Beethoven’s Last String Quartet, Mozart, the Renaissance and Ian Munro with the Brentano String Quartet

The string quartet often served as a kind of guinea pig for composers’ experimentation and innovation, especially in the Classical period, and the peculiar bright, sometimes astringent (generally in a good way) sound of this arrangement of instruments foreshadows that of 20th Century Music. (Scientifically, this sound partly owes the violin’s unique quality that its first harmonic can be louder than the fundamental, though this depends a great deal on personal style). A good example is perhaps Mozart’s String Quartet no. 19 in C major K465, dubbed ‘Dissonance,’ which many balked at when first played. Mozart and Haydn, and later also Benjamin Britten, were keen violists, and they sometimes played the alto part in their own and their friends’ works, entrusting the first violin to a professional musician while retaining some control over the piece’s early performances. Perhaps if Schoenberg could have participated in the first performances of his atonal music it would have had more early success.

The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, through March 13, 2011

In The Strange World of Albrecht Dürer, the Clark produced a fundamentally different sort of exhibition, and a most enjoyable one, which should prove a fertile opportunity for Williams undergraduates and the general public to discover an important body of work from one of the West’s very great artists, Albrecht Dürer. Very few American museums can boast the depth in their holdings of a single artist to attempt this. In Abstract Expressionism the Museum of Modern Art has, with one of the strongest areas of their collection, just created the kind of experience one might find at the Prado or the Uffizi. The Clark’s holdings of Dürer prints are so extensive and of such high quality that they make it possible to offer a survey of similar quality, with 75 of 300 prints in all. The Clark possesses most of Dürer’s subjects and many impressions are of the highest quality. Hence, this exhibition is an ideal opportunity to get to know a body of work that occupies a central place in western culture…

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