Its founding members were all part of a Viennese chamber orchestra, who, while getting together to play chamber music, discovered the musical rapport essential to founding a great quartet. Deciding to honor a Viennese composer in their choice of names, they selected Alban Berg
, one of the members of the group of atonal composers known as the Second Viennese School. According to violist Thomas Kakuska, the choice reflects Berg
's position as a member of this revolutionary group of composers, but also his status as the most traditional-minded of them. Kakuska said, "We have chosen our name to show that we want to make a balance between the Romantic repertoire and also to play contemporary music."
The quartet achieved its interpretations by consensus, not by the domination of any individual member. In addition to the given qualities of excellent ensemble (clean intonation and a sense of unanimity of purpose, the qualities most often mentioned by reviewers) was the remarkable uniformity of tone among its four members. Its sound was a warm one, although it could be rhythmically incisive when called for.
Its highly acclaimed recordings include complete sets of the quartets of Beethoven
, and Bartók
and the string quartet works of Berg
and Anton Webern
. The group also recorded substantial amounts of the quartet repertory of Mozart
, both Janácek
quartets, and works by Ravel
, Schumann, Debussy
, and Berio
. Its repertoire of newer music includes acclaimed recordings of quartets by von Einem
, and Urbanner
, many of them composed for and dedicated to the quartet. In 1977, it paid tribute to Franz Schubert
by playing only his music during his 200th anniversary year.
The members of the quartet -- which included violinists Günter Pichler, Gerhard Schulz, Kakuska, and cellist Valentin Erben
, of whom Pichler, Schulz and Erben
were founding members -- were all faculty members of the Wiener Hochschule für Musik and also taught master classes on German chamber music regularly at the Musikhochschule in Cologne. The group won 30 major international recording awards, representing virtually every top prize of note. Before Kakuska's death in 2005, he asked that Isabel Charisius, one of his students, take up his position. She did so successfully, but nevertheless, the quartet decided to end its career in 2008.