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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #3226
    Member Burbage's Avatar
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    It's Friday, so there's this:

    It’s 1781 and a composer sits, as sunshine streams through a fly-blown window, puzzling over the sepia scribblings that will become his Opus 33, the latest product of a one-man string-quartet factory who, barring the Moravian Richter, had practically invented the medium. And, arguably, Richter didn’t count. He’d written six, more-or-less all the same, and then given up, almost twenty-five years ago. Where was the innovation in that? Where was the industry? Compared with the dozens already under this composer’s belt, and the dozens bound to come, Richter’s efforts were those of a workshy dilletante. As for Mozart, although the little upstart had churned out an indifferent baker’s dozen, he’d done none for nearly a decade, writing mostly for those new-fangled boxes of hammers whose narcissistic owners didn’t need friends to play with. These quartets, emerging scratchily from paper and ink, are something entirely new. Especially this one, the third of the set, which is shaping up very nicely. There’s a nice tuneful movement to start with, with plenty of pleasant harmonising, some lovely chirpy lines for the first violin, and the cello’s gets a little earthy, and overdue, prominence, a great improvement on the work of some we might mention, especially as cellists might be customers, too (violists, like other species of dark matter, don’t make purchasing decisions). And, to finish, there’s a short and merry Presto. The sunshine, however, is Spanish, and so there’s nothing in between.

    The weary crow would have to flap for nearly two million yards, along the Alps and across them, to reach Haydn, who is buried in a palace and working on a similar task, between symphonies. But symphonies can wait. A symphony, after all, is just a quartet spoilt with toots and whistles and, though nice showcases for his patrons, they’re not where the the real money lies. The real money’s in the pockets of the drawing-room owning classes, the bored amateurs whose need for entertainment is limitless, a need that Haydn’s new contract allows him to satisfy. Unlike Boccherini, he has an eager publisher, waiting to turn his scribbles into so many pennies a sheet. Which may be why Haydn opts to construct four movements for every piece.

    The two composers are strangers, but they know of each other, up to a point. As 1781 trickles by, Boccherini writes to Artaria, Haydn’s publisher, to ask them to pass on a few words of respect and admiration, should a “Mr Giusseppe Haydn” be on their books. They do so and Haydn requests Boccherini’s address. And continues to do until, eighteen months later, he gives up asking and tells them to pass on his compliments instead. There’s no evidence that they ever did, though, and that seems to be as far as their happy friendship ever got. If it’s not the Alps, it’s the publishers. They were to be united in one respect, though, that of being panned together by the critics, one of whom would describe Haydn and Boccherini as “wild warblers in the woods”, compared with proper composers like Handel; a panning that doubtless boosted sales.

    But as I’ve surveyed the motives of the flippant and mercenary Haydn once already, I thought I’d attempt some Comparative Listening instead, after the manner of our Senior Members.

    As we know from the dessicated chortles of the liner-note industry, Haydn is chiefly celebrated for his dedication to the musical dad joke. It is an admirable approach, albeit one prone to wear thin, even without the repeats. But, given where Haydn stands in history, I guess he does as well as can be expected with the tools available. Sturm and Drang were a decade behind him, Strum and Twang over a century ahead, so all he had was the classical style and the dad joke. He was where he was. So I bore that charitably in mind as I lined up four recordings and prepared to be tickled. The results are as follows:

    1. Allegro moderato: If tempo is a matter of judgement, nobody owns their keep here. Of the four I listened to, there’s just a few seconds in it. It’s the playing of the herd, bar the ornaments on bar 95, which two choose to do, one of them elegantly.
    2. Scherzando allegretto: If a mislabelled dirge is the height of musical comedy, not every appreciate the prank, though they can’t get round the trio being also a duo. Very funny.
    3. Adagio ma non troppo. One group makes a proper Sunday afternoon of this, so it feels like watching the ducks rather than waiting for a sermon to finish. Others, not so much.
    4. Rondo. Presto. Some play this like mountain goats, but others inspire feelings less of excitement than of concern.

    So that’s it. The Apponyi’s are disgraceful show-offs, unsubtly prodding their sotto-voce sforzandi and repeating the repeats in the repeat in their three-minute presto, as if making some sort of point. The London Haydn Quartet are dutifully dry, but at least get the seating plan right. The Mosaiques are reliable but dusty, and the Doric String Quartet are delightful.

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  3. #3227
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    I always enjoy reading Burbage's weekly summaries, which provide a good mix of historical context and humor, and this week's entry might be my favorite. As a hack, amateur pianist, I loved the hilarious and accurate portrayal of pianists and their instruments. Burb even managed to sneak in a dad joke before Father's Day weekend in the U.S. Well done.

    Because of the brevity of this week's excellent choice, I've been doing a fair amount of comparative listening, which is unusual because I usually concentrate on the music and leave the comparisons to others, who do a much better job than I possibly could. I believe this quartet and the rest of the Op. 33 set was an important landmark in the evolution of the classical string quartet. The fact that this Opus inspired Mozart to write his 6 "Haydn" quartets, arguably Mozart's best contribution to the genre, is enough to cement the significance and legacy of this quartet. However, in typical Haydn fashion, he not only introduced a new genre, at least as it would be known from that point going forward, but subjected it to a process of evolution which ultimately would yield a blueprint that all other composers would embrace for centuries, or, at least, be forced to reckon with before rejecting and striking out on their own avant-garde musings. In this quartet we have the further democratization of the quartet, with all instruments, including the cello, having a go at the thematic material, in exposition and development. Of course, Beethoven must have been taking notes, and in due time, Beethoven would have the audacity to have the cello and viola introduce and carry big tunes. For me, the Op. 76 quartets of Haydn occupy the summit of the classical-era string quartet universe prior to Beethoven's revolutionary contributions (arguably Romantic music, or the "bridge" to Romanticism), and are probably the most perfect examples of late classical period aesthetics conveyed by four stringed instruments. The Op. 33 quartets, particularly #3, played a significant role in Haydn's evolution to Op. 76, and for that reason, the Op. 33, #3 string quartet is an essential work in the canon, and mandatory listening for any music-lover.

    Oh, one more thing: I love Burbage's swipe at the liner-notes industry. I occasionally read enlightening liner-notes, but most of them are rubbish, or not worth reading.
    Last edited by SearsPoncho; Jun-18-2021 at 18:52.
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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Burbage
    A symphony, after all, is just a quartet spoilt with toots and whistles...
    Quote of the day.

    Next week’s choice goes to allaroundmusicenthusiast, then, pending any more nominators, we are back to myself and the top of the order. This has been the longest of the three rounds, and it’s so delightful to see such a proliferation of members routinely posting in this thread! 16 months on and we just keep growing...
    "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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  6. #3229
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    First, I want to thank all participants for the very lively comments and discussion. I am happy that my suggestion was so well received; one never really knows (and I had browsed a little but of course not read the complete thread).

    Jerusalem Quartet
    This is close to perfect; in fact I think when I first heard this disc I thought it was sometimes a bit TOO smooth and perfect for Haydn. (But re-listening now to the op.20#5 and 33#3 I was not bothered by it, there is nothing wrong with sounding effortless and beautiful.) Not as sharply etched as the Apponyi but also far more beautiful sounding, the timing and balance is just great in all movements,

    Smetana Quartet (Lugano live 1982 on Aura)
    They show that the first movement can be lively and full of contrasts with a moderate tempo (I think the Auryn fail at this to some extent). In a way this is an "old world" version, they play the slow movement maybe a little too romantically and the scherzo not quite as hushed as I could imagine, but it is impossible for me not to love it as their love for the music seems so obvious.

    Cuarteto Casals
    They are as lean as and faster than the Apponyi but with modern instruments and the sound is not quite as wiry. It's hard to avoid similes like razor or laser when describing their playing. Like their playing I have been a bit on the edge wrt this set since I got (I think I only grabbed it when it got really cheap not directly when it came out around the anniversary 2009.) I think they are too fast and light in the first movement (and also a bit mannered). It's all drive but little charm, rather cold despite the precision and transparency (Beethoven's op.59/3 would probably work better played in such fashion). The second movement is well characterized but also a bit mannered. Surprisingly, I found that despite prevailing "coolness" their "detailed" approach works quite well in the slow movement. Even if the finale is again more drive than charm it works better for me here than in the first movement. Overall a highly proficient and certainly not routine interpretation, very modern but more to appreciate and admire than to love.

    So of the ones I heard (Pro Arte, Smetana, Auryn, Jerusalem, Casals) the old favorites prevailed. Casals is interesting but a bit extreme (in a way I am not sure that it benefits the music) the Auryn slightly disappointing, the Pro Arte mostly of historical interest (nice, but I don't think all that special, however I am not anything like Tully Potter, so I certainly lack all sorts of knowledge and appreciation of subtleties of historic string (quartet) playing).

    I'd have three more recordings I have not listened to (Weller, Angeles, Janacek), maybe I'll do one more during the weekend, maybe not. One shouldn't overdo although I am not tired of the piece. Great pick!

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  8. #3230
    Senior Member allaroundmusicenthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Quote of the day.

    Next week’s choice goes to allaroundmusicenthusiast, then, pending any more nominators, we are back to myself and the top of the order. This has been the longest of the three rounds, and it’s so delightful to see such a proliferation of members routinely posting in this thread! 16 months on and we just keep growing...
    Oh is it my turn already?? I thought it was next week! Anyways, now I have to think of something. Could you provide me a list of all the quartets already selected? Thanks!

  9. #3231
    Moderator Art Rock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by allaroundmusicenthusiast View Post
    Oh is it my turn already?? I thought it was next week! Anyways, now I have to think of something. Could you provide me a list of all the quartets already selected? Thanks!
    See post 1.............

  10. #3232
    Senior Member allaroundmusicenthusiast's Avatar
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    Ok, so for this week's selection I bring you Mauricio Kagel's first two SQs. I'm choosing two pieces because of the following reasons: they were written in the same period from 1965 to 1967; they're quite short, both are 10 minutes long; and finally because they have a lot in common, they're quite dark and somber pieces, the instruments are rarely played in the traditional manner, and despite their darkness there's a certain humour to them, as it happens with many Kagel pieces, and they're also quite theatrical, another characteristic trait of Kagel's.

    These two are some of the most original SQs I've ever heard, even if their effect on me has somewhat diminished over time. I was blown away the first time I listened to them.

    As far as I know there are two recordings available, one by the Arditti Quartet and another one -a video recording- by the Quatuor Bozzini. The Arditti's recording is paired with a small but very beautiful, almost debussian in some way, work called Pan for SQ and piccolo flute, and also with Kagel's third quartet. You can also listen to those if you're interested, they're very different from the two other works, both written in the mid-80's. Kagel's third quartet is longer (almost 40 minutes long), and, even if it's still quite original, there's a clearer structure, and more traditional playing. It's a delightful work, and please don't refrain from discussing it if you do end up listening to it, same goes for Pan.

    I hope you enjoy my selections!
    Last edited by allaroundmusicenthusiast; Jun-19-2021 at 18:01.

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  12. #3233
    Member Clloydster's Avatar
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    Sorry. I watched half of the first one on YouTube with Bozzini. That was 5-7 minutes I won't get back. Am I missing something here? I'll confess to being a neophyte to classical music, but is that really considered classical music? I saw no skill required to make scraping and rattling sounds on instruments. Were they interesting new ways of using the instruments? Not for me. I could start pounding on my grill with a hammer and make unique sounds - that doesn't make me either a musician or a cook.

    I'm bowing out of this week's. I'm having a much more pleasant time perusing Schubert's works - the Impromptus are wonderful.

  13. #3234
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    Clloydster, did you try the Haydn quartet?

  14. #3235
    Senior Member allaroundmusicenthusiast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Clloydster View Post
    Sorry. I watched half of the first one on YouTube with Bozzini. That was 5-7 minutes I won't get back. Am I missing something here? I'll confess to being a neophyte to classical music, but is that really considered classical music? I saw no skill required to make scraping and rattling sounds on instruments. Were they interesting new ways of using the instruments? Not for me. I could start pounding on my grill with a hammer and make unique sounds - that doesn't make me either a musician or a cook.

    I'm bowing out of this week's. I'm having a much more pleasant time perusing Schubert's works - the Impromptus are wonderful.
    Give Kagel's third a chance, it'll be much more easier to get into, it practically has no weird stuff or listen to the Arditti recording without thinking about what they're doing with their instruments or over analyzing it.
    Last edited by allaroundmusicenthusiast; Jun-19-2021 at 21:06.

  15. #3236
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Could we please just focus on a single quartet? Short is not a problem.
    Last edited by Knorf; Jun-19-2021 at 21:38.

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  17. #3237
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    Could we please just focus on a single quartet? Short is not a problem.
    ....Agreed.....

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    Senior Member allaroundmusicenthusiast's Avatar
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    I'm sorry, I'd seen previous choices of the week with two works, so given their lengths and similarities, I went for it. But if I had to choose one, i'd keep the 2nd one.

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    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    ^Yeah, we officialized the “one quartet per week” rule when the majority of posters expressed their preference for it. Sorry that wasn’t clear! But this looks like a fascinating choice, and I’ll be looking forward to encountering it.

    Here’s AllMusic:

    Written in 1965-67, this 10-minute work in one movement is a companion piece to the "Streichquartett I (String Quartet No. I)" by continuing to emphasize the theatre of concert performance and by employing preparations and unusual methods of playing the instruments in order to produce new sounds. In the first quartet, the cellist uses a knitting needle between the strings, and in the second the violinists employ a serrated wooden rod toward a similar purpose. Also the first violinist must play one passage with his left (fingerboard) hand in a leather glove. The quartet begins with an electronic-like tremolo effect similar to the first Quartet. Scratchy and plucked sounds suggest a rock or pebble-like surface. Receding into the distance from this is an arpeggio-pattern of airy harmonics "played with utmost affection". Heavy multi-toned white noise scratching, so heavy that you imagine the strings will break, produces a sound like the creaking of wood in old furniture or that of the hinges of an ancient weather-worn door. Light, pitched tremolos fly away from this texture. Gentle pizzicati in steady rhythm accompany an odd dance whose melody is made from simple sustained harmonic tones. This lasts only briefly and is followed by isolated arhythmic pizzicatos. Low rich tones on a cello are accompanied by light arpeggios. A sound like wind. Peaceful tones suddenly slide down out of their promisingly heavenly sustains. Again the nervous energies prevail until light, barely articulated tones seem to end the work. The players are requested by the score to look at each other with puzzled expressions. And then the quartet actually concludes
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Jun-19-2021 at 22:36.
    "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

  22. #3240
    Senior Member StevehamNY's Avatar
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    allaroundmusicenthusiast, this quartet lives in the wilderness that some people are going to call "noise music" and other people are going to call "not music at all" and maybe some of the composer's directions are a little out there (knitting needle, leather glove, puzzled expressions, etc.), but personally I am going to listen to it tonight as I'm falling asleep, when my analytical filters are switched off, and I know I'll be happy to experience it!

    (At the very least, I'll have interesting dreams!)

    (From Haydn to Kagel in one week. Where else are you going to find that?)

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