Day 239: Music for String Ensembles I

BeethovenCD44The music is much livelier today than it was yesterday.

Still, the first two movements sounds like the soundtrack to a 1920s silent film.

But at least today’s music is not making me want to wallow in my barley pop.

The first two compositions (String Quintet in C Op 29 and String Quintet in C Minor Op 104) are performed by the Zurich String Quintet:

Boris Livschitz violin
Matyas Bartha violin
Zvi Livschitz violas
Dominik Ostertag violas
Mikayel Hakhnazaryan cello

The last composition (String Quartet in F) was performed by the Suske Quartet:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

My favorite movement from all of them today is Movement IV (“Finale: Prestissimo”) from String Quintet in C Minor Op. 104. It’s sprightly and fun. All the rest still sound too somber for my tastes.

Day 238: String Quartets Op. 132 and Op. 135

BeethovenCD43Somber. That’s how I classify today’s music.

It’s ponderous.

Sad, even.

Here’s what I am listening to:

Beethoven String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor Op. 132

Beethoven String Quartet No. 16 in F Op. 135

Here’s who’s playing it:

Suske Quartett

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

I can’t say I like today’s music. I mean, I could say it. But I’d be lying.

Day 237: String Quartets Op. 127 & 131

BeethovenCD42I’m not a musicologist. I have no idea just by listening to a piece of music what key it’s in.

I couldn’t even tell you its time signature.

Oh, I could get out my guitar and finger the frets to find the key something is in. But I doubt I could count out a time signature.

So I’m always amazed to discover Beethoven’s music is much more complicated than one might think.

For example, from its entry on Wikipedia, there’s this about String Quartet No. 12 in E Flat Op. 27:

The first movement is twice interrupted – just before the development of the sonata form begins, and when that section is almost but not quite over – by recurrences of the opening’s Maestoso music.

The immense second movement is in the subdominant key of A♭ major. It consists of a set of six variations and a coda. The first variation is in 12/8 meter with darker harmonies and quick changes in dynamics. The second variation increases the tempo to andante con moto and adjusts the meter to 4/4. Here, the two violins engage in a dialogue over staccato accompaniment. he third variation shifts to E major, enharmonically the flat submediant, and the tempo shifts to a hymn-like adagio molto espressivo. The fourth variation returns to 12/8 and drops a half-step to the dominant key of E♭ major. This variation has a codetta which transitions the key to D♭ major in preparation for the next variation. The fifth variation is sotto voce and has been called a “mysterious episode” and begins in D♭ major and transitions to the parallel C♯ minor. The recapitulatory sixth variation returns to 12/8, presents only half of the theme and connects directly to the coda.

Uh, yeah.

The Wiki article goes on and on and on about the intricacies of this piece of music, which I find fascinating on one, probably really deep, level. Probably the same level that enjoys knowing who the producers, musicians, and recording-studio antics were for important albums from my teen years, albums like Live Album by Continue reading

Day 236: String Quartets Op. 95 & 130, Grosse Fugue Op. 133

BeethovenCD41Something really weird happened today.

I was listening to CD 41, grooving on the string quartets, and my wife called from Niagara Falls (some 400 miles away) where she was visiting her brother in Canada. I had my hands-free buds in while I chatted with her.

Suddenly, she said, “That’s the song playing in the Firefly episode “Shindig.”

“You can hear that?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “That was the music playing during the dance scene in ‘Shindig’,” she said.

I looked at the back of the CD sleeve and read off the title of Track 8, which was Movement IV (“Alla danza tedesca: Allegro assai”) from String Quartet No. 13 in B Flat Op. 130. (It was composed in 1825; Beethoven was 55.)

“Well, it is a dance number,” I allowed.

“It’s the same song,” she said.

We chit-chatted a bit more and then we hung up.

I immediately Googled “Firefly Shindig Music” and discovered she was right.

If she and I hadn’t been speaking at that very moment, if she hadn’t heard the music I was playing in the background, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. (My memory is not that good.) So, a serendipitous conversation, at precisely the right moment, lead me to discover something I never would have known. How she heard it, and how she remembered incidental music in a TV episode we hadn’t watched in a year or two, I have no idea.

As for today’s CD, it begins with Continue reading

Day 234: String Quartets Op. 59 “Rasumovsky” Nos. 1 & 2

BeethovenCD39Delightful music!

And, for a recording made in 1967 and 1968, surprisingly vibrant – as fresh as anything recorded today.

Such is the care Brilliant Classics extends to its music.

This record label is truly one of the finest in the world. (No, I do not get paid by them. I just really appreciate the quality and price of the music on the Brilliant Classics label.)

On today’s CD I am treated to:

String Quartet No. 7 in F Op. 59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Op. 59 No. 2 “Rasumovsky”

There are three string quartets named “Rasumovsky,” the third being String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, which is likely on the next CD.

All three were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

Both of these string quartets were performed by the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinze Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There’s a profound depth and complexity and – unless I am totally clueless – a kind of melancholy to this music. Some of it, like Movement III (“Adagio molto e mesto”) from No. 7 in F, exudes wistfulness.

Yet, that mood is wiped away with the fourth movement – “Allego (Theme russe)” – which, as its name suggests, offers a hint of Russian music, played more briskly than the Adagio of Movement III.

Of the two compositions on today’s CD, I think I prefer the second: No. 8 in E Minor Op. 59 No. 2.

It seems even sadder than No. 1, if that’s possible. Yet, it’s eerily compelling.

The two string quartets on this CD, as well as the third on the next CD, were commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Day 233: String Quartets Op. 18 Nos 4-6

BeethovenCD38Another terrific CD featuring performances by the Suske Quartett, which consists of:

Karl Suske violin
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There are four compositions on today’s CD:

String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor Op. 18 No. 4 (composed 1799-1800; Beethoven was 29 or 30)

String Quartet No. 5 in A Op. 18 No. 5 (composed 1799; Beethoven was 29)

String Quartet No. 6 in B Flat Op. 18 No. 6 (composed 1798-1800; Beethoven was 28-30)

Minuet in A Flat Hess 33 (composed 1792; Beethoven was 22)

All are exceptional pieces of music.

Day 232: String Quartets

BeethovenCD37Ahhh, this is great stuff.

And it’s not like this isn’t the kind of music one might hear at a wine-and-cheese soiree in some posh home, or at an art exhibit in an upscale gallery.

But it’s clever, with enough depth and complexity to hold my attention.

One moment, I’m listening to the cello. The next moment, I’m listening to a violin. Other moments, I’m listening to all the instruments together. Then, I listen to what they’re doing that’s unexpected.

That’s when I’m most enamored with a piece of music: when it holds my attention on several levels.

On today’s CD, I am privileged to experience three string quartets:

String Quartet No. 1 in F Op. 18 No. 1
(composed 1799; Beethoven was 29)

String Quartet No. 2 in G Op. 18 No. 2 (composed 1799; Beethoven was 29)

String Quartet No. 3 in D Op. 18 No. 3 (composed 1798/1799; Beethoven was 28 or 29)

Performing these exquisite compositions is the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

BeethovenStringQuartetString Quartet No. 1 in F. Op. 18 no. 1 is a lot of fun, with plenty of quirks and twists and turns.

String Quartet No. 1 is fascinating.

But so are all three of these string quartets.

Well, maybe “fascinating” is not the right word. They’re not as fascinating as, say, one of Beethoven’s symphonies. Those are powerful, dynamic, exquisite, compelling. String Quartet No. 1 is not in that same league. But it is entertaining.

Movement III (“Scherzo: Allegro – Trio”) from String Quartet No. 2 is quite entertaining. Bits of rapid-fire ask-and-answer (as I call it) between the instruments. Depth and complexity. All at a tempo that I dig.

Speaking of which, the very next movement (Movement IV: “Allegro molto, quasi presto”) ramps up the pace even more, and really gets the violins “sawing” away.

I’m not a speed freak. I don’t need music to be fast to be good. But, too often, music that is slow tends to feel like a dirge to me. It’s lugubrious. Fast often means the musicians can show off a bit, which means listeners are treated to breathtaking performances.

So, if I had my druthers, I’d choose fast over slow. But that’s not a do-or-die rule. Sometimes slow can be tremendously emotional.

But the line between emotional and maudlin is a very fine one.