Why doesn't a string quartet contain a bass?

Instead of being comprised of two violins, a viola, and a cello, wouldn't it make more sense to be comprised of each member of the bowed string family? A violin, a viola, a cello, AND a bass?

8 Answers

  • 3 months ago

    No, that wouldn't work.  It would sound like rap if that happened.

    The cello provides more than enough low end (bass) for any room a quartet would play in.  A bass would muddy up the sound.

    The bass was invented much later in musical history, and is used to provide heavy low end to a symphony.  Its sound waves are very large and powerful, so it's intended for a large room or outdoor concert.

    String quartets usually perform in small settings, and don't produce the crushing wall of sound an entire orchestra creates.  That's why whole orchestras don't play at dinner parties.

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  • Me2
    Lv 7
    3 months ago

    Bear in mind that the double-bass is a relatively modern instrument, having achieved its final form around 1900.  String ensemble music composed prior to that time usually wouldn't have a bass part.

    The timbre of a bass can be unmusical at low volumes.  With acceptable tone, the volume may be such that the ensemble sound is unbalanced.

    The cello's range extends into the bass— C2 — and the common 4-string double-bass goes only 4 tones lower, so it can be argued that the bass is superfluous in that music.

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  • 4 months ago

    Here's the short answer

    Double bass is loud. Violins are not.

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  • 4 months ago

    I believe it would make more sense if you would do a research on the history of the string quartet and perhaps gain an enlightenment as to "why" before passing your judgement that it doesn't make sense. A fact that should be considered is that musical instruments are more developed in terms of sound than they were during the earlier periods of music.

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  • 4 months ago

    the bass evolved more directly  from the viol family  and is still tuned in 4ths vs  5ths like the the violin, viola and cello. It's possible that most composers in  the post viol instruments just decided to stick with this grouping especially since the bass was mostly a plucked instrument until the mid 1800's.

    Source(s): violinist and violin maker since 1973 www.violininformation.webs.com
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  • 4 months ago

    I doubt if "why?" can have a sensible answer here.

    But there is an example:  Schubert wrote his "Trout" quintet for piano and a quartet of strings as you have specified.  He did it because those were the instruments his friends played.  (And he wrote the bass part to be easy to play, since his friend the bass player was not especially accomplished.)

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  • 4 months ago

    Look at an orchestra.  Is there an equal number of each of the four strings?  Nope.  This is due to various factors - not only range, but volume and perceived brilliance.  The pitch of many orchestras has climbed (much to the consternation of many wind players!) to 442, 445, etc, - all the more for the violins to shine (or squeal, according to some . . ).  Those higher frequencies are dominant in much of the literature, and the inner voice do - well, what inner voices do.  And when we consider the basses - think of organ pipes.  A small menagerie of them gets that job done - and then some. 

    Have their been works written  for small ensembles, including bass?  Sure.  Does Ron carter's jazz group have TWO basses? - sure again - but HIS is in solo/higher tuning, and the other is the standard  acoustical fundamental.  The possibilities of string instruments and the imaginations of composers, make this whole topis really complicated.  And there are the folks who invent new instruments every day - consider the expanded family of strings, where there are 6, 8, or more sizes - with greater pitch overlap, and therefore, more tonal homogeneity. 

    If you want REALLY huge - check out the octobass!     


    And there are piccolo violins, too.  As we site here and discuss, there are people with a pile of materials and great imagination, who are building new instruments every day.  I play the bass flute in many of my concerts - DH refers to it as my "floor lamp".  And there are many sizes LARGER than that, too.  Ever seen a contrabass saxophone?  A double Sousaphone (I used to *visit* the one in the old Carl Fischer music store in NYC.) It's a big world, and you can choose whatever kind of music and instruments you want - or invent a new one, or write music with techniques and instruments never used before.  If you can get to Phoenix, AZ - go to the Musical Instrument Museum. INCREDIBLE!  Unfortunately, their website does not give you much in the way of photos, bt this is a destination for ALL people interested in musical instruments.  The MET in NYC has just redone their exhibits;  the MFA in Boston always had a great one; and we have been to several, all over the world.  Due to the COVID situation, some are now showing more online - treat yourself to a tour today.

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  • Why would one intrinsically make more sense than another? Because it's nice and neat? Anyway, there are some with that combo, mainly modern works. 

    It would sound a bit muddy with so much sound down low, I reckon.

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