1. a group of four musicians or singers
2. a piece of music for a quartet to perform
3. a group of four people or things
Origin and usage
A borrowing from Italian, quartet was first used in English in the early 17th century with the meaning of a set of four lines in a sonnet. The musical meaning, which is now the most common one, was first used by the musicologist Charles Burney, father of the novelist Fanny, in 1773. Quartet was often spelled quartette, a spelling that survived into the 20th century.
Quartet refers both to a group of four musicians and to the music they play, so a string quartet might well play a string quartet by Haydn. Quartet is also used more loosely to refer to set of four people or things. When T S Eliot called his collection of poems ‘The Four Quartets‘ he was specifically evoking ideas of the musical form, but you can have a quartet of anything from musicians or dancers to negotiators or clowns, to take a few examples from the corpus. Restaurants sometimes offer quartets of cheeses or desserts. As with the term ‘medley‘, which is used in a similar way, they are suggesting (or perhaps just hoping) that the flavours will combine in a satisfying and harmonious way, as happens with their musical equivalents.
“A good quartet is like a good conversation among friends interacting to each other’s ideas.”
“The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.”
duo, octet, quintet, septet, sextet, trio