Sunday, 22 April 2012

Sunday Night is... Beethoven String Quartet Op 132

The Alban Berg Quartet, 2011

The whole of it! 42 minutes! One of my four favourite pieces of chamber music*, perhaps the greatest of them (though I might change my mind tomorrow). It has the depth, the drama, not too many of those grandly assertive statements, not too much of the self, just enough - because the self does, after all, exist. One depth gives way to another. It is almost unbearably moving.

*The others: Schubert Quintet in C (a fine picture of death as you'd have it), Ravel in F (sheer seduction!), Bartók (actually a tough one, maybe no.4, but certainly darkness, certainly melancholy, certainly a welcome spikiness in that witchy pizzicato).

I have never properly 'understood' big orchestral music. Maybe it's because I resist being swept along by things. Maybe one should. But my gut instinct has always been: lean into the wind, go counter.

Lean into the brass too while you're at it. And the strings! Not sure about the percussion. But yes, that particularly.

I'll come back to the subject of Leeds. Not yet finished.


Dafydd John said...

I'm sure you're familiar with the Debussy String Quartet, George, and I'd be interested to know your opinion...

George S said...

That too is a gorgeous piece. If I put Ravel in front of it it may be because I heard it first and was bowled over by it. Those first few bars of the Debussy are so striking, the listener is right in with the music.

It may be that Debussy is more picturesque, more directly gorgeously evocative, a bit sweeter. But that could be grossly unfair, and in case no reason for devaluing it.

Dafydd John said...

I also have always regarded the Ravel and the Debussy as partner pieces...and I'm wondering if that is because they were on the same record or tape when I first heard them, or whether - hopefully - it is a tad more profound than that.

I got to know all of Beethoven's symphonies as a child listening endlessly to a box set that my grandfather owned; it was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Solti. To this day it is those recordings that lead me to think whether a performance is too quick, too slow or just right. And I can do nothing about it!

Anonymous said...

I struggle a bit with orchestral music too. I like things where you can hear the detail of individual human beings and their bodies working. So muhc beyond about twelve instruments, it becomes harder and harder.

Huge exception: Charles Ives' 4th Symphony, which does things with an orchestra than an orchestra shouldn't be able to do.

George S said...

That may be the nature of the poetic imagination, Looby - the human-like voice, clarity of structure, counterpoint, the immense made small and deep.

I was brought up by extraordinary people in a middlebrow home, Dafydd. Lots of Beethoven symphonies and Tchaikovsky and Grieg. No Bartok, little Bach, no chamber music. But, I think I remember an LP of Beethoven cello sonatas as a kind of homage to the unbearably questioning. Too much like their lives perhaps.