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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #2911
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    I had a few quick thoughts which turned into some long thoughts. In particular, I am interested in discussing the issue of composers who bring in folk elements and/or promote nationalism compared to those who strive for “absolute music.” I would like to know what other think.
    The story of the composer who is torn between writing music that celebrates their native country and following in the footsteps of great European masters is a familiar one.
    The irony is that audiences who attend the symphonies or chamber music recitals are usually of a class that aspires to be the most sophisticated, yet there is often a mandate to tap into the common vernacular (usually in the form of native folk music). I guess this is not so surprising when you consider the roles musicians have played in high society—everything from hero to servant. The dichotomy is always evident when I attend those events celebrating an arts organization. They are usually held at a patron’s lavish home and the artists scurry out and perform, then disappear into the kitchen where they can eat leftovers while the patrons enjoy the rest of their evening among their own kind.
    I’m no expert but Russia sounds like a bit of a battleground during Tchaikovsky’s early years as a composer. The Russian Musical Society, a product of the worldly pianist Anton Rubinstein and his patroness, Elena Pavlovna, was stepping in to bring culture to Russia. This meant European culture. But lurking nearby was the Five (it sounds sinister, somehow).
    Again, I see the parallels with the U.S. All of the musical societies in the late 19th century and early 20th were attempting to bring European greatness to a country that didn’t have much of its own. A great example of that was the composer Edward Macdowell who proved that a composer from this country could be as European as the best of them. He was such a hero in this country that music clubs sprang up in his name.
    In truth, the Madowell Music Clubs have been a force for good in this country and promoted many composers who developed a uniquely American voice. I assume the Russian Musical Society probably was instrumental in encouraging Russian composers and musicians.
    All of this to say, the tension between the academic route and “music of the common people” seems to be a theme for certain composers and I always think of it being troublesome for Tchaikovsky.
    This quartet, with the exception of the folk tune element, is pretty classical in its form and structure. It is one of pieces that almost seem to say, “see, I know how it should be done.” In style, however, there are a couple of elements that I think are more distinctly Tchaikovskyesque.
    The scherzo has an abundance of those hemiolas that he loved. That had become pretty much expected, however, due to Beethoven’s use of the scherzo as a playground for rhythmic ambiguity. In the trio, however, Tchaikovsky has an extended phrase of notes with the “wrong” note value, setting up a pretty serious disruption of reality. And then there is the opening theme of the first movement. As a listener I sensed there was something off about that theme but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Looking at the score, I see the trick he is playing: it is in 9/8 but instead grouped normally: 3,3,3, he consistently groups it 2,3,2,2.
    This explains why some groups struggle with this opening. If it is played accurately and slowly, it sounds like a strange rubato. The alternative is to gloss over it, which kind of works, but can also sound too pedestrian.

  2. #2912
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmina Banana View Post
    I had a few quick thoughts which turned into some long thoughts. In particular, I am interested in discussing the issue of composers who bring in folk elements and/or promote nationalism compared to those who strive for “absolute music.” I would like to know what other think.
    The story of the composer who is torn between writing music that celebrates their native country and following in the footsteps of great European masters is a familiar one.
    The irony is that audiences who attend the symphonies or chamber music recitals are usually of a class that aspires to be the most sophisticated, yet there is often a mandate to tap into the common vernacular (usually in the form of native folk music). I guess this is not so surprising when you consider the roles musicians have played in high society—everything from hero to servant. The dichotomy is always evident when I attend those events celebrating an arts organization. They are usually held at a patron’s lavish home and the artists scurry out and perform, then disappear into the kitchen where they can eat leftovers while the patrons enjoy the rest of their evening among their own kind.
    I’m no expert but Russia sounds like a bit of a battleground during Tchaikovsky’s early years as a composer. The Russian Musical Society, a product of the worldly pianist Anton Rubinstein and his patroness, Elena Pavlovna, was stepping in to bring culture to Russia. This meant European culture. But lurking nearby was the Five (it sounds sinister, somehow).
    Again, I see the parallels with the U.S. All of the musical societies in the late 19th century and early 20th were attempting to bring European greatness to a country that didn’t have much of its own. A great example of that was the composer Edward Macdowell who proved that a composer from this country could be as European as the best of them. He was such a hero in this country that music clubs sprang up in his name.
    In truth, the Madowell Music Clubs have been a force for good in this country and promoted many composers who developed a uniquely American voice. I assume the Russian Musical Society probably was instrumental in encouraging Russian composers and musicians.
    All of this to say, the tension between the academic route and “music of the common people” seems to be a theme for certain composers and I always think of it being troublesome for Tchaikovsky.
    This quartet, with the exception of the folk tune element, is pretty classical in its form and structure. It is one of pieces that almost seem to say, “see, I know how it should be done.” In style, however, there are a couple of elements that I think are more distinctly Tchaikovskyesque.
    The scherzo has an abundance of those hemiolas that he loved. That had become pretty much expected, however, due to Beethoven’s use of the scherzo as a playground for rhythmic ambiguity. In the trio, however, Tchaikovsky has an extended phrase of notes with the “wrong” note value, setting up a pretty serious disruption of reality. And then there is the opening theme of the first movement. As a listener I sensed there was something off about that theme but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Looking at the score, I see the trick he is playing: it is in 9/8 but instead grouped normally: 3,3,3, he consistently groups it 2,3,2,2.
    This explains why some groups struggle with this opening. If it is played accurately and slowly, it sounds like a strange rubato. The alternative is to gloss over it, which kind of works, but can also sound too pedestrian.
    Wow! Loved reading this post. It deserves two likes: One for the high quality of the analysis, and one for using the word "hemiolas." I've enjoyed reading all the commentary from the great contributors to this thread, but this one really stands out. Still the best thread on this site.
    "It should have worked." - Arthur Carlson

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  4. #2913
    Senior Member Kjetil Heggelund's Avatar
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    I'm glad the word hemiola is not forgotten completely

  5. #2914
    Senior Member Carmina Banana's Avatar
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    Thanks for the two likes, SearsPoncho. Let me say that I also really appreciate all of the members here. Especially since I almost swore off internet forums forever. I recently posted a question on a facebook group. I guessed it was a pretty basic question, but I thought someone would just answer yes or no and it wouldn't be a big deal. It was humiliating. Everybody piled on mercilessly. Dozens and dozens took turns insulting me. I learned some new terminology that I won't repeat here. Eventually my post was removed because I had violated the rules of asking a question that I could have looked up on google.
    Very happy to be here where we are all accepted and pretty darn nice to each other.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I’ve tried my hand at Facebook groups as well, and have determined that this thread is just about the only place on the Internet that I’m comfortable hanging out at anymore. Even posting, say, a favorite Bach piano recommendation on one of those FB groups often leads to being told that it’s a disgrace to listen to Bach on the piano or being informed that Gould is factually the only real interpreter of Bach. We’re amazingly genial here, and besides the Schoenberg kerfuffle a couple months back we’ve kept the thread as a real refuge from stereotypical Internet muck.

    Next week’s nominator: FastkeinBrahms!

    And just a polite reminder: The next week’s selection should be posted on Sunday - whenever that may be for the nominator. This allows for everyone who wants to get their thoughts in to do so. Thanks!
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art is an attempt to transport into a limited quantity of matter, modeled by man, an image of the infinite beauty of the entire universe." - Simone Weil

    "Ceaseless work, analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction, that is my secret." - Johann Sebastian Bach

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  8. #2916
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    There are quite a few places you can go online to meet CM fans and I've tried them all and they're all rubbish (Google Groups being the worst for opinionated pratts and people stuck firmly in the past) . TC has always been the best forum for discussing the music we love and whilst it's not perfect and there are annoying people on other threads (like on every forum) I think this particular thread has carved out a unique position here. I like the people who post here a lot and respect their views, knowledge and humour. Apologies from me if I sometimes come over as a 'know it all'. I am far from that and never have been one, and there are people on here with a million times my musical knowledge and accumen. I'm a listener, not a real muso, and I constantly strive to find new (to me) recordings that I like and share them so we don't get stuck just thrashing our the same old boring comments and recommended recordings without listening afresh. That's it. Theres no agenda, no initial bias, etc. I just want to find things for myself and others to listen to.
    Last edited by Merl; May-07-2021 at 23:27.

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  10. #2917
    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmina Banana View Post
    Thanks for the two likes, SearsPoncho. Let me say that I also really appreciate all of the members here. Especially since I almost swore off internet forums forever. I recently posted a question on a facebook group. I guessed it was a pretty basic question, but I thought someone would just answer yes or no and it wouldn't be a big deal. It was humiliating. Everybody piled on mercilessly. Dozens and dozens took turns insulting me. I learned some new terminology that I won't repeat here. Eventually my post was removed because I had violated the rules of asking a question that I could have looked up on google.
    Very happy to be here where we are all accepted and pretty darn nice to each other.
    Carmina, how dare you say something so ridiculous here, you %$^&* @#$%^& *&^%$#!


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  12. #2918
    Senior Member Helgi's Avatar
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    Lots of nice posts to catch up on this week.

    Meanwhile, I've been preoccupied with: a) 15-16th century funeral music, and b) children's birthday parties. But I did manage to sneak in a few listens of the Tchaikovsky. I've liked it since I first heard it (not that long ago), but while I felt that there were many things to enjoy in it it never really caught fire for me — until I listened to the Utrecht recording. That one really sold it to me. They play it with so much conviction, and everything sounds just right. It's that fine line of being completely committed without going overboard that seems to be a challenge with string quartets in particular, and maybe other forms of chamber music (cello sonatas come to mind). Great sound, too.

    Btw., I was reading this thread while balancing a smartphone, a portable amplifier and a full cup of coffee this morning, and I think I accidentally hit the "report this post" button on one of the lovely posts in this weeks' discussion. Don't know if it went through, but just so you know!

  13. #2919
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    ^ reporter!!!!

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    I am pleased to nominate the E flat major string quartet by Fanny Hensel (born Fanny Mendelssohn) for this week.

    At this stage, I will refrain from saying things about the music itself. When I listen to an unfamiliar piece of music for the first time - and I do hope that this quartet is unknown to at least some of you -, I prefer my listening to be unguided. The second and third time around, if there is one, that is a different story.

    Just one or two non-musical facts about the work: It was composed in 1834, when Fanny was 29 years old. It does not have an opus number and was only published in the 1980s. There is an exchange of letters between her and her brother which sheds some light on both composers’ approach to writing music, as well as their self doubts. Unfortunately, this is the only string quartet Fanny wrote.

    This quartet has by now been recorded quite frequently. I have not found a bad recording, one or two I find great, one or two seem mediocre to me and the rest is somewhere in the middle. The one I have on CD is the Nash Ensemble on Hyperion, which came out last year, and also contains her opus 11 Piano Trio. I have not found it available for streaming. I you can get hold of it, you will not be disappointed. It is the most emotionally intense reading I have found.

    Here are some recordings that you can find easily on Spotify et al.:

    Quatuor Ebène
    Merel Quartet
    Asasello Quartet
    Erato Quartet
    Lafayette String Quartet
    Malin Broman Musica Vitae
    Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet
    Last edited by FastkeinBrahms; May-09-2021 at 09:21.

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  16. #2921
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Nice choice, FKB. I have the Nash Ensemble recording and the Ebene recording. I got that one for hers bro's 6th quartet on that particular disc but haven't played it for some time (and mistakenly left it off my Mendelssohn 6 round-up - now amended).

    BTW, there's a recording from the Cavaleri Quartet too

    PS. Am I allowed to snigger like a 5 year old at the word 'Fanny'? I'll only do it once, promise.

    Edit: I came to this quartet some years ago as it was often paired with my favourite quartet (Mendelssohn's 6th) but tbh I've never really listened that closely to it. Giving my Ebene recording another spin, I'm really enjoying hearing it again. It owes a debt to Beethoven for me but it's a quartet full of colour and passion. I've played 3 recordings of it this morning (it's only short) and I have a definite preference for one of them. The 2nd movement seems the trickiest to get right so I'm going to focus on that quite a bit in my listening.
    Last edited by Merl; May-09-2021 at 12:39.

  17. #2922
    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    FKB, I have the Ebene recording, and I've liked this quartet from the first time I heard it. (There's a whole side discussion to be had on why it took 150 years to see publication. Maybe she should have taken a cue from her contemporaries, the Bronte sisters, and made up a fake male pseudonym?)

    Anyway, thank you for nominating this! Sounds like I may need to track down that Nash recording, even knowing that Hyperion never streams anything. (But that's what disposable income is for, right?)

    (P.S. Funny how, as an American, the "fanny" business does nothing to me!)

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  19. #2923
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FastkeinBrahms View Post

    Here are some recordings that you can find easily on Spotify et al.:

    Quatuor Ebène
    Merel Quartet
    Asasello Quartet
    Erato Quartet
    Lafayette String Quartet
    Malin Broman Musica Vitae
    Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet
    Here's the other two I found (one of which I've just listened to).

    Cavaleri Quartet
    Florestan Quartet

    Listening to quite a few of these today, there were some that immediately stood out. However, I wasn't impressed by the Fanny Mendelssohn Quartet (bit dull and homogenous), Florestan Quartet (not a great acoustic and not lively enough) and the Asasello Quartet (a bit laboured but well played). I rather liked the Merel's slightly mannered approach. I'll listen to the Lafayette recording again tomorrow as I was interrupted halfway through but initial impressions were positive. I have the Nash and Ebene recordings and I've just burned them to the car USB for a listen tomorrow. I do like that 2nd movement a lot, I've got to admit, but the whole quartet is definitely growing on me. It definitely fits well with recordings of Mendelssohn's 6th quartet for some reason. Apparently grumpy Mendy wasn't impressed by his sis' effort (basically trashed it out of sight). Sexist pig!
    Last edited by Merl; May-09-2021 at 23:31.

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    Senior Member GucciManeIsTheNewWebern's Avatar
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    Disclaimer: This following is not insightful analysis of any kind.

    This was a quality choice. It instantly drew me in from the first couple bars. The part writing is really nice and fun to follow along with. The fast movements are plain bad@ss and absolutely rock out. The "Romance" adagio is probably my favorite movement. I think "expressive" is an adjective that becomes hackneyed (or at least I feel that way when I'm trying to write about music) because music is so intangible and defies description. With that being said, that adagio is so wonderfully expressive that I was quite carried away with it. I love this piece!
    Last edited by GucciManeIsTheNewWebern; May-10-2021 at 02:00. Reason: zbpelling

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    Senior Member BlackAdderLXX's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Carmina Banana View Post
    Thanks for the two likes, SearsPoncho. Let me say that I also really appreciate all of the members here. Especially since I almost swore off internet forums forever. I recently posted a question on a facebook group. I guessed it was a pretty basic question, but I thought someone would just answer yes or no and it wouldn't be a big deal. It was humiliating. Everybody piled on mercilessly. Dozens and dozens took turns insulting me. I learned some new terminology that I won't repeat here. Eventually my post was removed because I had violated the rules of asking a question that I could have looked up on google.
    Very happy to be here where we are all accepted and pretty darn nice to each other.
    I feel this. Social media is a sewer, as are most internet forums. Pretty much youse guys and a cigar forum I'm on are the only interaction of the sort that I do. There's a couple of tool bags here on TC as well, but they tend to confine their pontification to every thread but this one!
    I'm realizing that my answer to the "favorite recording" question is usually Bruno Walter.

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