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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #3901
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    I have the privilege of selecting next week's string quartet (15-21 August), and have chosen:

    Arnold Schönberg: String Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 10 (1907-08)

    This string quartet, Schönberg's third in fact though he assigned it No. 2, is notable for including a soprano in the third and fourth movements, with settings of two poems by Stefan George. It might be the first⁠—very well could be at least the first famous⁠—string quartet to include voice.

    It is also notable in that it was dedicated to Schönberg's first wife, Mathilde, and composed during a time when she was having an affair (known to Arnold) with their friend and neighbor, artist Richard Gerstl. In the second movement, Schönberg quotes the Viennese folk song, "Oh, dear Augustin, it’s all over..." Referring to...what? Fear that the marriage was over? That the needs of music are passing through and beyond the boundaries of conventional understanding?

    And finally it's certainly notable for the way the music seems to float away from tonality in the fourth movement. Most of the quartet is conventionally tonal and based in tertian harmony, albeit very chromatic, until the third movement. After the tonally unhinged yet sublime, unsettling introduction to the fourth movement, the soprano sings the text, "I feel air from another planet..." and for me this is one of the greatest moments of frisson I have experienced listening to any string quartet, ever.

    Schönberg wrote, "I was inspired by poems of Stefan George...and, surprisingly, without any expectation on my part, these songs showed a style quite different from everything I had written before....New sounds were produced, a new kind of melody appeared, a new approach to expression of moods and characters was discovered." The needs of music are indeed passing through and beyond the boundaries of convention, whether one likes it or not. It's an incredible moment in the piece, and in music history.

    Because this is Schönberg, there's of course even more to discover in this piece than just those observations, worthy of discussion though they are. But I don't want to spoil things. I hope this piece spurs some discussion.

    This is one of my favorite string quartets of all time, and one I never, ever grow tired of.

    (N.B. spelling Schönberg as "Schoenberg" is perfectly acceptable, and in fact was the spelling Schönberg himself preferred in English, having emigrated to the United States in 1933 after fleeing Nazi Germany. I just like umlauts.)
    Last edited by Knorf; Aug-14-2021 at 21:50.

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  3. #3902
    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Nice choice, I only have the LaSalle Quartet recording but I'm sure there will others to stream.

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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Thanks so much to Knorf & Josquin13 for posts # 3898 & 3900

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  7. #3904
    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    I have the privilege of selecting next week's string quartet (15-21 August), and have chosen:

    Arnold Schönberg: String Quartet No. 2 in F-sharp minor, Op. 10 (1907-08)

    This string quartet, Schönberg's third in fact though he assigned it No. 2, is notable for including a soprano in the third and fourth movements, with settings of two poems by Stefan George. It might be the first⁠—very well could be at least the first famous⁠—string quartet to include voice.

    It is also notable in that it was dedicated to Schönberg's first wife, Mathilde, and composed during a time when she was having an affair (known to Arnold) with their friend and neighbor, artist Richard Gerstl. In the second movement, Schönberg quotes the Viennese folk song, "Oh, dear Augustin, it’s all over..." Referring to...what? Fear that the marriage was over? That the needs of music are passing through and beyond the boundaries of conventional understanding?

    And finally it's certainly notable for the way the music seems to float away from tonality in the fourth movement. Most of the quartet is conventionally tonal and based in tertian harmony, albeit very chromatic, until the third movement. After the tonally unhinged yet sublime, unsettling introduction to the fourth movement, the soprano sings the text, "I feel air from another planet..." and for me this is one of the greatest moments of frisson I have experienced listening to any string quartet, ever.

    Schönberg wrote, "I was inspired by poems of Stefan George...and, surprisingly, without any expectation on my part, these songs showed a style quite different from everything I had written before....New sounds were produced, a new kind of melody appeared, a new approach to expression of moods and characters was discovered." The needs of music are indeed passing through and beyond the boundaries of convention, whether one likes it or not. It's an incredible moment in the piece, and in music history.

    Because this is Schönberg, there's of course even more to discover in this piece than just those observations, worthy of discussion though they are. But I don't want to spoil things. I hope this piece spurs some discussion.

    This is one of my favorite string quartets of all time, and one I never, ever grow tired of.

    (N.B. spelling Schönberg as "Schoenberg" is perfectly acceptable, and in fact was the spelling Schönberg himself preferred in English, having emigrated to the United States in 1933 after fleeing Nazi Germany. I just like umlauts.)
    The omelette is correct because he wrote the quartet around 1907/8 and only changed the German spelling of his name to the English way, after he moved to the US in the early mid 1930s. One needs to keep abreast of the chronology and lexicon, lest one ends up with egg on one's face ....
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Aug-14-2021 at 23:53.

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  9. #3905
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    To wrap up “Intimate Letters” - a mostly futile task after the fantastic posts by Knorf and Josquin13 - one thing I was increasingly struck by with each listen was the highly rhapsodic nature of the music, which seems to be a general characteristic of this composer in keeping with the desire to capture the flow of conversation, which, after all, doesn’t exactly follow sonata-form structures! This means that (at least for me), the music requires highly focused attention, because if you get distracted, there are few signposts to get you back into the flow. The performers can’t sacrifice all sense of overarching structure, but they also need to nail the passionate spontaneity that is woven into the warp and woof of this music. I find that the second movement, in particular, can sound a bit rambling if not given a very creative performance. This work is packed with so many lovely details and each listen reveals new, delightful surprises hidden within the fine print of these “letters” - I find the finale to be the best in this regard. With my increasingly busy life I only had the chance to listen to two more recordings - Mandelring (including the version with the viola d’amore - interesting but ultimately Janáček totally made the right decision) and one of the myriad Talichs which I’m not even going to take the time to confirm I found Mandelring to be very muscular and powerful, with knockout recorded sound, but a bit prosaic and matter-of-fact; not capturing nearly enough poetry for my preference. The Talich, however, brings breathtaking security, creamy tone, songful phrasing, and irresistable impetus to their playing - the soaring, opulent first violin is just gorgeous, although it perhaps wrongly drowns out the important viola - and it is probably tied with the ’63 Janáček recording as my favorite of the limited bunch I heard this week.

    Yesterday I was in a used bookstore and I saw a book that was entirely devoted to the fascinatingly specific subject of Janáček’s relationship with the writer Max Brod, who in turn was most famous as literary executor of Franz Kafka’s works. I didn’t pick it up because I already had too many books in my arms, but I thought it definitely looked worth a read:



    Speaking of Kafka, this week’s choice brings us, to my delight, into German Expressionism. Every time I listen to Schoenberg, he gets boosted a little higher up my list of favorite composers. I have not heard this one yet and look forward to immersing myself once more in his sultry, soul-searching, expressionistic idiom (I don’t think the basic emotional language of his music changed between his early late-Romantic works and the atonal compositions; it was just a natural extension of the whole thread of German music since Wagner). This will be interesting because the soprano voice needs to be taken into consideration as well - can a subpar soloist make or break a recording?
    Last edited by Allegro Con Brio; Aug-15-2021 at 01:59.
    "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

  10. #3906
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Deleted..... ..... .. ....

    Last edited by Merl; Aug-15-2021 at 09:17. Reason: Insensitive

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  12. #3907
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Your loss, Merl.

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Before things move on - I listened again to the Alban Berg Janacek recording this morning and I will concede I was overly harsh regarding the sound quality of the recording in my previous post as I suggested it must have been my mood first time round (note to self - always listen to each recording more than once).
    But I still don't think they get under the skin of the piece as well as the others I listened to.

    ETA - I had listened to this recording twice before this morning - it really must have been a bad day earlier in the week, anyway on to Schönberg!
    Last edited by Malx; Aug-15-2021 at 10:47.

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    As someone who has suffered minor inconveniences when attending university in the US because of an umlaut in the last name (I think I ended up with ID, bank card and German passport all having slightly different spellings of my last name, o, oe and ö), I can attest that Schoenberg used to be acceptable even in Germany/Austria in former times for reasons of typesetting. I recall that at the time of typewriters (that usually had of course umlauts if produced for German speaking countries but there were exceptions) and especially early word processing in the 70s/80s "oe" and analogues were very common because the machines/programs could not do umlauts and they had been an accepted alternative in the 19th and early 20th century as well.

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  18. #3910
    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    I've made an early start on this one. Listened to Diotima/Sandrine Piau last night, and LaSalle/Margaret Price this morning. As usual, I'll probably stick with the recordings in my collection, unless something compelling is identified during the week.

    First thoughts: LaSalle always hit the spot and it seems they can hold their own against very good recent recordings .......

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  20. #3911
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    The Janacek: What a great quartet! I suppose the story behind it is illuminating but in the end it is how the piece works as music that matters. In any case I wonder what the story - essentially an old man's obsession with a young woman - is actually about. I have listened to too many accounts – probably I have too many – and would hate to rank them or anything like that. In any case there are many accounts that are highly praised in this thread that I have not managed to hear.

    I listened to the Pacifica, the Stamitz, the Belcea, the Medici and the Doric quartets and enjoyed them but came to feel that they were less distinctive than some of the others. I didn’t greatly care for the Hagen Quartet’s account this week as it seemed a little smooth. I enjoyed the Guarneri Quartet’s recording but some of the passion sounded touched by anger. That’s OK but might not fit the story. I found the Panocha Quartet’s recording lovely and the Janacek Quartet’s recording even better. The Jerusalem Quartet’s account has hints of darkness, I think, and is a powerful reading to me. The Pavel Haas Quartet’s recording is very musical, communicative and satisfying. I like it a lot. The Takacs Quartet seems to offer more – more variation in mood, more range – and the work comes over as bigger as a result. That leaves the Alban Berg Quartet’s live reading which no contributors in this thread like very much, some feeling it fails to deliver an idiomatic and coherent account. I like its intensity. It doesn’t quite fit the story as, for all its lyrical moments, it doesn’t sound very intimate. I like it, though.

    I am looking forward to spending some time with the second Schoenberg quartet. It is a work that I listened to quite a lot a few years ago but have not heard recently. I have already listened to the excellent Diotima disc.

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  22. #3912
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    I like the Janacek but as I said, I had listened to half a dozen recordings a few months ago and could not be bothered to do all of them again. So I listened to Talich 1985, Smetana 1985 (live Prague Spring), Skampa and Pavel Haas. Of these I think the last one was clearly the best. I should re-listen to the Skampa but I found this a bit cold, the Talich is good but a bit too lyrical, the live Smetana intense but problematic in sound and intonation (there are at least three, I also have the 1960s which is better, there is also a mid-1970s studio).
    Of the Schoenberg I think I have only two recordings. LaSalle/Price and Leipziger/Oelze.

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    Which recorded performances of the Schoenberg are by quartets which may have had some input from the composer? Kolisch probably, what about Ramor? The first Juilliard?

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Was out on vacation and tried to unplug last week, so missed the Janacek. Looking forward to getting to know S#2 better - have listened to it only a few times. Sorry to see that the Arditti recording - my favorite on #4 - has disappeared from the streaming services

  26. #3915
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Here’s the textfor the vocal movements of the Schoenberg...
    "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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