The Kolisch Quartet

Photograph:The Kolisch Quartet 1936
The Kolisch Quartet in Arnold Schönberg’s garden on 13 September 1936, the composer’s 63rd birthday
Arnold Schönberg Center Wien, unknown photographer

The Kolisch Quartet

The violinist Rudolf Kolisch had been in close contact with the composer Arnold Schönberg since 1919. He set up his own string quartet, originally known as the Wiener Streichquartett (Viennese String Quartet) for the concerts of Schönberg’s Viennese Society for Private Musical Performances. When the ensemble newly formed in 1927, it called itself the Kolisch Quartet. Besides Rudolf Kolisch, the other musicians in the quartet were Felix Khuner (violin), Eugene Lehner (viola) and Benar Heifetz (violoncello). The quartet achieved international renown with this line-up, especially with performances of contemporary compositions, for example, by Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg, Anton von Webern and Béla Bartók. However, they were also famous for their interpretations of Beethoven’s quartets.

After the Nazis seized power, the Kolisch Quartet – whose members were Jewish – faced increasing difficulties. Their opportunities to perform became severely limited, which also had to do with the quartet’s repertoire. Many contemporary composers were also ostracised under the Nazis. Because of this, the quartet started looking for new places to work following an extended tour of the USA, Canada and South America. The musicians cancelled a planned tour of Europe when World War II broke out and settled in the USA. 

The Kolisch Quartet did not have things easy there. Other string quartets had also emigrated, for example, the Busch Quartet and the Budapest String Quartet. Both of these were better received by the public, as classical romantic pieces were more popular among the US audience than contemporary ones. The Kolisch Quartet dissolved in 1941 and founder Rudolf Kolisch experienced a serious crisis, both financially and emotionally. Nevertheless, this situation was also a new beginning and from then on Kolisch paid more attention to his music theory studies on the connection between composition and performance praxis. In 1943 he wrote his still ground-breaking essay titled Tempo and Character in Beethoven’s Music.

Further reading:
Fetthauer, Sophie: Personenbeitrag Rudolf Kolisch in: Lexikon verfolgter Musiker und Musikerinnen der NS-Zeit. Online-Ressource:
Kolisch, Rudolf: Tempo and Character in Beethoven’s Music, in: the Musical Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2 (April 1943), S. 169-187
Türcke, Berthold: Zur Theorie der Aufführung – Kolisch, Rudolf. München: Edition Text und Kritik, 1983