The Quartetto Italiano is regarded as one of the finest string quartets of the twentieth century. The group generally focused on quartet-only repertory, avoiding performance with guest artists of quintets and other larger compositions. The ensemble's repertory was broad and included the entire quartet outputs of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, and Webern, and selected works of Galuppi, Vivaldi, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartók, Shostakovich, Villa-Lobos, Schoenberg, and many others.
Members of the Quartetto Italiano first met and performed as an ensemble in Siena, Italy, in 1942. But they did not officially bond until after the end of World War II, in summer 1945. The musicians, all still in their early twenties, adopted the name Nuovo Quartetto Italiano and debuted at Carpi, Italy, in November that year. (The Nuovo tag was dropped in 1951.) The personnel of the group were: Paolo Borciani (first violin), Elisa Pegreffi (second violin), Lionello Forzanti (viola), and Franco Rossi (cello).
1946 was a pivotal year for the group: it won competitions at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia and at the Accademia Filarmonica Romana and made a successful recording debut with the Debussy Quartet. They began touring Europe in 1947, but now with a new violist, Piero Farulli.
By the early 1950s the Quartetto Italiano had achieved a measure of international celebrity, though its repertory had not expanded significantly beyond French and Italian music, and their tone and approach were thought to lack depth. In 1952 Borciani and Pegreffi married. Around this time the four players had begun to evolve a more complex style, said to have resulted largely from mentoring by conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler.
By the 1960s the ensemble had developed a world-class reputation. Between 1967 and 1975 they recorded all the Beethoven string quartets for Philips, regarded by many as the finest of available cycles of the 15 masterworks. Numerous other works were recorded as well during this period for the same label, including the Prokofiev Second Quartet, and the Ravel and Debussy (which they recorded three times).
With their many successful tours at home and abroad (11 of North America by 1980) and their spate of acclaimed recordings, the group had probably reached its zenith by the mid-'70s. In 1977 Farulli became ill and was temporarily replaced by Dino Asciolla. Misunderstandings following Farulli's recovery led to the ultimate breakup of the group in 1980.