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Is there a reason I find Woodwind Quartet easier than other Quartets?

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I have noticed as I compose more and more chamber works, that quartets that are a single family of instruments fall into this order of ease of composition for me personally:

  1. Woodwind Quartet -> This I find by far the easiest to compose for, maybe has to do with my study of playing the flute?
  2. Brass Quartet -> I understand why I find this harder than Woodwind Quartet in terms of scoring, the amount of air for each instrument is more than the closest woodwind in terms of range, i.e. Tuba takes more air than Bassoon for the same sustain and dynamic, same with Trumpet vs Flute(or maybe oboe is a more apt comparison), Horn vs Clarinet, etc.
  3. String Quartet -> I know I have written for strings before, yes even viola. I have written solos, duets, and even trios, including a single string trio. But somehow, the trio to quartet jump is much higher than the duet to trio jump in terms of difficulty. An orchestra, I actually find easier to write for than a String Quartet

In essence, writing a good String Quartet score and writing a good Woodwind Quartet score involve the same principles right, i.e.:

  • Every instrument gets an equally interesting line
  • Contrast between octave unisons and dense contrapuntal textures
  • Soloistic passages
  • Crossings between instruments, so for example a Bassoon solo with Clarinet accompaniment from below and then the Bassoon going back to its bass role
  • Non-pianistic writing, even if you start with the piano for improvisation or motives or whatever

The only added thing to Woodwind Quartet scoring that doesn't exist in String Quartet scoring is breathing. Yes, string players require rests too at some point, even the most virtuosic of violinists will get the burn if you don't write any rests or at least very long notes for which the bowstroke can be slowed down quite a ways. As an example, take Bach's Cello Suites. No rests written at all. The closest Bach gets to a rest is a whole note with a fermata. But, you can hear places where it sounds like the cellist is doing an eighth rest within the virtuosity, most commonly at the accented notes.

For woodwind players, rests are even more important, as they provide places for the player to catch his/her breath so that the player doesn't feel winded out by the end. The last thing you want is a bunch of winded out players. The phrasing itself can help dictate when the players are supposed to take a breath, but rests are very important. If you want a woodwind score to feel like there are no breaks in it other than important cadences, then you just stagger the rests among the instruments so that at least 1 instrument is playing at any given point in the score.

So, if just from the principles alone, it seems like Woodwind Quartet should be harder, why do I find it to be the easiest of single family quartets to write for? Does it have anything to do with myself being a beginner flutist? Does it have to do with the low prevalence of woodwind only scoring compared to string only scoring(about the only composer I know for pieces that include only woodwinds is Mozart and his Wind Serenades)? Does it have anything to do with your typical string quartet being like a symphony in terms of the movement structure and occasionally the sonority as well?

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Technically, the wind quartet is of the same scope as a string quartet i.e. can be anything. But yes, it could be the fact that you know more about the string quartet that makes it more difficult. It is incorrect to say that there are only a few woodwind-only pieces; Reicha, Danzi, and Briccialdi are noted composers with dozens between them. (You'll discover these more as you progress with your flute playing - Briccialdi is best known as the inventor of the Bb thumb key!)

Writing idiomatically for wind ensemble is really difficult. Balancing timbres well and exploring tone colour are among the challenges. It's not just a string quartet with winds.

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4 hours ago, aMusicComposer said:

Technically, the wind quartet is of the same scope as a string quartet i.e. can be anything. But yes, it could be the fact that you know more about the string quartet that makes it more difficult. It is incorrect to say that there are only a few woodwind-only pieces; Reicha, Danzi, and Briccialdi are noted composers with dozens between them. (You'll discover these more as you progress with your flute playing - Briccialdi is best known as the inventor of the Bb thumb key!)

Writing idiomatically for wind ensemble is really difficult. Balancing timbres well and exploring tone colour are among the challenges. It's not just a string quartet with winds.

 

Agreed. At least a string quartet has a homogeneity of timbre with each instrument having fairly even dynamics across their typical range; more than can be said for woodwind instruments (and possibly the horn in a quintet). As you say, timbre can be so important. I'm reminded of the exceptionally difficult "Quinteto em forma de Chôros" by Villa-Lobos, a masterwork in the use of timbre. 

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