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Showing 1-25 of 100 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Sep 2010, 14:28:40 BST
Androcleas says:
I've been listening to a lot of String Quartets recently. I like their concentration and purity. They often seem to say as much as a Symphony, but using a lot fewer instruments.
This thread is for talking about your favourite String Quartets - any favourite pieces, any favourite recordings?
I have the complete Shostakovich Quartets by the Shostakovich Quartet. Although the sound isn't as good as the Borodin Quartet recordings, it seems to me more Russian - more emotion, even if less refined. I've been listening to the Villa-Lobos Quartets - he wrote 17 - some of the middle ones - 6,7, 8 are quite attractive, and fairly substantial. I've heard Simpson's 7th and 13th Quartets - very impressive - , stark, icy and intense. Any more suggestions for Simpson's Quartets?
I have the complete String Quartet music of the Second Viennese School - Berg is best for me.
Carter's Quartets are challenging but nonetheless interesting and reward repeated hearings.
And not forgetting the late Beethoven Quartets - any favourite peformances?
I'd like to try Haydn too, but haven't quite got round to him yet. Any suggestions for a starting point?

Posted on 16 Sep 2010, 15:56:37 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 00:47:22 BST
Hi Androcleas - as this genre was around years before Haydn wrote the works that were given the credit for attaining new levels of sophistication with it the repertoire is endless. Haydn's six 'Sun' quartets op. 20 were reportedly his first real great ones but I would start with the ones he wrote last of all, the six op. 76, two op. 77 and the unfinished quartet op. 103. All have been widely recorded but the ones I have are by the Amadeus Quartet and are all gathered together on this three-disc set:

Joseph Haydn: String Quartets opp. 76, 77 & 103

I'll return with suggestions and links for other composers but I think it's only fair that I let others have their turn first.

Had to edit - I missed a bit out at the start.

Posted on 16 Sep 2010, 15:58:50 BST
Androcleas - the early Haydn quartets are pleasant enough - the kind of thing you're glad to have heard but wouldn't make it a priority to return to. Things start to get a lot more interesting from Op.33 onwards and this is where I would start (though Op.20 has its moments as well). I only know of three ensembles (Angeles, Buchberger and Aeolian) that have recorded the complete cycle and I wouldn't really recommend any of them. Unless you have a strong aversion to period instruments, the Quattuor Mosaiques are well worth hearing. Of the more traditional approaches, I like the Amadeus the best - they recorded all the quartets from around Op.55 onwards in stereo for DG as well as earlier mono recordings.

Posted on 16 Sep 2010, 16:37:31 BST
Last edited by the author on 16 Sep 2010, 16:43:24 BST
I second the above two postings regarding Haydn and add a recommendation for the Op 64 quartets (I have the Salomon Qt on Hyperion). Op 76 No 3 nicknamed 'Emperor' is probably his best known quartet.

The last ten quartets by Mozart are all excellent and available in various versions; the Amadeus Qt are excellent as are the Alban Berg Qt, this box set is excellent value and also contains two of the string quintets Mozart - Chamber Works

Try the Italian Qt for middle and late Beethoven, I also have the Bergs in the late quartets but prefer the Italians. For historical performances of the late quartets you could try the Busch Qt (available as a Great Recordings of the Century, not bad sound for recordings 70+ years old).

The Bergs are also excellent in Schubert and Brahms. Then there is Dvorak! The list goes on and on

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Sep 2010, 22:17:57 BST
Nobody seems to have mentioned the finest quartets of the 20th century, namely the six by Bartok. There's everything in them, and despite their "tough" reputation, they are surprisingly romantic, lyrical, and above all exciting.

Then how's about the most intense pair of works ever written - Janacek's quartets. If you want your soul wringed out......

For a more calmly cogent experience, Holmboe's quartets are really worth getting to know.

Despite my love for the Bartoks, Janaceks, Shostakoviches, Holmboes etc etc, I am afraid the ultimate in quartets is either the late Beethovens, or (I think on a similar plain) the last Schuberts. Dvorak's are very nice and beautiful, but nice is not enough. The quartet is the most personal vehicle for the composer, and for me the ultimate in music.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Sep 2010, 22:41:48 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 00:24:54 BST
Basilides says:
Romantic and lyrical? You must be joking. I don't say you can't find the odd passage that you might describe as Romantic in the sense of extremely subjective or introverted (influenced by Schoenberg's first quartets) but lyrical other than in the same sense? No.
They also contain the most appalling folk-influenced ugly frustrated nonsense ever to appear in a quartet up to that time and opened the floodgates to the same sort of thing without the folk influence but with the same pointless ugliness we still have in the quartets of people like Maxwell Davies and Hugh Wood and countless others ever since Bartok.
Nowhere else will you find the good and sincere, side by side with the pointlessly ugly and the meaningless squawking, to the same extent in the same work.
Someone has to express opposition and say what they honestly believe the truth about these things to be. That no one from inside the SM/CM world, and hardly anyone else either, has done so in the last 3/4 of a century and more is proof as far as I'm concerned of the power of fashion, mystification and unconsciously self-serving professional propaganda, emanating initially and primarily from musicians who came here from that part of the world but later infecting others and by the 50s the whole world of contemporary music. I think we may have these quartets to blame more than any other music. We need some more healthy scepticism.

Ugliness and desperation in an orchestral work can always be understood as a reflection of the world but ugliness in a quartet cannot be rationalised or interpreted in this way. But here we have more than ugliness and desperation we have deliberate primitive ugliness and desperation justified by nothing more than it's folk derivation. It seems to me that is a lot easier to dismiss than whatever MD or Wood think they are up to which I feel pretty sure is a mystery to everyone but themselves. It may have meant something to Bartok in terms of a way of life that was disappearing or was full of misery and pain or pathos - whatever - but we are not in his situation having experienced this at first hand on his collecting trips and there is no reason why we should be obliged to identify or empathise with these very peculiar and personal feelings as he represents them, whatever they are, in the music. In fact not only can't we empathise or identify with it but we can't even make sense of these feelings which sound nothing like lyrical regret or nostagia or anything recognisably personal except a form of insanity. If it is distress then why does the folk music itself sound so distressed and distorted? Regarding the way of life , we can if we wish pay it far more respect and better attention by listening to the folk music itself. As far as the possibility of transmuting it into high art is concerned this is nothing remotely like it and it doesn't do it any favours. It seems another obvious case of art coming from art, in this case obviously from the Rite Of Spring as so much else but with happier results. This is just more folk music filtered through the then modish Rite Of Spring, a great and important work but a special case of course. It is pretty obvious that there was, and even now still is, a temptation for so many composers to use the idiom of the Rite which seemed just as useful for the urban and city nightmare of the Mandarin or Varese as the Scythian Suite and the Steppes. But to make use of the idiom in this way in the highly intellectualised and civilised form of the quartet without intending to arouse irritation and annoyance is incomprehensible.
Form is content. You can't say the same thing in two different ways.

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Sep 2010, 23:42:15 BST
Roasted Swan says:
Yes dear

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 00:07:17 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 00:26:36 BST
Basilides says:
That's what I think every time I listen to those bloody awful scherzos and cadenzas, as well as a few climaxes and finales.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 00:53:14 BST
Edgar Self says:
I agree with every word of Basil's post. Bartok's quartets affect me so strongly and disagreably that I had to leave a concert of them between movements. I just made it.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 06:22:51 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 06:29:22 BST
Androcleas says:
Have to confess I haven't been able to get into Bartok - including the Quartets. When I listen to a piece by Bartok for the first two or 3 minutes I always have the feeling that this is very interesting and exciting and that I should really listen to Bartok more often. But then in the next 2 or 3 minutes, I always lose interest and never make it to the end. I can't work out why. Its almost like Bartok's music is full of extremely interesting moments that somehow don't come together. Like a dramatic and very interesting, but ultimately incoherent collage. Its not that I don't like the dissonance - I don't have the same problem with Berg or Carter.

I'm open to the suggestion that maybe there's something I'm missing??? I like all sorts of composers who influenced and who have been influenced by Bartok, and really feel I ought to like Bartok.

I have a couple of Holmboe quartets - good stuff, well organized and eminently pleasant, maybe without the intensity of Simpson or Shostakovich. I feel I should investigate Janacek. I've enjoyed Martinu's quartets, and feel I might be able to get into his fellow Czech composer, Janacek.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 09:31:39 BST
Roasted Swan says:
For your information - Bartok's quartets are amongst the most carefully constructed works ever written. The form of many movements adhere to the structural principles of the golden section. Just because you don't get a structure - which is fine - don't assume there is none. "...rather than study this work for beauties that do not exist, we had far rather hear the others where beauties are plain..." ..... a review in the Daily Atlas, Boston quoted in Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective. And the piece........ Beethoven 9

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 09:35:34 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 09:36:28 BST
A different approach would be to try this very attractively priced box The Art of The Lindsays. It contains quartets by Mozart, Schubert, Ravel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Dvorak, Beethoven, Borodin, Janacek, Tippett and Bartok. Also it has Schubert's Trout Quintet and Brahms' Clarinet Quintet. This selection could give you ideas as to what direction you wanted to go in and the Lindsays were an excellent quartet.

I can second the recommendation of the Janacek Quartets. The Dvorak quartets are more than just 'nice' and in any there there is no reason why you should always wanting to be listening to quartets at the highest level of intensity.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 09:56:11 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 10:00:11 BST
My comprehension of the Bartok's clicked up a notch when I actually saw the Takacs performing them (on TV). Their actual performing gestures make it vividly apparent what the music means and how it fits together. Rage, despair, grim sarcastic humour, caricature, and terrible sadness, all made more vicious by an impudent nod to beauty, from the heart of a man who had no choice but to express what he found there, and who had no other way of doing so. He is telling us about terrible and profoundly confusing times, and he helps us to be there in a manner that no dry history could ever do. The argument between those who would insist that music must be charming no matter what is being expressed, and those who need to see and feel the realities of life in music is as old as the hills. I feel grateful that I can respond to both modes of expression.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 10:02:56 BST
Glad somebody is coming to Bartok's rescue!

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 10:22:09 BST
I'm determined not to regret it :-) I'm interested to know Robert, do you sympathise with my description of them, or do you discern entirely different qualities in them?

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 10:41:25 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 10:58:30 BST
Roasted Swan says:
Basiledes statement "awful scherzos and cadenzas" reminds of why Bernstein titled his last work "Arias and Barcarolles" was so named: (quoted from the Bernstein website) - After Bernstein's performance at the White House in 1960, President Eisenhower remarked, "You know, I liked that last piece you played: it's got a theme. I like music with a theme, not all them arias and barcarolles". Clearly ignorance is bliss - although slightly more worrying when coming from the leader of the free world. I'm sitting here listening to the Bartok Quartets as I write and hear no "awful scherzos" let alone cadenzas. John Ferngrove's post is bang on right and well put. Hurray for Bartok, Hurray for Dvorak Hurray for Haydn.

Basiledes by all means pontificate (apt given the current visit) but please do it from a position of knowledge not ignorance. PS - when is the last movement of anything by definition not a finale.........? Or is it that you happen to like a big THE END title (and a sunset).

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 10:50:51 BST
Your description of them, John, matches mine that they are "romantic" - expressions of emotions, of all sorts. They are, as I said, also intensely lyrical - listen to the third section of the 3rd quartet, the slow movements of 4 and 5, or the closing movement of No.6 for examples.

Nick mentions the immensely complex structures Bartok composed them by, and if interested I suggest you have a look out for Erno Lendvai's book on Bartok's music, although the Fibonnacci/Golden Section ideas maybe apply more appropriately to other works (Music for Strings, Sonata for 2 pianos & Percussion).

What I find immensely annoying is the vendetta Basiledes seems to have against Bartok and anyone who listens to him sympathetically. I do not see Piso or Androcleas here tearing into him, and I am perfectly happy for anyone to dislike these works. But to act as if Bartok has in some ways harmed you personally is beyond comprehension. He wrote music you do not respond to; I don't think he ever crashed into you without leaving his insurance details, and I am pretty sure he never nicked your girlfriend.

As for myself, I may be "pretentious" for liking his music; in the ouside world I might be considered pretentious for liking Beethoven or Mahler or Brahms, and to find the same pettiness among music lovers, where my liies and dislikes should be expressable in an oasis of something resembling empathy, is and has always been depressing.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 11:04:33 BST
All this bickering about Bartok has made me take refuge in Faure's String Quartet Op 121.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 11:21:11 BST
Roasted Swan says:
Don't tell Basiledes - but that has no Finale either......!!!!!!!!!!

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 13:50:23 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 14:03:33 BST
Basilides says:
I don't recall saying anything about them being badly composed or not being complex enough. In fact I know I didn't, and quite consciously didn't, because both are really beside the point from where I'm approaching this. I'm well aware of some of Bartok's compositional methods, in fact I referred to them only quite recently, but it makes not the slightest difference. I have no interest in number systems and the like used in musical composition unless they make real aesthetic sense, and are apparent in the listening, and produce pleasure, satisfaction or enlarged awareness. The demonstration that these patterns are there and are intentionally there proves nothing. This is another aspect of Bartok in fact that had a very bad influence on subsequent developments in music.

John's post contains observations that are largely in agreement with what I was saying.

I don't know what Nick is getting at when he seems to find something odd about my mentioning cadenzas and scherzos unless he is being either patronising and insulting or else obtuse. If so he has missed the point. As far as 'finales' are concerned I simply meant any ends of any movements which end the dramatically ugly way that some of them do, as far as I can recall at a distance of many months from listening to any of them, and it was simply a short hand way of saying that. I was not referring to the end of the last movement where this obviously does not always apply.
In mentioning these sections of the quartets I was simply drawing attention to the most obviously objectionable things that I had ommited to mention in my longer post. I have been perfectly consistent about these things over the past two years and it should be obvious that these are the parts in which the folk elements become most strident and intolerable. In fact I find cadenzas a bit a bore most of the time except for the occasional one that is really unpredictable and exciting, but when I find I have to endure hideously grotesque folk cadenzas like Bartok it's really too much.The fact that Nick missed this and responded in the way he did does not give me much confidence in being able to communicate with him in any way that might have much value - apart from the fact that I don't like his attitude and tone.
My patience with pedantry and nitpicking is limited. No time for more now, I have to go.
PS I don't like Dvorak's folk scherzos either as I've said before.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 16:05:57 BST
Roasted Swan says:
oooh - better get rid of all those folk-influenced scherzi in Haydn and Beethoven then while we're chucking out babies with bath water. Being consistently bigoted in ones views does not lend the views any greater worth or weight.

Posted on 17 Sep 2010, 16:38:47 BST
Androcleas says:
Since posting last, have listened to Haydn's Quartet Op.76/3 The Emperor, Janacek's First Quartet, and now I'm halfway through his second on youtube. I really enjoyed the Haydn - the first and final movements are really exciting, and the slow movement is of course an interesting setting of a very famous melody.
The Janacek 1 was very impressive. That kind of searing intensity I can only recall in the music of Shostakovich and Berg. I have to confess to not being too well acquainted with Janacek, having only listened to the Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass. His quartets are very impressive - altogether more serious, and for me a revelation.
Thanks for your suggestions. I might well splash out on discs when I get the next opportunity. :-)

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 20:09:51 BST
The story goes that Haydn was inspired to write that melody (originally known as Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser) after hearing God Save the King during one of his stays in London.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 20:36:11 BST
Last edited by the author on 17 Sep 2010, 21:09:15 BST
Basilides says:
You are a pedant aren't you, and yet strangely you're not very good at making the necessary distinctions in order to get the point of an argument. So inevitably you will be the one who throws the baby out.

But I'll recast my closing post of last night just to please you:

(I feel repelled by) the cadenza-like solos (which function much the same as cadenzas proper - though there is really no such thing - and go right against the usual democratic principles of the Quartet genre) and scherzo-like or (folk) dance movements (including the horrid 'Bulgarian Scherzo' in No.5) and the local violent episodes and dramatic climaxes, and any finales or codas to movements which are assertively aggressive - because they all bring out the folk or gypsy elements with a vengeance.
Sorry, couldn't manage all that at 12.30 last night.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Sep 2010, 20:51:33 BST
JayJayDee says:
I usually think that if I do not get myself 'into' classical music of any sort there must be something wrong with me - not the composer.

Now I realise that cannot be the right way of approaching the dilemma.

Didn't Sir Malcolm Arnold equate Bartok quartets with chewing carpets?

We MUST retain our prejudices. Otherwise what are we on about here on the Amazon forum?

By the way I bought a couple of Bartok quartets in 1968 and I still can't find a way of listening to them a second time.
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