The Quartet was formed in 1917 by four friends, all protégés of the violinist Jeno Hubay, himself a pupil of Joseph Joachim and David Popper. Hubay and Popper had been part of an earlier Budapest Quartet, and the new quartet took the same name in honour of their mentor. Their debut took place in December 1917. One of the quartet’s rules was that players were not allowed to take outside engagements, something no previous quartet had attempted.
In the early 1920’s, the quartet moved to Berlin, and in 1925 played in London, being signed to a recording contract by HMV. Following several changes in personal, they Quartet began its first US tour in early 1931, but they received good reviews, the tour was unrewarding financially. However, they soon began to make a name on the international scene with tours to the Dutch East Indies, Australia and New Zealand. Indeed, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation offered them six months work.
Initially the advent of Fascism, in Germany was not an issue, and the Quartet were welcomed as visitors from Hungary. However, after being threatened by a Nazi group, they relocated to Paris, from where they continued to tour Europe and the U.S. In 1936, the last remaining member of the original group, Ipolyi, resigned. He was replaced speedily by Boris Kroyt, in time for a twenty-week tour of Australia, and possibly another ten weeks in New Zealand. By the time they reached New York in November 1936, their playing was reaching new standards.
In 1939, anxiety about the situation in Europe led them to accept an invitation to become resident quartet at the new Library of Congress Hall (paid for by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge), playing a fine set of Stradivarii instruments donated by Gertrude Clarke Whittall. On the expiry of their contract with HMV and its US affiliate RCA Victor, the Quartet moved to Columbia, who were keen to add more chamber music to their catalogue. Over the next 35 years, they recorded 89 works for their new label, totalling some 2 million copies.
In 1950 the quartet returned to Europe, although they declined to play in Germany. They also toured Japan in 1952 and 1954. However, in March 1962 they played their last concert in the Library of Congress, an arrangement that was terminated over concerns about intonation (tuning), and they were replaced by the Juilliard Quartet. In 1963, they joined the Summer Festival at Marlboro College in South Vermont. Among their students were the Guarneri Quartet, who as a result can perhaps be regarded as heirs to the Budapest “style”.
At a time when chamber music concerts were poorly attended, the Budapest Quartet reversed the situation, and in addition left a huge legacy of recordings. These include:-
Quartets Op 18 no 3 (V 8860-2);
Op 51 no 1 (HMV D 1660-3);
Op 130 (V 8576-80/DB 2239-43);
The Grosse Fuge Op 133 (DB 1559-60)
Nocturne from Quartet no 2 in D major (D 1441)
Quartet no 2 in A minor Op 51 no 2 (V 8798-801/DB 2507-10)
Quartet no 3 in B flat major Op 67 (V 11545-8/DB 1859-62).
Quartet in G major “Op 76 no 1Q” (D 1075-7)
Quartet no 1 in E flat major op 12 (V 14000-2).
Quartet in B flat major K 458 'Hunting' (D 1387-9).
Quartet in C major K 465 'Dissonance' (V 8836-8/DB 1863-5).
Quartet in D major K 499 (V 11700-2/Db 2228-30).
Clarinet Quintet in A major K 581 with Benny Goodman, clarinet
Quartet in F major K 590 (DB 2514-6).
Quartettsatz in C minor (2 versions: (a) V 9273/D1421 (b) DB 2221)
Quartet in A minor op 29 (V 11716-9/DB 2224-7).
Quartet in D minor 'Death and the Maiden' (V 9241-5/D 1422-6).
Quartet, 'Voces Intimae' op 56 (Sibelius Society Volume 3).
Quartet no 2 in F major op 22 (V 11330-4/D 1655-9).