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Top Five Quarreling Quartets

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The Budapest quartet’s cellist, Mischa Schneider, once said, "No artist can do what we are doing—it's dangerous." That’s because a string quartet isn't just a delicate balance between two violins, a viola and cello, but also among the musicians’ personalities.

The quartet has been compared to a marriage among four people. Like matrimony, infighting, clashing personalities and disparate ambitions are just a few causes for strife, break-ups, but also beautiful music. Here are our top five quarreling string quartets:

1. The Audubon Quartet suffered a public and painful break-up. Founded in 1974, the quartet quickly rose to the top of the American classical scene. By the 1980s, the award-winning ensemble had played for Jimmy Carter and landed a prestigious residency at Virginia Tech. Then things started to sour. In 2000, three of the members jointly decided to fire the fourth, violinist David Ehrlich. Ehrilich sued. After a bitter legal battle, Ehrlich was able to force the other members to buy him out of the group for $600,000.

2. Over its 50 years, the Budapest Quartet became one of the most successful string quartets in history, but socially the group did not mix. They famously traveled separately and ate at different tables within the same restaurant. Their mutual avoidance of each other was one way they preserved their artistic collaboration, even as personnel changed. However, personal differences and failing health caused the quartet to disband in the 1960s.

3. As the Budapest Quartet was playing its final concerts, the ensemble passed on its no-fraternization legacy to the Guarneri Quartet. The 1988 documentary High Fidelity: The Adventures of the Guarneri Quartet captured the foursome’s notoriously argumentative rehearsals, during which they bicker about everything from tempo to program selection. After 45 years of playing together, the group parted ways in 2009.

4. The Chicago String Quartet also found itself in the midst of a break-up in 2000 when the group decided to part ways with second violinist Stefan Hersh. Though the quartet described the circumstances as amicable, Hersh said he left with “mixed feelings” and admitted that he wouldn’t miss “the daily grind of coming up this hard against three other people.”

5. The drama of four passionate musicians forced to perform as one is compelling enough to inspire Michael Hollinger’s play Opus. The plot centers on the fictional Lazara Quartet, which fires its first violinist days before a televised White House concert. The new member, a young woman, forces rifts among the remaining forty-something male members. The play was produced in New York City as part of Primary Stages’ 2007 season.