The Kolisch String Quartet was founded in 1924 by violinist Rudolf Kolisch, a major advocate of advanced twentieth century music between the two world wars. The first Kolisch Quartet to remain stable enough to perform publicly was called Vienna Quartet and from 1924 presented European premieres of works by Bartók, Webern, Berg (Lyric Suite), Schoenberg, Hauer, Casella, and many other "modernist" works of the era, in addition to performing standard Viennese string quartets by Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven. It became the in-house quartet for Arnold Schoenberg's organization, the ISCM, and in 1929 the group changed its name to the Kolisch Quartet and made its first recordings.
By 1933, Hitler had already shuttered the German concert circuit against the Kolisch Quartet owing to its affiliation with modern composers, and the group concentrated its activity in England and Copenhagen until relocating to America in 1935. The quartet played concerts on the West Coast, where it recorded all four of Schoenberg's string quartets at a United Artists soundstage at the behest of Alfred Newman in late 1936 and linked up with chamber music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The group had difficulty adapting to the American concert scene, which had a more occasional regard to chamber music than had been the case in Europe, and the lineup of the Kolisch Quartet began to experience rapid changes in personnel. It made its last European tour in early 1939, its last recordings for American Columbia in 1940, and played its last concert in New York in May 1944.
Rudolf Kolisch had very exacting standards and was reputedly not the easiest quartet leader to deal with, and while the group's performances of modern literature -- and of Beethoven -- were considered authoritative, its readings of older Viennese literature was notoriously uneven. Nevertheless, the Kolisch Quartet was associated with many of the most important early twentieth century string quartets and was the first modern string quartet to play from memory.