THE HOLLYWOOD STRING QUARTET (HSQ)



The Hollywood String Quartet (HSQ) was a superior group comprising four of the most reliable session musicians in Hollywood: Felix Slatkin (violin), Paul C. Shure (violin), Alvin Dinkin (viola), and Eleanor Slatkin (cello). All were Hollywood film studio players, who fulfilled their passion for classical repertory by playing together in their offtime. "In 1939, I became the first cellist at Warner Brothers," recalled Eleanor Slatkin. "Felix and I married, then formed the Quartet. The original group was Felix, Joachim Chassman, Paul Robyn, and me. Then Felix went into the army in 1941, and there went the Quartet! When he came out of the service in 1945, Felix continued as concertmaster at Twentieth Century Fox, and we started the Quartet again."

The 1945 group replaced Chassman with Paul C. Shure (at that time assistant concertmaster at Fox, he is the sole surviving member of the Quartet). During the next nine years, the group gained widespread recognition. "We were the most famous American quartet -  the first ever, in fact, to be invited to the Edinburgh Festival," Shure recalled. "We went at it `hammer and tongs,' and rehearsed almost every day, creating a fine quartet that became world famous more on the strength of its recordings than anything else." The original vinyl pressings of their LPs are highly prized collectibles today.

Far from 'a stuffy ensemble dedicated solely to "longhair" music, the four were busy session musicians who contributed to everv aspect of the Hollywood music scene. "We were affiliated with Capitol and had an agreement to do all the commercial records to make money, because we certainly didn't make money from the Quartet!" Eleanor maintains. "Early rock-and-roll, jazz, and pop albums; TV and film scores . . . we did it all," says Shure.

"The advantage of being a studio musician was that you were under contract, and like a symphony orchestra musician, you worked approximately twenty-two to twenty-four hours a week, and had a great deal of free time to pursue other interests. Hence, my parents were able to not only have a decent living by working in the studios, but it provided them with a means to establish one of the great quartets of our time," explains Leonard Slatkin.

"Outside of the fact that each person in his own right was an extremely capable instrumentalist was the flexibility that we had. We could play all different styles of music, without having to reach for it. Eleanor was a damned good commercial player-she had a real sense for the style of commercial music," Shure says. "Curiously, even though we were extremely active in the Hollywood scene, the name `Hollywood String Quartet' had nothing to do with `Hollywood' music. We all happened to be from Hollywood, and no one ever had a quartet from there that made anything of themselves. So, we said, `Why not?' Instead of `The Los Angeles String Quartet,' we'll call ourselves `The Hollywood String Quartet."'

Listening to the quartet's recordings of works by Ravel, Schubert, Beethoven, Borodin, and Schoenberg (among many others), one immediately understands what attracted Sinatra, and why he found the notion of recording with the group so appealing. The four principals created a sound that had a luxuriant glow. "In the Quartet, we made room for each other technicallv and soloistically-but the blend of sound was the main thing. You either have it or you don't; it's a product of instinct and hard work- So percent of each, really," Shure observes. "We were like a family for many years. Eleanor was a wonderful player-she had the most beautifully rich, warm sound and absolutely perfect intonation. Felix had a great sense of timing and a sense for phrasing a long phrase. In a quartet, all four people have to be of the same caliber, or it doesn't work . . . . You draw the sound by your ability: the kind of vibrato you use, the way you apply pressure to the bow . . . these are all very subtle techniques in string playing. I have no. guilt or false pride when I say we had four wonderful players."

Leonard Slatkin explained the importance of similar music "training," which differs from country to countrv and ultimately affects the player's technique and the resultant sound of the ensemble. "I think when musicians get together, many times the question of `backgrounds' never comes up, and you have disparate kinds of chamber music institutions: people from a French school mixed with someone from a Russian school mixed with someone from a German school." "With the Hollywood String Quartet, you had four people who basically had the same kind of training, four people who were more or less of the same age group and who approached music in almost identical ways. The manner in which they played and practiced individually was quite different. My father, for instance, hardly ever practiced. He could just pick up a violin after three or four weeks off (if he had such a thing), and produce an extraordinary Tchaikovsky concerto. My mother always resented that he didn't have to work so hard; she had to practice like a dog, about four or five hours a day."

By 1954, the original violist, Paul Robyn, had left to pursue family interests, and his substitute was another Fox Studio colleague, Alvin Dinkin. Throughout the group's various incarnations, Felix Slatkin was the glue that held it together. "Felix was a wonderful violinist, and probably, to some degree, a frustrated man. I think he would have loved to have had a conducting career," remembered Shure. (Slatkin had in fact studied conducting, under Fritz Reiner of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Apart from the Quartet, Slatkin conducted numerous albums of orchestral music for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and for Liberty Records.)

(click here for details of the HSQ’s involvement in the classic Frank Sinatra album "CLOSE TO YOU")

(from "Sessions with Sinatra" by Charles Granata, published by A Cappella Books 1999)

LINKS:

Wikipedia entry

Article in Journal of Recorded Music

1955 New Yorker ad for HSQ recordings

Eleanor Aller obituary:     New York Times         The Independent


PHOTOS AND SCANS:

Listening to a playback in the studio

A Gag Photo!  ("Crossbowing")

Ad congratulating all Capitol Records 1958 Grammy Winners, including both Felix Slatkin and the Hollywood String Quartet
        Closeup of Felix       Closeup of HSQ

Eleanor Slatkin's name appears in the list of studio musicians known as "The Wrecking Crew" in the film documentary by that name
    Link to web page with information about the documentary

ELEANOR SLATKIN INTERVIEW EXCERPTS:

Eleanor Slatkin appears in several interview segments in the 1995 documentary "The Hollywood Sound".    The entire documentary has been posted to YouTube (in 10 parts).   The DVD is out of print.

Part 4 of 10:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HeKhFuJJSaM
(starting at 0:09, Eleanor Slatkin discusses the different methods used by Hollywood composers to synch the music to the film during recording)

Part 8 of 10:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCzrDou4ytE
(starting at 0:00, Eleanor Slatkin discusses the difficulties of being a woman in the studio orchestra, including comments on her cello solo in "Johnny Belinda")



THE HOLLYWOOD STRING QUARTET on MP3 Download:

View albums available for downloading from Classics Online

Cover of Smetana/Glazunov MP3 album
Cover of Ravel/Debussy/Schoenberg MP3 album


THE HOLLYWOOD STRING QUARTET on COMPACT DISC:

Testament Records Website

TESTAMENT SBT 1031
    Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht for string sextet, Op. 4
    Schubert: Quintet for 2 violins, viola & 2 cellos in C major, D. 956 (Op. posth. 163)

TESTAMENT SBT 1052
    Prokofiev: String quartet No. 2 in F major, Op.92 "Kabardinian"
    Hindemith: String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Op.16
    Walton: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor
 

TESTAMENT SBT 1053
    Ravel: Introduction and Allegro
    Debussy: Danse Sacree et Danse Profane
    Turina: La Oracion Del Torero
    Villa-Lobos: String Quartet No. 6
    Creston: String Quartet
        (with Ann Mason Stockton, harp; Arthur Gleghorn, flute: Mitchell Lurie, clarinet)

       Cover of original LP of works for string quartet with harp      Front Cover       Back Cover

TESTAMENT SBT 1061
    Tchaikovsky: String Quartet No. 1
    Borodin: String Quartet No. 2
    Glazunov: Five Novellettes for String Quartet

TESTAMENT SBT 1072
    Kodaly: String Quartet, No 2, Op 10
    Smetana: String quartet, No 1 In E minor "From My Life"
    Dvorak: String Quartet No. 12 in F major ("American"), Op. 96

TESTAMENT SBT 1077
    Shostakovich: Quintet for piano & strings in G Minor, Op 57
    Franck: Piano Quintet in F minor, M7
        (with Victor Aller, piano)

TESTAMENT SBT 1081
    Wolf: Italian Serenade for string quartet in G major
    Dohnanyi: String Quartet No 3 in A minor, Op 33
    Schubert: String Quartet No. 14 in D minor ("Death and the Maiden"), D. 810

TESTAMENT SBT 1085
    "The Legendary London Live Recordings"
    Haydn: Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 61 in D minor "Fifths"/"The Bell'/"The
                   Donkey" Op. 76/2, H. 3/76
    Mozart: String Quartet No. 17 in B flat major ("Hunt"), K. 458
    Hummel: String Quartet, No 2 in G, Op 30/2
 

TESTAMENT SBT 3063 (3 CD SET)
    Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 1, No. 2, No. 3
    Brahms: String Quartet No. 2
    Brahms: Piano Quintet
        (with Victor Aller, piano)

TESTAMENT SBT 3082 (3 CD SET)
    Beethoven: Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 12 in E flat major, Op. 127
               Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 131
               Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 13 in B flat major ("Leib") Op. 130
               Fugue for string quartet in B flat major ("Grosse Fuge"), Op. 133
               Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 15 in A minor ("Heiliger Dankgesang") Op. 132
               Quartet for 2 violins, viola & cello No. 16 in F major, Op. 135


THE HOLLYWOOD STRING QUARTET: RARE LP COVERS
(photos and scans courtesy of Fred Zlotkin)

Smetana and Glazounov

Ravel and Debussy          Later LP (including Schoenberg)          Italy LP (including Schoenberg)

Beethoven: Late Quartets (Set 3)

Schubert: Quintet

Schubert: Death and the Maiden

Schumann and Hummel

Brahms: Piano Quartets

Brahms: Piano Quintet

Hindemith and Prokofiev         UK LP cover

Schoenberg: Verklaerte Nacht      Back cover

Shostakovich - Quintet

45 RPM single: Tchaikovsky: Andante Cantabile / Borodin: Nocturne   
      Back cover    Label Side 1    Label Side 2  

UK LP Box Set of Beethoven Quartets (EMI RLS 7707)


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