Flashback Winter 2011: Fiddlers on the Run

Pro Arte Quartet

UW–Madison Archives

The foursome shown above isn’t some groovy, folkie bunch from the hippie era, though they are known for playing oldies. Really, really old oldies. This is the Pro Arte Quartet, the UW’s musical group in residence since 1940. Founded in Belgium in 1912, Pro Arte celebrates its centennial this academic year, and it claims to be the oldest continually active string quartet in the world.

The Pro Arte story begins at the Brussels Conservatory, where students Alphonse Onnou, Laurent Halleux, Germain Prévost, and Fernand Auguste Lemaire decided to put together a band and play chamber music. The group became successful and toured across Europe and eventually the United States and Canada. In 1940, the quartet’s members were playing in Madison when their native land was invaded and conquered by Nazi Germany during World War II. The UW offered Pro Arte a home in exile, thus creating the first such residency at a major American university.

In the seventy-one years since, Pro Arte has become a UW fixture, even while members came and went. The last original player, Prévost, left the group in 1947. This picture was taken in the late 1970s, after the group added its first (and so far only) UW graduate: cellist Parry Karp MMusic’77. (That’s him on the right.) The other members at the time were (from left) Norman Paulu, Richard Blum, and Martha Blum.

Karp remains with the quartet today, though the rest of the musicians have all changed again. The band now includes David Perry, Suzanne Beia, and Sally Chisholm.

To celebrate its centennial, the quartet commissioned four original works by noted composers. Pro Arte will premiere the pieces through the academic year — and then stream its performances online. For more information on the concerts, see proartequartet.org.

Published in the Winter 2011 issue

Tags: Arts, Campus history, Faculty, International, music

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