The Eroica Quartet is a pioneering string quartet devoted to "authentic" performance of nineteenth century quartet literature. Its founders were four members of London's busy period instruments community of musicians. Its members (and the instruments they play) are: Peter Hanson, first violin (a 1756 J.B. Guadagnini loaned by the Brough family); Lucy Howard, second violin (1712 Grancino); Gustav Clarkson, viola (1987 William Luff); and DavidRead more Watkin, cello (ca. 1690 Rogeri).
The Eroica Quartet's intention was to rediscover and adopt the authentic string quartet performance styles for Romantic music. By the time it was formed, the period instrument movement (which began with interest in the music of the eighteenth century and generally worked backwards) had begun to show an interest in early nineteenth century music. Since there was a radical break in musical style and in the technology of instrument building that roughly coincided with the latter half of Beethoven's life, many accepted the need for "period" and "authentic style" performances of earlier music, but did not accept it for the post-Beethoven Romantic age.
However, in working with conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Romantique et Révolutionnaire, the members of the Eroica came to realize that another great change in performance style had taken place at the beginning of the twentieth century that obscured the prior way of performing music of the Romantic era. In string playing, a key to that realization is a 1921 essay by the violin teacher Leopold Auer, unsuccessfully trying to convince string players not to emulate Auer's greatest pupil, Jascha Heifetz, in applying vibrato continuously, but to apply it sparingly at specific moments for expressive effect. The players also noted, from very old recordings or singers and string players, a much greater tendency to use portamento -- slides from one note to another -- and to play on open strings than had been the norm for decades. In addition, the bar line and beat were evidently not as rigid. For insight, they began researching not (as modern players do) the Urtexts (copies of unedited composers' manuscripts), but the numerous published editions of major performers. In these documents great players added their own bowings, dynamic marks, and fingerings to the composers' texts. Where, for instance, the same finger is indicated to be used on successive notes under a slur, it is clear that the given performer used a portamento.
Among the most important figures in the Eroica's research was Ferdinand David (1810 - 1873), a great friend of Felix Mendelssohn, a very busy producer of such "editions," and the concertmaster of the great Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. In their research they were guided by consultations with Dr. Clive Brown, a musicologist specializing in Romantic performance style.
The Eroica Quartet almost immediately attracted attention with their vision of a revived Romantic approach to the string quartet literature from Beethoven to Debussy. The performance style was so unusual by the current standards that it struck listeners as radical. The Eroica quickly became established, and toured extensively in the United Kingdom as well as making visited to France, the U.S., and Paris. Its American debut was in Washington, D.C. Its New York debut was on February 4, 2001, at the Frick Collection.
In 1997, they began their first Beethoven cycle, appearing at the City of London Festival and in the same year performed three concerts in the Aix-les-Bains Nuits Romantiques Festival in France.
By 2001 the Eroica had released three discs, all on the Harmonia Mundi USA label. These included a collection of early Mendelssohn quartets, one each of the Op. 74, Op. 95, and Op. 135 Beethoven quartets, and the three String Quartets of Robert Schumann. Read less