Pro Arte Quartet

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The Pro Arte String Quartet was founded in Belgium in 1912,[1] and transferred permanently to Madison, Wisconsin (USA) in 1941. After becoming the Court Quartet to Queen Elizabeth of Belgium, the Pro Arte began the first of many international tours in 1919. Bartók, Milhaud and Honegger entrusted the ensemble new works to premiere. The Pro Arte Quartet made its American debut in 1926 in New York and returned for 30 tours to the United States, often under the auspices of the noted patron of chamber music, Mrs. Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Their first visit to Madison was in 1938. Two years later, the musicians were stranded in Madison by the outbreak of World War II and accepted a residency at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the first such residency in a major American university. The Pro Arte became the faculty string quartet of the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the late 1950s, an appointment that continues till this day.


The original personnel of the Pro Arte Quartet were:

1st violin: Alphonse Onnou
2nd violin: Laurent Halleux
viola: Germain Prévost
violoncello: Robert Maas

The current personnel are:

1st violin: David Perry
2nd violin: Suzanne Beia
viola: Sally Chisholm
violoncello: Parry Karp

Many famous instrumentalists have played and coached with the Pro Arte Quartet over the years.

Origins: 1912-1941[edit]

The Quartet was founded by Alphonse Onnou, its leader, in Brussels in 1912. After the First World War it became famous for the performance of modern music, and also for its extensive recordings of Haydn. The Quartet made its New York debut in 1926 and performed at the inauguration of the Hall of Music at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. In 1932 they were named the 'Quatuor de la Cour de Belgique'. They frequently toured in the United States, and first performed at Madison, Wisconsin in 1938.

Early American History: 1941-1947[edit]

While touring in Wisconsin in 1941 they were offered a permanent residency. In 1944, following the disbanding of the Kolisch Quartet in the USA, Rudolf Kolisch took up leadership of the Pro Arte in 1944, combined with a Wisconsin Professorship. In 1946, Robert Maas became the original cellist in the newly formed Paganini Quartet. In 1947, violist Germain Prevost, the last of the original members, resigned. In the late 1950s, the Pro Arte Quartet became members of the University's School of Music faculty in addition to being artists-in-residence.[2]

Centennial Anniversary Commissioning Project 2011-2012[edit]

The legendary Pro Arte Quartet is the first quartet in the world to reach their centennial anniversary. This esteemed ensemble, in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1940, has been in continuous existence since its founding in Belgium in 1911. Moreover, over its continuous span the Pro Arte has added immeasurably to the art of the string quartet, particularly as a champion of the new music of its time — including new works of Bartók, Ravel and Bloch in an era when these composers were still alive, and, more recently, works of composers such as Samuel Rhodes, Tamar Diesendruck, Andrew Imbrie, Ralph Shapey, and Gunther Schuller.

The celebration of the Pro Arte’s centennial anniversary will begin in the 2011-2012 season. To honor this auspicious and unprecedented anniversary, and in acknowledgment of their long-standing role as advocates of new music, the quartet has embarked on an ambitious commissioning project to include up to eight new works. Premieres will be presented throughout the 2011-2012 season.

Additional initiatives include composer residencies, a major-label recording of the new works, a new book on the history of the quartet, an international tour to the major cultural centers of the world, with a “homecoming” residency in Belgium, and a year-long celebration at home in Madison, Wisconsin, to include performances, lectures and exhibits.


(78rpm recordings (Victor/HMV) of the original Pro Arte up to 1936:- )

  • Bartók: Quartet no 1 in A minor op 7 (V 8842-5/DB 2379-82).
  • Bloch: Piano Quintet, with Alfredo Casella (V 7874-7/DB 1882-5).
  • Borodin: Quartet no 2 in D major (V 8609-12/DB 2150-3).
  • Brahms: Quartet no 1 in G minor op 25 (V 8444-7/DB 1813-6).
  • Brahms: Sextet no 1 in B flat major op 18, with Alfred Hobday and Anthony Pini (DB 2566-9).
  • Debussy: Quartet in G minor op 10 (1893) (DB 1878-81).
  • Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A major op 81, with Artur Schnabel (V 8305-8/DB 2177-80).
  • Franck: Quartet in D major (V 8630-5/DB 2051-6).
  • Mozart: Piano quartet no 1 in G minor K 478 with Artur Schnabel (V8562-5/Db 2155-8).
  • Mozart: String Quintet in C major K 515 with Alfred Hobday (V 8712-5/DB 2383-6).
  • Mozart: String Quintet in G minor K 516 with Alfred Hobday (V 7865-8/DB 2173-6).
  • Ravel: Quartet in F major (DB 2135-8).
  • Schubert: String Quintet in C major op 163 with Anthony Pini (DB 2561-5).
  • Schumann: Piano Quintet in E flat major op 44 with Artur Schnabel (V 8685-8/DB 2387-90).
  • Vivaldi: Concerto Grosso no 5 in A major 'a quatre' (V 8827/DB 2148).

The Haydn Quartet Society was formed in 1932 by HMV and by 1936 the Pro Arte recorded five volumes of records available only as complete sets. The contents were:

  • Volume 1: Quartets in C major op 20 no 2; C major op 33 no 3 'Bird'; G major op 77 no 1.
  • Volume 2: Quartets in D major op 33 no 6; G major op 54 no 1; C major op 54 no 2; G minor op 74 no 3.
  • Volume 3: Quartets in F major op 3 no 5; E flat major op 33 no 2; E flat major op 64 no 6; B flat major op 71 no 1.
  • Volume 4: Quartets in E flat major op 50 no 3; C major 'Emperor' op 76 no 3; F minor op 20 no 5.
  • Volume 5: Quartets in D major op 20 no 4; F major op 74 no 2; F major op 77 no 2.


  1. ^ Thus the official website. According to (Eaglefield-Hull 1924), in 1922.
  2. ^ See the history of the quartet in the official website


  • R.D. Darrell, The Gramophone Shop Encyclopedia of Recorded Music (New York 1936).
  • Arthur Eaglefield Hull, A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians (Dent, London 1924).

External links[edit]