Budapest Quartet

Budapest Quartet

The Budapest Quartet was a string quartet in existence from 1917 to 1967. Originally consisted of three Hungarians and a Dutchman, the quartet, at the end, consisted of four Russians. In its last decade it recorded for Columbia Records.


1st Violin:
* Emil Hauser (1893-1978) (from 1917 to 1932)
* Josef Roismann (1900-1974) (from 1932 to 1967)

2nd Violin:
* Alfred Indig (from 1917 to 1920)
* Imre Pogany (1893-1975) (from 1920 to 1927)
* Josef Roismann (1900-1974) (from 1927 to 1932)
* Alexander Schneider (1908-1993) (from 1932 to 1944 and from 1955 to 1967)
* Edgar Ortenberg (1900-1996) (from 1944 to 1949)
* Jac Gorodetzky (1913-1955) (from 1949 to 1955)

* Istvan Ipolyi (1886-1955) (from 1917 to 1936)
* Boris Kroyt (1897-1969) (from 1936 to 1967)

* Harry Son (1880- ca.1940) (from 1917 to 1930)
* Mischa Schneider (1904-1985) (from 1930 to 1967)


Recordings (Victor/HMV) down to 1936:
* Beethoven: Quartets op 18 no 3 (V 8860-2); op 51 no 1 (HMV D 1660-3); op 130 (V 8576-80/DB 2239-43); Grosse Fuge op 133 (DB 1559-60).
* Borodin: Quartet no 2 in D major, Notturno (only) (D 1441).
* Brahms: Quartet no 2 in A minor op 51 no 2 (V 8798-801/DB 2507-10).
* Brahms: Quartet no 3 in B flat major op 67 (V 11545-8/DB 1859-62).
* Brahms: String Quintet in G major op 111 with Hans Mahlke (V 11553-5/DB 1866-8).
* Haydn: Quartet in G major op 76 no 1 (D 1075-7).
* Mendelssohn: Quartet no 1 in E flat major op 12 (V 14000-2).
* Mozart: Quartet in B flat major K 458 'Hunting' (D 1387-9).
* Mozart: Quartet in C major K 465 'Dissonance' (V 8836-8/DB 1863-5).
* Mozart: Quartet in D major K 499 (V 11700-2/Db 2228-30).
* Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A major K 581 with Benny Goodman on Clarinet.
* Mozart: Quartet in F major K 590 (DB 2514-6).
* Schubert: Quartett-satz in C minor (2 vsns: (a) V 9273/D1421 (b) DB 2221).
* Schubert: Quartet in A minor op 29 (V 11716-9/DB 2224-7).
* Schubert: Quartet in D minor 'Death and the Maiden' (V 9241-5/D 1422-6).
* Sibelius: Quartet, 'Voces Intimae' op 56 (Sibelius Society Volume 3).
* Tchaikovsky: Quartet no 2 in F major op 22 (V 11330-4/D 1655-9).

A complete LP recording of the Beethoven Quartets was made in USA before 1953, and was issued in the UK on the Phillips label.
* Mozart: The Six Quartets dedicated to Haydn (K 387, 421, 428, 458, 464 and 465), recorded at Coolidge Auditorium of Library of Congress, 1953. [Columbia (CBS) Odyssey Y3 31242 LPs. See sleevenotes to this set.] In this recording four of the Stradivari of Gertrude Clarke Whittall are played, as follows: Roisman (Betts Violin); Gorodetzky (Castelbarco Violin); Kroyt (Cassavetti Viola); Schneider (Castelbarco Violoncello).
* Schubert: Quintet in A major op 114 (Trout), (Roisman-Kroyt-Schneider) with Mieczysław Horszowski (piano) and George Moleux (bass) (Philips 10" LP SBR 6220)

History of the Quartet


The Budapest SQ was formed in 1917 by four friends, all members of opera orchestras which had stopped work owing to World War I They were all protégés of Jenő Hubay (violin), a Hungarian pupil of Joseph Joachim, and David Popper (cello), a Bohemian. Hubay and Popper had helped to make Budapest a major centre for musical education. Josef Szigeti was a pupil. Sándor Végh and Feri Roth had had their support in forming quartets. Hubay and Popper had been part of an earlier Budapest Quartet and the new quartet was named partly in honour of that. The debut recital was in December 1917 in Kulozvar, then in Hungary, now called Cluj-Napoca and in Romania.

The quartet was established with quite forward-looking rules:

1. All disputes, musical or business, to be resolved by a vote. In case of a tie – no change.

2. Players not to take engagements outside the quartet

3. Equal fees (no preference for the leader)

4. No wives or girlfriends at rehearsals or discussions

No previous quartet had attempted to live entirely on the quartet’s work. It was a brave decision. The original members were Emil Hauser aged 24, from Budapest, Alfred Indig, from Hungary, Istvan Ipolyi aged 31 from Ujuidek in Hungary and Harry Son from Rotterdam, Holland.

In 1920 Indig resigned in the hope of advancement; he was replaced by Imre Pogany. Pogany came from Budapest and had studied under Hubay and Kodály. After resigning Indig became a soloist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. In 1931 he became Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic. When the Nazis came to power, he fled to Paris where he led a quartet for a while. Nothing more is known about him.

Move to Berlin

In 1921/2 the quartet moved from Budapest to Berlin, owing to unrest in Budapest. They developed a large repertoire. They had mixed reviews. In 1925 they played in London and signed a recording contract with His Master’s Voice, making recordings at Abbey Road Studios.

In May 1927, without telling the others, Pogany went to Cincinnati to see his friend Fritz Reiner about a job in the symphony orchestra there. He was offered Principal Second Violin but refused it. On his return the others were furious because if he had left, they would have found it very difficult to find and rehearse a replacement player in time for the new season. In the ensuing row he resigned. He emigrated to America and joined the Cincinnati Philharmonic Orchestra and also taught at the local College of Music. In 1929 he joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini as principal second violin. He remained there until his retirement in 1958.

Joe Roismann – Second Violin

The man recommended to replace Pogany was Joe Roismann. Roismann was born on July 25th 1900 in Odessa. He started learning the violin at the age of six with Pyotr Stolyarsky, who was also the first teacher of David Oistrakh and Nathan Milstein. After the tragic early death of Joe’s father, a wealthy Odessa lady paid for Joe, his sister and mother to go to Berlin to study with Alexander Fiedemann. There he got to know Boris Kroyt, another Odessan studying with Fiedemann. At the outbreak of the First World War the family returned to Odessa and studied with Naoam Blinder, another Odessa player who had just returned from England for the same reason.

After the Russian Revolution he was co-opted to play at farms and factories. He managed to escape in 1923 while working near Poland. He travelled to Prague, then to Berlin. In Berlin Kroyt got him work in a film orchestra and he was doing this when the quartet offer came. He was comfortable and secure in the orchestra but his first love was chamber music. In the end his wife Polo persuaded him to take the financial risk and sacrifice involved.

Immediately he began to regret it. Hauser and Son were constantly in dispute and soliciting his vote. Moreover Roismann had his own issues – in particular Hauser and Ipolyi could not play Spiccato (German springbogen) so the quartet could not use it. Spiccato is an easy way for expert players to play a rapid, clear Staccato sound using the bounce of the bow to do the work. Composers often specifically demand it. The rest of the quartet had had to become expert in using another technique (German spitzen) to get around their inability to play spiccato. Roismann found it hard work to catch up. He had to spend many hours practising and he was unhappy with the result. In Germany, the quartet was called das Spitzenquartett (not a compliment) because it substituted spitzen for springbogen.

Finally in 1930/31 Son could stand the rows no longer and resigned. He emigrated to Palestine and played in concerts there and abroad. Before World War II he unfortunately returned to Rotterdam. When the Germans invaded Holland he and his wife were arrested and never heard of again.

Mischa Schneider – Cellist

The new cellist was originally named Mojzesz Sznejder, later Germanised to Mischa Schneider. Born in 1904 in Vilna, Russia (now Vilnius, Lithuania), he had a hard upbringing. There was little money and he had a tyrannical father. Mischa often found himself defending his younger brother Sasha against father. In 1920 at the age of 16 he left home to study in Leipzig and under Julius Klengel – his teacher’s teacher. Fellow students included Emanuel Feuermann, Gregor Piatigorsky and Benar Heifetz. After graduating he moved to Frankfurt, where he taught at the conservatoire. He found that he had major problems with stagefright when playing solo whereas he was much happier playing in a quartet. He joined the Prisca quartet for a time but resigned owing to a personality clash between two of the other members. The Prisca had often played in Cologne and there he got to know the Reifenbergs, whose daughter Eva had married Feuermann. It was Mrs Reifenberg who introduced him to the Budapest Quartet.

U.S. Debut

In January and February 1931, the quartet made its first United States tour. Reviews were fairly good but financially it was unrewarding. Arguments about spitzen and other matters continued and relations became difficult. Then in 1932, Hauser wanted to play some concerts with Alice Ehlers. The quartet refused to allow this deviation from the rules and Hauser resigned. He emigrated to Jerusalem, formed a quartet and founded the Palestine Music Conservatory. He helped violinist Bronisław Huberman rescue many Jews from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany and was instrumental in founding the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. In 1940 he moved to the US, teaching first at the Bard College in upper New York State and later at the Juilliard School of Music. He returned to Israel in 1960.

Roismann becomes Leader and Alexander Schneider Second Violin

Having lost Hauser, the quartet needed a new leader. Introducing an unknown person as leader is a risky step for a quartet. Second violin is safer. Roismann was persuaded to switch from Second to First because they were all familiar and comfortable with each other’s playing and personalities.

The new Second was Mischa Schneider’s younger brother Alexander (Sasha), born Abram Sznejder. At 13, Abram almost died of tetanus after cutting his knee in an accident. The tetanus distorted his joints and recovery had been long and painful but in the end he made it. He left Vilna in 1924 and joined his brother in Frankfurt, securing a scholarship to study violin with Adolf Rebner, the principal violin tutor at the conservatoire. In 1927 Alexander became concertmaster or leader of an orchestra in Saarbrücken. In 1929 he was appointed concertmaster of the Norddeutscher Rundfunk Orchestra in Hamburg. In 1932 he had just lost his job as a result of the ongoing Nazi campaign against Jews. It was time to leave Germany and the Budapest vacancy arrived at the right time.

The quartet immediately improved and audiences increased. Tours of the US, Dutch East Indies, Australia and New Zealand went well and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation offered them six months’ work a year to settle there. Still relations in the quartet were poor. Sasha hated being outvoted but was usually pacified by Ipolyi although Ipolyi was having mental problems. Mischa divorced his wife and remarried. They were still not making much money.

By 1934, Jews had been expelled from all German orchestras but the Quartet, as “Hungarian” visitors, had escaped. However one night they received threats from a Nazi group. Overnight, they switched headquarters from Berlin to Paris, never to return to Germany. They toured Europe and the US but always lived in cheap hotels and ate cheaply.

The Last Founder Leaves

Ipolyi became an isolated member of the quartet, a Hungarian among Russians, the only spitzen player, old-fashioned in style and undergoing a nervous breakdown, he had to go. In 1936 the others persuaded him to resign. He then settled in Norway. During the German occupation he was arrested. He was freed owing to the intervention of Count Bernadotte, head of the International Red Cross. He fled to Sweden but returned to Norway after the war. He became a Norwegian citizen, taught a quartet in Bergen and became a professor. Mischa made sure that Ipolyi received the royalties due to him. He died in 1955.

Boris Kroyt becomes Viola

It was urgent to replace Ipolyi as viola player. The Australian Broadcast Corporation had engaged the Quartet for a twenty-week tour to start in May 1937 with four performances a week and the option of another ten weeks in New Zealand. They needed the money. They also had regular engagements in Europe and America. Roismann nearly engaged Edgar Ortenberg, whom he had known when they were both children in Odessa and then again in Berlin in 1926. However Ortenberg’s wife wanted him to stick to the violin. Roismann then tried to locate his teenage friend Boris Kroyt in Berlin. Until the Nazis had become all powerful Boris Kroyt had lived well but the Nazis had stopped all Jews from working except in Jewish groups. He had a wife and children to support and they were all in danger. The offer of the Budapest job came at the ideal moment and he was an outstanding natural player. He was such a natural player that he could get away without spending much time practising. They took time to get used to one another but they reached a very high standard.

In November 1936 they reached New York and critics were impressed as never before, comparing them with Toscanini and Schnabel. Concerts were well attended. After the US they went on to Australia, New Zealand and Dutch East Indies with equally good results. After playing in France and Britain they reached New York again in March 1938. After a difficulty with the Immigration Service their first US concert was very much praised.

All the US concerts were negotiated by Annie Friedberg from New York. This continued throughout their time in the US, beginning with very little money and ending with excellent returns for them and her. On April 25th 1938 they record the Clarinet Quintet with Benny Goodman for the Victor label.

In 1939 they again had good results in Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Norway and Britain but not in Spain and Italy where people were more concerned with political issues. From the US they received a request to play five Stradivarii string instruments which needed regular use at the Washington Library of Congress. These instruments had been purchased and donated by Gertrude Clarke Whittall who had a continuing influence. The recital hall in the grounds of the Library had just been build at the expense of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a major benefactor of chamber music and of several music festivals. At that time they felt it would keep them away from existing relationships in Europe.

U.S. becomes the Centre

In the summer they were back spending three months in the US at Mills College in Oakland California, a place where they could relax. The Pro Arte Quartet normally did this but this year they preferred to be in Belgium. They never returned and the Budapest went to Mills for the next fifteen years. That first year at Mills they learned that World War II had started in Europe and their European contracts were now void. The Library of Congress offer now sounded more attractive and they accepted it. Their concerts at the library continued for many years and created an important relationship for them.

Since 1925 they had been making recordings for His Master's Voice, first at the Beethoven Saal in Berlin, then at Abbey Road Studio in London and from 1938 at Camden, New Jersey for RCA Victor, the US subsidiary of HMV. The HMV contract was valid until June 1940. It was not paying well and RCA had a good stock of recordings not yet published. They were not keen to make any more recordings in 1939. The quartet found it difficult to persuade RCA to give them as much work as they wanted or to pay them as their new reputation might justify. RCA were also in no hurry to extend the existing contract. The quartet felt that with their increasing reputation in the US they could do better with Columbia Recording Company. Columbia were delighted to sign a deal and make as many recordings as the quartet wished as they had no existing stock. The deal was made and kept secret as long as possible. When they finally learned about it RCA wrote, “We are astonished…close to a definite breach of faith”. They should have realised that that they had no right to be the only negotiators in a deal. Over 35 years the quartet recorded 89 pieces, some of them several times. For many years it was Columbia’s leading classical music seller, quite a loss to RCA.

Alexander Schneider replaced by Edgar Ortenberg

Sasha felt he could and needed to work outside the quartet. As second violin he didn’t get they same challenges as the leader. After thinking about this a lot, he finally reached his decision and told the others on November 26th 1943. He was still only thirty-five years old, having spent eleven years in the quartet and needed to expand his range. In January 1st 1944 the quartet selected the new second violin. He was Edgar Ortenberg, the man who had nearly been the violist.

Like Joe and Boris, Edgar had grown up in Odessa. Until the Russian Revolution his father had been the director of a bank. Afterwards they were very short of money. In 1921 he won the gold medal at the Odessa Conservatory and was immediately hired to teach there. In 1924 he moved to Berlin to do better, just as Joe, the Schneiders, and Boris had done. After reaching Berlin he immediately got a scholarship at the Hochshule für Musik. He changed his name from Eleazer to Edgar. He started a quartet and they toured Europe until 1933 when the Nazis sacked them all and he quickly moved to Paris. There the Russian Conservatory formed a quartet and they had some success in Europe. When war was threatened he joined the French Army. In April 1940 he left because of illness. He and his wife left Paris just before the Germans got there. They went to Portugal and caught the very last Spanish ship to travel from there to the US. After struggling in New York for some time he received a second offer from the Budapest Quartet in December 1943 and this time accepted it.

Edgar was generally considered a fine replacement for Sasha. However, some critics and all the players felt that he should play more forcibly. On the other hand he felt their playing was a bit rough. He also wanted to spend more time rehearsing since he needed to get used to their methods and accustomed to their large repertory. The others, especially Boris, were not so keen to rehearse. It took Edgar two years to feel fully at home. However, the others felt Edgar should do more private practice and he was becoming audibly nervous. Critics still felt the quartet was wonderful but not quite as good as before. Ortenberg was exhausted by the constant traveling. Late in 1948 the others told him they wanted a different second violinist. As soon as it was made public, Ortenberg was swamped by other offers. Ortenberg made his last performance with the quartet on March 10th 1949 at Cornell University. He joined the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and stayed there until he retired in 1984. He also taught at Temple University from 1953 to 1978.

Jac Gorodetzky

The new second violin was Jac Gorodetzky. He was born in Odessa but the family moved to London when he was only one, to avoid a pogrom. They moved to the US before the war, settling in Philadelphia. He was well thought of as a student and secured good positions in orchestras and quartets. However his playing, like Ortenberg’s, was a little quiet. He was well thought of at the Budapest auditions and was in his mid-thirties.

In 1950 the quartet went to Europe for the first time after the war. They agreed not to go to Germany, especially because Schneider had lost his mother and sister at Auschwitz. This tour, together with the continual demand in the US put heavy stress on Gorodetzky. He developed stage fright, sometimes demanding extra rehearsals of works they had already played.

Then in September 1952 they played in Japan. There were the first quartet to arrive there after the war. The whole season was sold out in two hours. 3000 people were present at the first concert. There were staff to attend to their every need and cars to take them everywhere. One night they felt the need to get some exercise in Okayama. They were walking on a narrow road. Joe fell into a nine foot ditch and broke his left wrist. They had it set at the US Military Hospital in Tokyo. On return to the US they were told the wrist had been improperly set and it had to be broken and reset. Concerts were switched to trios and piano quartets. After months of hard work Joe resumed duties in Portland, Oregon on January 12th 1953.

In 1954 they had another Japanese tour with even greater success but Jac was getting more uncomfortable. In February he told the others he wanted to leave. They hoped to talk him out of it. No one realised how unwell he was. Finally in November 1955 he killed himself in a small hotel in Washington. The others felt awful. They played benefit concerts at the Settlement Music School. Later Mischa left them most of his music and on his death Joe left them most of his money.

Alexander Schneider Returns

Joe refused to accept another new second violinist but fortunately they managed to persuade Sasha to return. Against their previous rule they allowed him to spend some time working independently because they needed him and they did not want to take as many engagements as before. As soon as he returned they all felt happier than for many years and the critics were fulsome in their praise.

In the ten years he was away Sasha had been very busy. He rejected offers to lead the Pro Arte and Paganini Quartets. He toured with Ralph Kirkpatrick. He played unaccompanied Bach. He played trios. He studied with Pablo Casals in Prades and persuaded Casals to start festivals in Prades, Puerto Rico, Israel and Marlboro in Vermont. He started a quartet to record all the 83 Haydn quartets for the Haydn Society although they ran out of money before it was finished. He persuaded Mrs Coolidge to finance the provision of free outdoor concerts in Greenwich Village. He played with the Budapest when Ortenberg or Gorodetzky was not well.


As the 1960s approached the quartet was very happy. It was the most popular and famous quartet, with 55 record albums published by Columbia and two million copies sold and playing in many famous venues and festivals. However in 1960 Joe started to have periods of poor intonation apparently owing to a mild heart attack at the end of 1960. Only then did he tell the others that, as early as 1939 he had been told that his blood pressure was high. Occasionally he had had intonation problems but in 1960 it got worse.

In March 1962 they played their final concert in the Library of Congress. There had been a number of issues of which Joe’s intonation had been the worst. Critics and listeners had complained and Mrs Coolidge herself had complained. They were replaced by the young Juilliard Quartet. Then in the Autumn they were in Europe when suddenly Joe suffered a slipped disc. He restarted playing in early 1963 and they returned to Australia after twenty six years away. Joe’s energy was declining and they cut down the number of concerts year by year.

Marlboro College

In 1955 Sasha had joined the Summer Festival at Marlboro College in South Vermont. It was a School, a Music Festival and a Summer Retreat. He was a whirlwind. He pushed the young players to stretch their talents. In time he brought the other Budapest players and they made the place a breeding ground for a generation of chamber musicians. The school had been founded in 1950 by the violinist Adolf Busch and flautist Marcel Moyse and their families. Busch died before Sasha arrived but his son-in-law Rudolf Serkin was still very active and the two men became staunch friends. Sasha spent the next twenty summers there.

In 1962 Sasha persuaded Mischa to come too and the next year the whole quartet came. Many experienced musicians came. Many talented younger players came and reached high standards. Students found Sasha assertive and his manner was a bit hard on those who were nervous or not reaching for the highest standards. For the best however he was perfect. Mischa and Boris were gentler. They were very willing to try new ideas from their students and each side was inspired by the enthusiasm of the other.

Sasha persuaded Michael Tree, Arnold Steinhardt, John Dalley and David Soyer to form a quartet – a daunting challenge for any player – and Boris suggested the name Guarneri. They spent a lot of time together at Marlboro and the Guarneri Quartet may be regarded as the musical heirs of the Budapest Quartet.

In later years the Budapest played fewer concerts and saw each other only for concerts. Audiences filled the halls and they were admired but they didn’t practice very often either individually or together. There were errors of detail but the general effect was still good. Sasha felt he wanted to share what he was still learning but Joe wanted to stay as he was.


In January 1965 the group spent twelve days recording Dvořák’s American Quartet and Smetana’s Quartet “From My Life”. Joe had major intonation problems and Mischa had trouble with his back. A recording of the Dvořák was spliced together from multiple takes and published but the players refused to accept a similar splice of the Smetana. Then Mischa and Boris and the Guarneri performed and recorded Tchaikovsky's “Souvenir de Florence” with success. Immediately Mischa had to have an operation on his back, which had troubled him since 1930. The operation failed, and a second attempt also failed. Misha never played again but he did teach extensively.

In 1977 Sasha abruptly left Marlboro. He never explained why but he and Serkin remained fast friends. In 1969 Boris died of cancer. In 1974 Joe had a heart attack and died. In 1993 Sasha had heart failure and died having played almost to the end.

The Budapest String Quartet had a huge influence on Chamber Music in the United States and internationally. When they began in the late 1930s it was hard to get big audiences. The concerts in Washington and New York, the radio broadcasts and the many records gradually raised audience numbers, made them famous and wealthy and set a high standard which was influential on many later players.

This history section is based on the book by Nat Brandt, listed as a source. However the book contains much more information than this.


*cite book | last=Brandt | first=Nat | title=Con Brio: Four Russians Called the Budapest String Quartet | publisher=Oxford University Press, USA | year=1993 | isbn=0195081072
* R.D. Darrell, "The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music" (New York 1936).
* E. Sackville-West and D. Shawe-Taylor, "The Record Year 2" (Collins, London 1953).

*"Photograph" in R. Stowell (Ed), "Cambridge Companion to the String Quartet" (2003).


External links

* [ Discography at SonyBMG Masterworks]

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