The string quartet medium and the classical style are almost synonymous. They fit each other so perfectly that they appear to be two sides of the same coin, complementary aspects of the same musical impulse. At least that is the impression one gets from the core literature of works by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, the composers discussed in Charles Rosen’s “The Classical Style” (one of the best books about music of any kind — a classic in itself). The two sides of the coin, however, started to pull apart in interesting ways after Schubert. By the later nineteenth century when Brahms and Tchaikovsky were writing their quartets, there were a number of ways that music could be matched to the quartet medium. The idea that a quartet is no longer simply a conversation among four players takes hold. Mahler thought that Beethoven’s late quartets are too large in their gestures for just four players; he transcribed several for string orchestra and programmed them on concerts which he conducted.1 Mahler’s view of the quartet as a miniature orchestral work may have been influenced by romantic quartets that appear to be bursting at the seams, straining against the limitations of a mere four instruments. For the romantics, emotional intensity could equate with thick, full textures and grandiose emotions. Chamber music for more than four instruments was popular throughout the century; both Brahms and Tchaikovsky made distinguished contributions to the literature of the string sextet.
Sebastian Bäverstam and Yannick Rafalimanana, June 8, 2013 J.S. Bach: Cello Suite No. 1 in G major Ludwig van Beethoven: Cello…
For the Brahms First Symphony, Ashkenazy used the orchestra’s fine clarity to illuminate the ideas in the score, loyally keeping a certain respect for the composer, though his conducting was in no way conservative or overly careful, enough so that it made me wonder again why some people call Brahms ‘autumnal.’ Perhaps this clarity of playing which articulates each note also allows Ashkenazy the fine control he needs for his well-defined ideas of interpretation which come across to the listener so plainly.
The series of concerts of chamber music organized by Musica Viva this year continue with an exploration of, and this time a new commission by, Australian pianist and composer Ian Munro. He has created his second piano quintet (the first composed in 2006 was called Divertissement sur le nom d’Erik Satie) from two earlier works: Dreams, his winning contribution to the 2003 Queen Elisabeth International Competition for Composers, originally meant to be a first movement to a full piano concerto and Drought and Night Rain, originally written in 2005 for the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and originally meant to be a beginning to a full symphony. Though it would be nice to hear these symphonic works complete in their own right, Munro has sewn them together skillfully into a chamber music piece. Really this is no different from what Prokofiev did to compose the Romeo and Juliet ballet music, which has a life of its own, so reuse of already composed ideas should not necessarily raise negative thoughts. Munro himself joins with the Goldner String Quartet which is lead by Dene Olding, who often plays first violin in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, also conducting the SSO earlier in the year, to play his new piece, but we also get the opportunity to hear the Quartet on its own.
Whee! Paree. A general moaning arose from music reviewers, starting around forty years ago, about French orchestras. They no longer sounded French. No more pinched oboes being played through the nose. No more horns sounding as if they were warbling underwater or inbred with the saxophone clan. No more lean, on-the-dot precision in the strings. As they lamented this loss, the same bemoaners forgot that they once carped about the very sound that was fading away. Uncharacteristically, the French were listening.
While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or ‘voices’ where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for ‘four hands’ is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife’s edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments,’ though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can’t express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.
By opening the Berlin Philharmonic’s three-concert series at Carnegie Hall with Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms’ G minor Piano Quartet Sir Simon Rattle made a definite statement about what was to come and how we should listen to it, but just what this meant was not clear until we heard the performance. Since the arrangement has found a place in the repertory, conductors have succumbed all too easily to the temptation to take advantage of its powers as a crowd-pleaser, but it is far more than that, as Rattle and the BPO brilliantly demonstrated. Schoenberg wrote it as an illustration of his thesis that Brahms, regarded widely as a conservative composer in the early twentieth century, was in fact a modernist, but in doing this Schoenberg accomplished something devilishly clever, as this performance made clear…
Brahms, always a musical preservationist, revered the liturgical works of Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), the greatest German Baroque composer before J. S. Bach. When Brahms penned his crepuscular Ein deutsches Requiem, much of his intention – musically and textually – was modeled after careful study of Schütz’s longest work, the Musikalische Exequien (Musical Exequies) of 1636. Both works are titled similarly (for Schütz’s Exequies is “in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis – Missa,” in the form of a German Burial Mass)