on 18 August 1999
Oh, leading the glamorous life! Many thanks to Arnold Steinhardt for sharing his fascinating experiences as a member of the Guarneri Quartet. His book is full of marvelous memories, evocative stories, and often profound insight into a classical musician's art as practiced at the highest levels. Steinhardt is often eloquent, always interesting. Although necessarily writing about himself, the authorial voice is never intrusive or (horrors!) narcissistic. Often self-deprecating, Steinhardt displays a refreshing and gentle humor. This book has helped me to a new appreciation of the string quartet literature, and a deeper understanding of the collaborative art of chamber music.
on 9 June 1999
I had the pleasure of working with the Guarneri Quartet for two years while a Graduate Fellow at the University of Maryland, where the Quartet has a residency. I had the rare chance of working with four distinct, wonderful musical and human personalities. When this book came to my attention, I jumped to purchase it right away. I was not disappointed. It really reflects Mr. Steinhardt's easygoing nature. The prose is relaxed, the stories are genuine, and usually humorous in some way. Coachings with Mr. Steinhardt were always rewarding experiences, with flashes of brilliant insight into the work we were examining that week, and also with moments of humor and a sense of discovering the work together, as if for the first time -- though he'd played the piece hundreds of times! This book made me most thankful for having had the opportunity to work with these four wonderful musicians and human beings, and most thankful of all that they ever got together in the first place, to bless the classical music world with their enduring spirit and with their unique qualities of music-making -- the best of the old and new schools of string playing. Cheers, Mr. Steinhardt -- a wonderful book, worthy of your musical journeys!
on 29 April 1999
This review from the April 27, 1999 issue of the University of Chicago (my daughter's school) Maroon by Daniel B. Ginsberg is excellent. I'm look forward to reading the books and listening to the Guarneri Quartet.
It would be difficult to find two more different people to write memoirs on their encounters with chamber music. Wayne Booth is professor emeritus of English at U of C. At thirty-one, he took up the cello with little prospect of sounding like virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma or Pablo Casals. Years of practice would be required for Booth to extract lush phrasing and warm sonorities from his cello. Yet Booth maintained a rigorous practice schedule for over four decades, and he now plays lovely chamber music with his wife and friends. In For the Love of It, he explains his passion in hopes of inspiring others to follow his lead. Gifted with talent and early musical education, Arnold Steinhardt went on to become the first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet, one of the most successful string quartets of the twentieth century. Composed of its original members for thirty-five years, the ensemble has shed new light on many of the towering masterpieces of the string quartet repertoire. Through their sure technique and warm, supple tone, they have encouraged a slow but steady growth in chamber music listening across the country. Their concert to a packed Mandel Hall last October is only indicative of that ever-rising interest. With Indivisible by Four, Steinhardt seeks to review their career and get at the question of how the ensemble could remain together for such a long time.
From these vastly different perspectives, Booth and Steinhardt come to similar conclusions about what has kept them going. Booth seemingly strives for the impossible while Steinhardt and the Guarneri adhere to their busy recording and performing schedule because the rewards of sharing some of the finest music ever composed with an audience and one another far outweigh the challenges of the lifestyle.
These challenges are no small thing for either musician. For Booth the
impediments in his amateur hobby -- what he calls his "cello-reach" -- all flow from picking up the instrument late in life. Because he lacked the early training, he never developed the dexterity and coordination to play at the highest levels. No matter how much he practices or how high quality the teaching he receives, there is simply no way that he will ever be able to master the intricate thumb positioning and effortlessly ripple those arpeggios. This unfortunate physiological fact deters most from picking up the instrument and compels many a daring soul to quit.
For Steinhardt and the Guarneri, subjugation of one's musical identity to the group and the search to find balance among four musical voices provide the primary source of tension. Each member of the quartet, including Steinhardt, cellist David Soyer, violist Michael Tree, and violinist John Dalley, often has a different view on how to interpret certain passages of a work. The process of compromise is not unlike democratic government and can be equally frustrating. Beyond these essential interpretive issues are the logistical problems of a nine-month performing schedule that takes the group across the world. Most troubling for Steinhardt is the fact that the Guarneri will spend far more time with each other than their families.
But a lifelong, active engagement with chamber music provides almost innumerable benefits. Booth argues that there is something very special in the status of being an amateur, when the risk of failure is a central part. Learning to manage the inevitable pitfalls and slips has deepened his life, lodging the music that he plays deep in his soul and soothing the process of aging as a result. The Guarneri, meanwhile, have the undeniable joy of commercial success to propel them along.
Ultimately, though, what underlies the Guarneri's accomplishments and Booth's struggles is an all-encompassing love of the music itself. Both of the authors think that the great composers saved their best work for the chamber genre. Beethoven's string quartets, for instance, are monumental works that not only inspired Booth's original interest in chamber music, but also provided far and away his most memorable playing experiences.
For the Guarneri, playing the entire cycle of 16 quartets is the ultimate experience, though the thrilling final five pages of Indivisible by Four should leave no doubt about Steinhardt's affinity for the string quartets of Franz Schubert. His description of a
performance of Schubert's quartet in D minor, Death and the Maiden, is perhaps the best literary account of what it is like to play in a string quartet, compelling the reader to listen along on one of the Guarneri's two recorded versions.
How this music could be some of the greatest ever composed is a question both authors seek to explore. Steinhardt thinks the answer lies somewhere in the wonderful economy of four-part harmony. "The four-note chord contains what is essential, even of interest, but nothing superfluous or ornamental." This idea seems to confirm what Romain Rolland has written about Beethoven's final quartets, whose precise, clean lines lack the subterfuge of an orchestra's wash of tonal color. Booth, the lifetime scholar, thinks that this music reveals a divine force.
Whatever the ultimate root of the music's greatness, Booth and Steinhardt believe that the communal aspect of playing chamber music with others transforms music making to almost a spiritual undertaking. Along with the gorgeous instruments themselves and the opportunity to connect with the great composers, Booth writes that the other amateur players have given him something more than he could ever hope to return -- the ability to quickly become intimate with another person through music. Such intimacy is something few worldly endeavors can provide.
Unlike Booth, whose worst playing experiences involve playing for an audience, the Guarneri finds additional spirituality in sharing this amazing music with their dedicated listeners. Early in their career, they found it difficult to adjust to sparse recording studios. After a number of unsatisfactory takes in one recording session, their friend, cellist Jacqueline du Pre, showed up early for their dinner date and sat down to listen. Steinhardt charmingly recounts how her presence inspired them to their finest playing in days.
Thus, at a time when rapid technological changes may be wrenching traditional relationships asunder, Arnold Steinhardt and Wayne Booth have offered a way to reconnect with others. Without some rigid doctrine, playing chamber music gives a sense of hope, modesty, and spiritual fulfillment that few other activities can bestow. Along with a full season of the U of C Presents chamber music series, the message of these two fine books has compelled this twenty-five-year-old doctoral student to rush to the Music Department for a list of violin instructors. To regretfully use an old cliche, better late than never.
on 14 December 1998
Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist in what is arguably the finest string quartet performing today, has given us an entertaining and illuminating account of life in the Guaneri Quartet. Writing with unabashed affection for his colleagues of over thirty years, Steinhardt describes their initial meeting, their formal coming together as a quartet, their experiences with their mentors, some of the outstanding luminaries of their generation: (Rudolph Serkin at Marlboro, Arthur Rubenstein, Sascha and Mischa Schneider, etc.) Steindhardt proves himself to be quite the raconteur as well as gentle psychologist as he describes the Guarneri's journey from hyper-testosterone young quartet to one of the most seasoned groups performing today. His personal and professional portrayal of his colleagues is intimate and respectful, and lends valuable insight for the lay person who has always wondered 1. what goes into string quartet playing 2. what the life of a touring musician is like 3. what it takes for four completely different and powerful peersonalities to forge a successful career. I believe this book offers humor, insight and inspiration for those who are professional musicians as well as afficionados of chamber music and even those who are peripherally interested in classical music. It compares with other memoirs offered by Arthur Rubenstein, Gary Graffman and Gregor Piatigorsky, although definitely with more verisimilitude, especially in terms of the latter book. Enjoy!
on 18 August 1999
Oh, leading the glamorous life! Many thanks to Arnold Steinhardt for sharing his fascinating experiences as a member of the Guarneri Quartet. His book is full of marvelous memories, evocative stories, and profound insight into a classical musician's art as practiced at the highest levels. Steinhardt is frequently eloquent, always interesting. Although necessarily writing about himself, the authorial voice is never intrusive or (horrors!) narcissistic. Often self-deprecating, Steinhardt displays a refreshing and gentle humor. This book has helped me to a new appreciation of the string quartet literature, and a deeper understanding of the collaborative art of chamber music.
on 27 December 1998
Steinhardt, a born story-teller, writes with modesty, wit, and exuberance about the backstage and onstage lives of chamber musicians. His book is filled with well-observed and often hilarious details about the performing life, and casts light on what it takes to make it as a successful chamber musician. Put this book on your shelf next to Arthur Rubinstein's classic autobiography, My Young Years.