Indivisible By Four

‘Indivisible By Four’ by Arnold Steinhardt

An insider’s view of the Guarneri Quartet

By Rebecca Redshaw
Reprinted from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

IndivisibleByFourSunday, May 02, 1999

Arnold Steinhardt’s memoir of the Guarneri String Quartet is about chamber music the way the film “Brian’s Song” was about football.

With wit and charm, Steinhardt weaves the chronological history together with current entries in his diary. One wonders how four men with families, homes, different hobbies and interests can perform and travel together for 35 years.

The secret is revealed with subtlety in each paragraph — the love of music. Steinhardt recalls, “On that late summer afternoon, as the leaves in southern Vermont were just beginning to turn, the four of us sat down … and opened the volume of collected Mozart string quartets. I had the feeling of arriving home, of absolute rightness.”

That was the first time he, John Dalley, Michael Tree and David Soyer played together as the Guarneri Quartet.

In any marriage there will be disagreements. In this coupling times two, the arguments were about tempo, phrasing, repertoire and bowings rather than who takes out the garbage. Early on, the group adopted pianist Rudolf Serkin’s advice: “Don’t socialize together, spouses shouldn’t mix into quartet business, no postmortems after concerts.”

The obvious musical talent the group possesses is matched by an uncanny sense of good timing in their career. Chamber music was on the rise as the Guarneri was being formed. Recording opportunities developed in the 1960s and continue to the present, with more than 50 releases by the quartet on record, tape and CD.

When a chamber music piece called for a piano or an additional violin, the Guarneri’s guest artists read like a who’s who of 20th- century music. Most notably, Arthur Rubinstein made an impression on the much younger men when it was arranged for them to join forces for the Brahms Piano Quintet early in their career. Steinhardt remembers Rubinstein as “an eighty-two-year-old experiencing the autumn of his life with the freshness of a child. And it showed when he played.”

One doesn’t have to be a knowledgeable classical music fan to appreciate this book. Yet there are plenty of specifics for those who do study and savor the repertoire.

If the reader is looking for backstage gossip and groupie antics, this book will disappoint. But for those seeking an informative, entertaining, anecdotal account of this gifted quartet, “Indivisible by Four” is waiting in the wings.