whether a facetious deity has placed them in an environment rewarding in every way save the most important: that of feeling—somewhere, somehow—that what they have composed has been listened to and not just heard, and that there is at least a chance of their work living on in the collective memory.

Americans have long been a...

 

New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now