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Thread: Weekly quartet. Just a music lover perspective.

  1. #691
    Senior Member Iota's Avatar
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    Thanks, Knorf, like ACB, I loved the combination of poetry and music, and found it very enlightening indeed! And your analysis and choice of poem for each movement resonated very naturally with me. Loved the orator struggling with indifferent crowd analogy!

    I've listened to it with the Pacifica and Pellegrini, and liked both very much. The very elegiac third movement is immediately appealing, but I like the other movements equally well, all seem rich in character and concise in expression.

    May have more to say when I've listened further, but so far an excellent discovery for me, thank you!

  2. #692
    Senior Member Shosty's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Knorf View Post
    Maybe it's time to share my own thoughts about why I think Ruth Crawford's String Quartet is a masterpiece, and what I get out of it. I think enough of you have given it a go, for me to do so without being an undue influence. I hope some of you who aren't sure you like will give it more chances.

    What has always struck me the most about RC's music is how poetic it is. Even the way she constructs a melodic line is in many ways indebted to poetry, and poetic thinking in terms of rhythm and phrase. There's a good book by Joseph Straus about her music: https://books.google.com/books/about...d=Oz4iJ9vMXZIC
    Warning: it is a bit on the technical side. But it goes into some excellent detail about how her musical thinking developed.

    You may have noticed she has a number of pieces entitled "Diaphonic Suite." She conceived the idea of diaphony as an opposite of symphony: symphony, "sounding together"; diaphony, "sounding apart." There was a general interest in unexpected juxtapositions in early 20th c. American art. You see this in the music of Charles Ives, obviously, but also in the art of someone like Georgia O'Keefe or Alfred Stieglitz (not always, but often enough, examples in the links), and of course in poetry. And RC ran with the idea, and in this way was she a pretty clear influence of Elliott Carter.

    Two poets come to mind when I think of RC's music: Hart Crane and Carl Sandburg. There are others as well. Of course RC made a lovely, powerful setting of three of Carl Sandburg's poems, for the intriguing combination of contralto, oboe, percussion, and piano: "Rat Riddles," "Prayers of Steel," and "In Tall Grass." Highly recommended listening!

    So, I thought of several Carl Sandburg poems I might associate with how I think of each of the four movements of the quartet. This is just me, based on nothing other than my own imagination. But I hear poetry so clearly in all of RC's music, I just can't help myself.

    Movement 1. A soaring, widely expressive melodic line, often in unison or octaves with a pair of instruments, juxtaposed against a rhythmic and chromatic antagonist. The antagonistic diaphony comes to dominate the texture, but the soaring melody returns, quietly persistent.

    Carl Stanburg: "A Father to His Son"
    A father sees his son nearing manhood.
    What shall he tell that son?
    "Life is hard; be steel; be a rock."
    And this might stand him for the storms
    and serve him for humdrum monotony
    and guide him among sudden betrayals
    and tighten him for slack moments.
    "Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy."
    And this too might serve him.
    Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
    The growth of a frail flower in a path up
    has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
    A tough will counts. So does desire.
    So does a rich soft wanting.
    Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
    Tell him too much money has killed men
    and left them dead years before burial:
    the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
    has twisted good enough men
    sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
    Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
    Tell him to be a fool every so often
    and to have no shame over having been a fool
    yet learning something out of every folly
    hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
    thus arriving at intimate understanding
    of a world numbering many fools.
    Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
    and above all tell himself no lies about himself
    whatever the white lies and protective fronts
    he may use against other people.
    Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
    and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
    Tell him to be different from other people
    if it comes natural and easy being different.
    Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
    Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
    Then he may understand Shakespeare
    and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
    Michael Faraday and free imaginations
    Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
    He will be lonely enough
    to have time for the work
    he knows as his own.

    Movement 2. Starts with a kind of heterophony, two lines almost together but not quite. The texture divides more and more until we have full-fledged... not polyphony, exactly. Diaphony.

    Carl Standburg: "Arithmetic"
    Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your
    head.
    Arithmetic tells you how many you lose or win if you know how
    many you had before you lost or won.
    Arithmetic is seven eleven all good children go to heaven — or five
    six bundle of sticks.
    Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand
    to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer.
    Arithmetic is where the answer is right and everything is nice and
    you can look out of the window and see the blue sky — or the
    answer is wrong and you have to start all over and try again
    and see how it comes out this time.
    If you take a number and double it and double it again and then
    double it a few more times, the number gets bigger and bigger
    and goes higher and higher and only arithmetic can tell you
    what the number is when you decide to quit doubling.
    Arithmetic is where you have to multiply — and you carry the
    multiplication table in your head and hope you won't lose it.
    If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you
    eat one and a striped zebra with streaks all over him eats the
    other, how many animal crackers will you have if somebody
    offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say
    Nay nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?
    If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she
    gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is
    better in arithmetic, you or your mother?

    Movement 3. The most famous movement of this quartet, one RC arranged for string orchestra, and it gets performed in that version decently often. This music reminds of Schoenberg's Klangfarbenmelodie from something like his Five Pieces for Orchestra Op. 16, No. 3. Schoenberg entitled his movement "Summer Morning by a Lake." RC's reminds me more of clouds. There are two short poems that speak to me something about this movement.

    Carl Sandburg: "Fog"
    The fog comes
    on little cat feet.

    It sits looking
    over harbor and city
    on silent haunches
    and then moves on.

    Carl Sandburg: Autumn Movement
    I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.

    The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
    sunburned woman,
    the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.

    The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
    new beautiful things
    come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind, and the
    old things go,
    not one lasts.

    Movement 4. Rhetorically an extraordinary movement, like an orator trying to connect with an indifferent crowd. Solo violin, the other three in unison or octaves. Again, I have two suggestions.

    Carl Sandburg: A Tall Man
    The mouth of this man is a gaunt strong mouth.
    The head of this man is a gaunt strong head.

    The jaws of this man are bone of the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians.
    The eyes of this man are chlorine of two sobbing oceans,
    Foam, salt, green, wind, the changing unknown.
    The neck of this man is pith of buffalo prairie, old longing and new beckoning of corn belt or cotton belt,
    Either a proud Sequoia trunk of the wilderness
    Or huddling lumber of a sawmill waiting to be a roof.

    Brother mystery to man and mob mystery,
    Brother cryptic to lifted cryptic hands,
    He is night and abyss, he is white sky of sun, he is the head of the people.
    The heart of him the red drops of the people,
    The wish of him the steady gray-eagle crag-hunting flights of the people.

    Humble dust of a wheel-worn road,
    Slashed sod under the iron-shining plow,
    These of service in him, these and many cities, many borders, many wrangles between Alaska and the Isthmus, between the Isthmus and the Horn, and east and west of Omaha, and east and west of Paris, Berlin, Petrograd.
    The blood in his right wrist and the blood in his left wrist run with the right wrist wisdom of the many and the left wrist wisdom of the many.
    It is the many he knows, the gaunt strong hunger of the many.

    Carl Sandburg: At a Window
    Give me hunger,
    O you gods that sit and give
    The world its orders.
    Give me hunger, pain and want,
    Shut me out with shame and failure
    From your doors of gold and fame,
    Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

    But leave me a little love,
    A voice to speak to me in the day end,
    A hand to touch me in the dark room
    Breaking the long loneliness.
    In the dusk of day-shapes
    Blurring the sunset,
    One little wandering, western star
    Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
    Let me go to the window,
    Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
    And wait and know the comingun
    Of a little love
    Apart from your fascinating association of the poems with each movement, I just love the poems themselves. Fog reminds me of Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock where he describes "the Yellow Fog" as a cat.
    So far I've listened to Jupiter Quartet (twice), and watched The Playground Ensemble play the quartet on youtube. I really like it, and find it more accessible than the Carter quartet from a few weeks back (though I liked that one as well). I found only three recordings of the quartet on Idagio including the Pacifica and Pellegrini SQs, and will give all three a listen.

  3. #693
    Senior Member Eramire156's Avatar
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    Default From an old issue of Fanfare

    "The Quartet by Ruth Crawford Seeger is a classic: four short, marvelously contrasting, pretty-well-atonal movements from 1931, related somewhat to the Ruggles-Riegger-Becker world but really on its own. The more heterogeneous outer movements frame an imitative scherzo and a “sound-mass“ slow movement, the latter looking forward to some of Penderecki. The last movement, in its highly structured phrasing and palindromic form, also foreshadows developments which took place many years later. All in all it's a wonderful work. Regrettable it is that its composer wrote very little after this Quartet."

    Paul Rapoport
    Nov/Dec 1980


    Listened to the Pellegrini this morning, will get back to it later.

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  5. #694
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Aw, Rapaport spoils it! I was hoping someone here would notice that the last movement is a strict palindrome. Eh, no big deal.

    I'm glad the poetry speaks to some of you as well. Sandburg was a great poet! On a different day, I might select different poems for this music; it's all understood by the imagination, which by nature must have a labile aspect.
    Last edited by Knorf; May-26-2020 at 00:28.

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  7. #695
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Cool piece, been listening to the Knussen compilation played by members of the Schoenberg Ensemble. The piece itself reminds me of Schoenberg a bit



  8. #696
    Senior Member Eramire156's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    Cool piece, been listening to the Knussen compilation played by members of the Schoenberg Ensemble. The piece itself reminds me of Schoenberg a bit


    This is also the version I listened to this afternoon.

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    I listened to the The Playground Ensemble, whom I'd never heard of before: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agu5Xo7alIQ. It was my first time hearing anything by Ruth Crawford Seeger, before that she'd only been a name to me, so thanks for the introduction, Knorf. It is interesting music. (Any contemporary or modern composer that Oliver Knussen bothered to conduct always turns out to be interesting to me.) I agree with Allegro Con Brio that the opening two movements are "very thorny" and concise. That's how it felt to me, too. And yes, there are certain similarities to early Elliott Carter, and I agree with Mandryka, to Henry Cowell, as well.

    But I don't understand why people find the 3rd movement "so beautiful". I found it slightly unsettling. I would liken the string sounds heard to a wasps nest (at least when played by The Playground Ensemble), and as the movement develops it seems like the listener (or protagonist) gets closer & closer to the nest, before getting stung, and then moving away.

    Interestingly, I'm listening to another recording of the 3rd movement now, and they don't produce the same string effects. So apparently it's The Playground Ensemble that hears a wasps nest in this music (& particularly the violist). I think that's a very imaginative reading, and it seems to fit better with the thorny, gnarly opening movements, than otherwise. In which case, I'd liken the first three movements to walking through a thicket of overgrown brush, with thorny branches scraping at your face & body, only to come upon a wasps nest, & getting stung, before moving away elsewhere.


    I don't know if this live Playground Ensemble performance is the same as the one I linked to above, but it's the one above that made me hear the sounds of wasps.


    The 4th movement struck me as slightly tacked on. It's as if Seeger was running out of ideas, or had become less inspired. I'm not surprised that she never wrote another string quartet. I also found the ending a little weak. The whole movement seemed a bit deflated after the imaginative first three movements. But that's just a first impression. Maybe I'll change my mind.

    I've haven't thought about the connection to the poetry of Carl Sandburg yet, & maybe that will add to or alter my initial impression. We'll see.
    Last edited by Josquin13; May-26-2020 at 21:56.

  10. #698
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    You might want to read a bit more about Ruth Crawford's life before you leap to conclusions about her "running out of ideas."

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    I will. I was merely writing my first impression of music that was brand new to me. Nothing is set in stone. I didn't mean to jump to any conclusions. But I did feel that the fourth movement was less inspired than the first three.

  12. #700
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    I really liked this quartet when I listened to it today. Once you learn to focus on the independent parts and how they relate to each other, appreciation of the music skyrockets (this also goes for all modern music in my experience). There is certainly a very compacted but no less affecting eloquence in this music that is not as spare as Webern but certainly not as challenging as Carter. I think all four movements are of equal quality and interest. I like the newest recording by the Pacifica better than the Pellegrini, as they seemed to bring out the lyrical qualities of the work more convincingly.
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe." - Douglas Adams

  13. #701
    Senior Member Knorf's Avatar
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    Yes, the Pacifica recording is excellent, I agree. Although so is the Pelligrini, but different. I just wish the JACK Quartet live performance were still available online somewhere! It's superb, as I recall.

    But this is one of the those pieces which has no truly poor recordings. You don't set out to perform and record Ruth Crawford unless you really care, since the demand and potential status gain are relatively small. It's unlikely you'll find a recording that's past the reach of the performers' technique or understanding, and very unlikely you'll find one that's merely perfunctory.

    The only recording, of those I recommended, that I really have a significant quibble with is the one by the Arditti String Quartet, because they make the 3rd movement sound a bit too metronomic and pulsed. But they're excellent in the other movements!

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    As a hark-back to last week's Ravel I just thought I'd point out this lovely recording, which I listened to before. The whole disc is a pleasure and the Ravel SQ is given a lovely, flowing performance from the Jupiter Quartet. Available on most streaming services. Sorry for the interruption. As you were....

    261272.jpg
    Last edited by Merl; May-28-2020 at 08:36.

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    Senior Member 20centrfuge's Avatar
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    I’ve listened about 5 times to Pellegrini and Schonberg Ensemble performances. A well crafted piece that hasn’t quite found a foothold in my heart. I may need to check out other examples of her work and then revisit this string quartet.

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  17. #704
    Senior Member Allegro Con Brio's Avatar
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    Weekly reminder - looks like next week’s choice goes to Simplicissimus. And also, because he seems to only pop in here periodically, I’m giving TurnaboutVox an advance notice two weeks out Current schedule:

    05/31-06/07: Simplicissimus
    06/07-06/14: TurnaboutVox
    06/14-06/21: calvinpv
    06/21-06/28: 20centrfuge
    06/28-07/05: Euler
    07/05-07/12: Iota
    07/12-07/19: DTut
    "If we understood the world, we would realize that there is a logic of harmony underlying its manifold apparent dissonances." - Jean Sibelius

    "Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere." - G.K. Chesterton

    "Beethoven tells you what it’s like to be Beethoven and Mozart tells you what it’s like to be human. Bach tells you what it’s like to be the universe." - Douglas Adams

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    Senior Member Simplicissimus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Allegro Con Brio View Post
    Weekly reminder - looks like next week’s choice goes to Simplicissimus. And also, because he seems to only pop in here periodically, I’m giving TurnaboutVox an advance notice two weeks out Current schedule:

    05/31-06/07: Simplicissimus
    06/07-06/14: TurnaboutVox
    06/14-06/21: calvinpv
    06/21-06/28: 20centrfuge
    06/28-07/05: Euler
    07/05-07/12: Iota
    07/12-07/19: DTut
    Thanks, ACB! I’ll announce the choice on Saturday.

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