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This quartet improves with each listen, but it's not quite 'clicking' with me. It's really only the second movement that I enjoy, and I find the other three movements rather underwhelming. The music is well crafted and has an undercurrent of some appealing tunes, but I don't feel it has the same level of inspiration as some of Villa-Lobos' middle quartets, for example #6 (Merl has mentioned the early quartets, but I can't remember much about them and need to invest some listening time).
 

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Sorry to sound negative, Gucci. I really rate the earlier quartets so thanks for pointing me in their direction. I've gotta say that this one isn't for me but I've listened to the first 6 V-L quartets twice and I'm really enjoying some of them so everyone's a winner, in my book. I'm currently finishing off one of my reviews for a quartet covered before I came to this thread so I'll blog it and post a link when I'm finished. It's took me about 2 months due to the high quality and huge number of recordings of other quartets posted here, since. You lot have been working my ears and musical vocabulary hard. Swines! :cheers:
 

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I have not been able to listen as much this week as I would like (darn work!), but my early impressions are:
This quartet seems like it could equally be called a suite, even though it is only four movements. Each one seems so different and seems to be trying out some new idea and mood. There isn't as much working out through formal processes. The piece feels more like a series of scenes. Having said that, the movements are laid out and labelled like traditional quartet movements so I think he was definitely following the classical model.
I sense that conflict that many composers had between traditional European "classical" music and folk music. At times he is trying out modern compositional techniques--Bartok, maybe touches of Hindemith, etc.--and at times he is incorporating folk rhythms and styles. All of the elements don't seem to come together in a happy family, but there are a lot of interesting combinations of styles and I always enjoy that.
Future plans for me include listening to more of these quartets and other music by VL, and learning a bit more about his life and milieu.
 

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As we had a head-start this week, my Friday thoughts have arrived early. I would apologise, but it's really nothing to do with me and, besides, I'm sure the timing won't be the only cause for complaint, so here they are:

Earsense lists 109 works for string quartet that were written in 1953. Their authors include Ernest Bloch, Irwin Swack, Gyorgy Ligeti and Heuwell Tircuit, reminding us that some the world is not yet ready for, while others just aren't ready for the world.

Villa-Lobos, along with his 14th quartet, arguably occupies at least one of those categories. As has been tactfully suggested by several in the preceding discussion, the quartet doesn't quite click. And nor, it seems, did Villa-Lobos.

Villa-Lobos's father had, through a stroke of luck, been classically educated, leaving him with the ability to hold down a job as a librarian and indulge a fondness for proper music. This appreciation he passed on to his son, Heitor, by way of a little instruction in the cello and exposure to chamber music at home. When little Heitor was only 12, however, he upped and died, leaving his son with little to live on but the expensive tastes of his social superiors.

An interest in classical music, even an aptitude for it, is of little use without the wherewithal to study. Nevertheless, Heitor did his best. His best involved mixing with street musicians and, after working as an office runner, scraping enough for evening classes in which he learnt about Wagner and Puccini and Saint-Saens. He dropped the classes soon enough, presumably for reasons of cost, but he'd learnt enough to get paid to play cello with a theatre group and to carry on composing in his spare time, while keeping an eye on the European scene, especially the distant upstart Debussy.

Persistence paid off slowly, as it always does (persistence that pays off quickly is more generally known as 'luck', and Villa-Lobos was mostly short of that). Either way, after around fifteen years of scribbling and pestering he began to get his compositions performed in the salons of Rio and, thuswisely, came to the attention to the right sort of people. In the fullness of time he risked what was probably most of his cash (unless it was someone else's) on a trip to Paris, where he seems to have had a miserable time, finding he didn't fit, and falling out with Cocteau, who said his music was derivative. Which, at this point, it seems to have been. Miserable though this experience must have been, some reckon it was the making of him.

His return to Brazil was defiant, rather than triumphant. From now on, rather than mimicking his European peers, he'd become the national composer of Brazil, fusing the classical with the demotic in a way that the sneering French could never understand, and travelling, at least in his mind, widely through the backwaters and byways of his country, much like Bartok might have done, if Bartok had had an imaginary cart. It was a bold move. Rather than sanding his rough edges, the square peg aimed to change the shape of the hole.

If Villa-Lobos had any luck at all, it was that this was a politically-convenient time for nationalism. Although, to be fair, there aren't many times when it isn't. Either way, the strategy clearly worked, though I'd guess it took more effort and persistence than he'd admit. He certainly seems to have above-average levels of self-belief, but necessity can do that. For those who've experienced it, poverty is generally a more potent motive for industry than, say, a passion for real-estate or a burning desire to change the face of fast-moving consumer goods.

If I were to hazard a reason why Villa-Lobos wrote his 14th Quartet it wouldn't be because he'd received a commission (though he had). I'd suggest it was more because he had to. It was part of the persona he'd created, the Pucciniesque caricature of a great composer that stares out from all those photographs. He'd carved a niche and, trapped in his own legend, couldn't do anything else.

I don't think many would argue that Villa-Lobos was a flawlessly great composer, or that he didn't gift his works with a dose of the slapdash. To my ears, the 14th is a fairly typical example. It has interest, and will bear repeated listenings, but it won't necessarily reward them. Like Villa-Lobos himself, it lies in an uneasy, ungainly space of compromise and, in short, doesn't quite fit. And, as others have suggested, neither do its constituent parts.

That said, it is what it is. Villa-Lobos made his own rules, breaking from the tyranny of Paris and Vienna, and perhaps I should be listening to it on its own terms, rather than by what I've been taught to expect by Europe.

I have tried that, as thoroughly as I could. For, as well as listening to the Cuarteto Latinamericano via YouTube and Earsense in the 14th, a good half-dozen times, I've also listened to the 13th and 15th and, from my own haphazard collections of recordings, plucked from shelf-ends and bargain-buckets like so many lottery tickets, the concertos for harmonica, piano and guitar (not all at the same time, sadly) and a hatful of the Bachianas, and the only thing I can safely say, without fear of contradiction, is that the experience has taken some time.
 

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I'm somewhat surprised that this selection has generally received only a tepid reaction, as I enjoyed it quite a bit. Granted, it isn't the kind of music that is so outstanding that I'd want to return to it time and again, but it's a wonderfully crafted piece that doesn't outstay its welcome at all. I love works with strong folk-music influences as I'm interested in how the artistic/cultural spirit of a people can find expression through the techniques of art music (which is why I rate Dvorak so highly). I love the rhythmic vitality, the seamless alternation between hard and soft-edged harmonies, brusque figurations and calm lyricism. The slow movement really stands out to me as a perfect little gem. Since my listening time is somewhat limited this week, I've only listened twice, but my interest has really been piqued in the rest of his output, and I'll probably be sampling some more of the quartets and possibly the Bachianas Brasilieras next week. Yet another fascinating addition to the incredibly diverse list of works in this humble genre that this thread has brought my attention to. Oh, and I vastly prefer the virtuosic elan and vigor of the Latin American Quartet to the comparatively inert, milquetoast Danubius.

Next week's honors go to StevehamNY!
 

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Of the few recordings of this week's quartet, I find the album covers to largely be in the "do no harm" category, as they say in the publishing business. Meaning they do the job of communicating the contents, and maybe even a certain amount of the personality, but without making enough of a statement that the cover alone makes you check out what's inside (i.e. if you weren't already looking for it).

The one cover I like the most is probably this one from the Chant du Monde set of the Latinoamericanos, because it reminds me very much of a Garcia Marquez book cover:

Bird Botany Leaf Green Nature


But now that I have all of the suspects in the drawing room, your intrepid cover sleuth did uncover one mystery this week. Take a look at this cover for Brilliant's complete set of the Latinoamericanos:

World Textile Font Paint Art


Now look at this complete set of the Ahmed Saygun* quartets, played by the Quatuor Danel, on CPO:

Paint Art paint Font Art Painting


Not the first time the same piece of art has been used on two different covers, I know, and because both sets came out around the same time, it's very possible neither company knew about the duplication until the sets were in stores. But this painting is "Blick in eine Gasse" (View into an Alley), by August Macke. He painted it in 1914, on a trip to Tunis. As in Tunisia, one of the countries from the former Ottoman Empire where a man wearing a fez is a very common sight. And you will agree that the one element in this painting that immediately draws the eye is that fez, am I right?

You know where else you see a man wearing a fez? Other Ottoman countries like Morocco and Turkey. In fact, you want to start an argument, go to Turkey and ask anyone there where the fez was invented. While you're at it, ask that same person who's the most beloved Turkish composer in history. He'll probably say Ahmed Saygun*.

So... okay, maybe not the crime of the century and I probably didn't need to make you all assemble in the drawing room, but seriously, what the hell is this artwork doing on a set of quartets by a Brazilian?

(*These Saygun quartets, if you haven't heard them, are outstanding, especially the first and second. I'm almost tempted to choose one of them for next week, but no, I'm already committed to my choice and I've been hard at work boiling the cabbage and beets!)
 

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I have no streaming, so the only option for me is the Cuarteto Latinoamericano I got in the Brilliant box. I might have listened once to some of the discs in that box before but never really dug into it and had no recollections.
So now #14. I listened several times now and also to a few other quartets from the series. It is a nice but not outstanding piece. Like some others, I find the slow movement with the fugato and the contrasting lyrical section the most convincing. I also like the scherzo with the glissando effect but the finale seems a bit superfluous, maybe a 3-movement-form with a fusion of scherzo and finale would have been more convincing. So I also agree with someone above who said it is a bit suite-like, not a very unified piece. I don't find it all that "folksy" but then I don't know anything about Brazilian folk music.
As the 3rd quartet (from 1916) happens on the same disc, I found this a bit more immediately appealing and a more coherent piece but it is very obviously indebted to Debussy and Ravel. (With dipping into other discs of the box, I seem to find the earlier pieces a bit better but this is too early.)
In any case while neither of the V-L quartets I listened to will make any best-of-list for me, it was certainly worth getting finally a bit more into that box and I will certainly keep listening until I am through with all and can maybe distinguish at least some of them.
 

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Looking forward to next week's quartet. In the meantime, I'm working my way through Pianozach's lengthy list of works he thinks are good starting points for newbies. It is fairly light on string quartets - are those not considered good entry points for people new to classical music?
 

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Looking forward to next week's quartet. In the meantime, I'm working my way through Pianozach's lengthy list of works he thinks are good starting points for newbies. It is fairly light on string quartets - are those not considered good entry points for people new to classical music?
String quartets are a MUST, if you ask me! Maybe string quartets are not the most famous, since orchestra-music has more famous themes. The first string quartet I ever heard (if I remember right) was "the Hunt" by Mozart and I still love it.
 

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I believe even many long-time listeners of classical music find string quartets "hard", either because of the "wiry" (in some cases) of the solo strings and/or because many of these works have the reputation of being "difficult" (above all the "late Beethoven quartets") So even for chamber music, more often "mixed ensembles", like Schubert's "Trout quintet" are recommended for beginners.

While there is some grain of truth there that quartets can be a challenge, I think this is an exaggeration and an open minded listener can get into quartets as well as into symphonies or violin sonatas.
(And if I had to pick one genre I could only listen to, it would probably be string quartets because there are more incredibly interesting and moving masterpieces here than anywhere else...)

A typical list of beginner-friendly string quartets would be for example:

Dvorak: Quartet F major "American" op.96
Schubert d minor "Death and Maiden"
Ravel
Debussy
Haydn: "Rider" op.74/3 g minor, "Lark" op.64/5 D major, "Fifths" d minor op.76/2, "Emperor" op.76/3 C major, "Sunrise" op.76/4 B flat major
Mozart "Hunt" K 458, "Dissonances" K 465
Beethoven op.59/3 C major. But I am not so fond of this one.. I'd rather go with his first and his last op.18/1 and op.135, both F major.

Feel free to ask more specifically; the best starting point is usually pieces by composers you already like from other music (not a very deep advice ;))
 

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When I first showed up here, I hinted that you'd be getting a steady diet of борщ* when my turn came around. So shall you have, and as I look at the master list of quartets covered so far, I see only four Russian composers (five if you count Weinberg, who moved to Russia when he was 20 years old). The one most glaring omission is the author of what the ear sense overview linked below calls "the first noteworthy work of Russian chamber music."

Yes, it's finally time for Tchaikovsky's String Quartet #1, aka "The Accordian."

https://www.earsense.org/chamber-music/Pyotr-Tchaikovsky-String-Quartet-No-1-in-D-major-Op-11-Accordion/


It was written in 1871, his first quartet essentially by necessity, as he couldn't afford to engage an orchestra for his first all-Tchaikovsky concert at the Moscow Conservatory (and his buddy, the first violinist of the Russian Musical Society Quartet, offered to play for free). And of course, the second movement (Andante Cantabile) has taken on a life of its own, later transcribed for cello and orchestra, among other configurations. It was this movement that reportedly brought Tolstoy to tears at its debut.

When Russia's greatest composer** makes Russia's greatest novelist*** cry in public, that's a quartet we need to listen to this week!

I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this one.

* борщ=borscht, a big pot of which I will be making today in commemoration (actually a modified version with brisket in it, and it is amazing)
** I love Shostakovich's music as much as anyone here, but is this point debatable?
*** Same as above, but with Dostoyevski, whose books I also love. But come on, it's Tolstoy.
 

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Woo-hoo I've been waiting for one of the Tchaikovsly SQs so thanks Steve. IMO, poor Russian Pete gets too little love these days and especially his quartets, which I think are all excellent. I have a pre-prepared list (from. A few months ago - I k ew someone would pick this soon) on 'the pad' but I've just realised I've missed a few off so give me a few mins to update it. There's one performance of this I've always viewed as the gold standard but must admit Ive not stepped outside of this classic performance too much, apart from 3 or 4 other a counts so I'm looking for word to finding a few new ones. I've also had to put another previous quartet from the thread on the backburner as this quartet deserves my full attention. Luckily I was only playing this the other day so it's a quarter that's fresh in the memory (I also have two recordings on the car USB - the 'reference' one and a recent find that is also terrific). Should be great getting stuck into this.
 

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Another brief comment on the Villa Lobos. While I am still not completely convinced by the quartet #14 I want to express thanks for the suggestion because it made me listen eventually to all of his quartets (or will, I think, two are still left on the stack). But I am a bit puzzled about the choice. The first 5-6 quartets (I am not familiar enough with the bunch yet) seem considerably more "characteristic", including folksy atmospheres whereas #14 (like the other "late" ones seem an odd mix of moderate 20th century modernism (not quite so modern anymore in the 1950s) and the more characteristic strains of Villa Lobos. Whoever suggested #14, may one ask why you did pick this? Is it a personal favorite?

As for Tchaikovsky #1; I have only two recordings, the 1970s Borodin (BMG/Melodiya) and the recentish Klenke (a young all female German? ensemble).
 

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What a delight! I listened to the Emerson Quartet and was really pleasantly surprised. They have a gorgeous, warm tone in the lyrical parts, of which there are plenty, not only in the Andante Cantabile, which Tchaikovsky obviously based on the American classic "On the Isle of May", but also in the two outer movements. And of course they play the incredibly virtuoso parts in the last movement brilliantly. Generally, I find their playing a bit on the cold, raspy side, however, not here!

On the piece, I am looking forward to the comments of more knowledgeable participants. I just want to say that all four movements are great, wonderful tunes, a great variation of moods, perfect balance between the movements and fiendishly difficult to play, I guess. Maybe that is a reason why this quartet is not as popular (except the Andante) as it should be. Superb choice!
 

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Yay, I’ve been waiting for someone to pick this one, and in fact I was just thinking about it yesterday:) Tchaikovsky is possibly the most renowned composer that I don’t much care for - I must admit that I find virtually all of his works with orchestra to be quite weak - but I do think that he was a very good composer of chamber music and opera (if you don’t think opera is your thang, try Eugene Onegin), genres where his struggles with long-term symphonic planning are not as important, as he can just turn on the golden melodies and let ‘em flow. A shame he didn’t consider himself accomplished in the chamber field, as I very much like the Piano Trio, Souvenir de Florence, and this work, which I have loved from the first time I heard it played by the Gabrieli Quartet on a 1962 Decca album paired with the Borodin Quartet’s take on the Borodin 2nd and Shosty 8th. That second movement captures the essence of Russian Romanticism in a nutshell, methinks.
 
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