The Medici Quartet is widely known both for its critically acclaimed performances of the Beethoven quartets and for various works by English composers, in particular Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Gerald Finzi, Michael Tippett, and John Tavener. But there was a third aspect to the group's fame, one shared by few other ensembles or individual musicians: from 1996, when the three-part television series Music & the Mind was broadcast by the BBC, the Medici Quartet began appearing in concerts concerned with the therapeutic benefits of music. As a result it eventually developed partnerships with some of the leading European medical institutes, including the Amsterdam Medical Centre and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. It also performed many concerts over the years, with actors giving readings, often about the composer's composition as it related to his life. In this endeavor the Medici Quartet worked, from about the mid-'70s to mid-'80s, with many actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company and director John Caird. The MQ has concertized in over 30 countries and made numerous recordings, many available on Nimbus, EMI, and Signum.
The Medici Quartet was formed in 1971 by the ensemble's longtime first violinist Paul Robertson, who was a mere 17 at the time. The other members were second violinist David Matthews, violist Paul Silverthorne, and cellist Anthony Lewis. Following a Wigmore Hall (London) debut in 1974, it began performing with pianist Clifford Curzon, who soon became the group's mentor. It was Curzon who taught the ensemble much of the piano quintet repertory and who initiated the concert series using members of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
In 1982 Ivo-Jan van der Werff became the quartet's violist. From 1988-1990 the MQ recorded the Beethoven quartets and Grosse Fugue for Nimbus to great critical acclaim. More personnel changes were ahead: Colin Callow replaced Matthews as second violinist in 1991, and he in turn would be succeeded by Stephen Morris. 1996 was pivotal year: besides breaking new ground with their highly successful Music & the Mind television series (which Robertson wrote and narrated), the MQ was appointed artists-in-residence at the University of Surrey.
In 2003, the MQ gave an acclaimed six-concert series of the Beethoven quartets at Blackheath Halls in London. The following year it repeated the cycle in a series of concerts at the Petworth Festival (West Sussex). In 2007 the Medici Quartet disbanded owing to Robertson's sudden health problems. However, all members re-formed in 2008 as the Medici Ensemble.