Monday, August 27, 2018

Beethoven Quartet and Kerman reading group, Week Three

Kerman Week 3 – Op. 18, No. 2 – The Second Half of Chapter 2

By Eric Wagner, guest blogger



Joseph Kerman

[If you arrived late, Eric is leading us in a discussion of Joseph Kerman's book, The Beethoven Quartets. Not too late to get caught up and join in! -- The Management.]

This week please read section three of chapter 2 (pg. 44 – 53) and listen to Op. 18, No. 2. Please comment on this week’s chapter and continue to comment on previous weeks’ chapters.

Pg. 44 – 45. Kerman refers to Haydn’s Op. 33 string quartets.  These quartets play an important role in Charles Rosen’ The Classical Style. Maynard Solomon’s Late Beethoven has a interesting survey of attitudes towards Beethoven and the Classical and Romantic periods. Some see Beethoven as a protoromantic. Rosen convincingly shows how Beethoven’s music remained rooted in the classical language of Haydn and Mozart even as he stretched that language to its limits in his late music.

Please post your musical biography this week.

I learned to play piano in third grade, acoustic bass in fourth grade, and flute in fifth grade. I wish I had continued with flute, especially when carrying around acoustic basses for decades. I started guitar in ninth grade, and I played viola de gamba a bit in college. In first grade a teacher played us the slow movement to Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, and I loved it. I grudgingly liked Beethoven because he had studied with Haydn. In fourth or fifth grade I discovered Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” in a collection of light classical music my parents owned. I liked that he had the same last name as me. In junior high I had an eight-track tape of famous Beethoven piano sonatas.

The summer after my first year of college I had a cold and stayed home from work one day. I put on Toscanini’s recording of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. I don’t think I’d ever heard it before, and it blew me away. That fall I started hanging out a lot with pianist Jai Jeffreys, and he really deepened my understanding of Beethoven. A year and a half later I started reading Robert Anton Wilson, and his writings on Beethoven changed me forever.


14 comments:

Roman Tsivkin said...

Haven't been able to keep up with the reading, but I'll catch up in the next few weeks.
My involvement with music: Started playing the violin at 6 years old, back in Mother Russia, got to be pretty decent by the time I quit "serious" study at 18 years old. Studied at the Longy school in Cambridge, Mass; attended Greenwood, a wonderful music summer camp in the Berkshires, from 1985-89, where during the 5-week camp I played oodles of chamber music, most memorably Beethoven's Grosse Fugue, Op. 133, a work that completely blew my fragile 16-year-old mind and continues to blow my somewhat less fragile 47-year-old mind. Also performed many of Beethoven's other quartets (another memorable moment: performing Op. 18 No. 4 at the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, playing 1st violin), played with various chamber groups through college and a bit beyond; now my violin lives under the bed, dusty and neglected. I feel a very strong connection to the entire chamber music repertoire, and have a special connection to Beethoven and Shostakovich (played his Piano Quintet in music camp -- unforgettable!). Started reading RAW around the age of 17, so his views on Beethoven are pretty much in my blood at this point. In my 30s I found a bunch of old amateur musicians (average age: 85!) and spent many wonderful days playing string quartets with my octogenarians...so the plan is: I'll pick up the violin again in my 80s, find some like-minded folks, and play string quartets till I die :)

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Since my late teens, I have listened to a large variety of music, but mostly rock, jazz and classical, although the amount of time devoted to each has varied. For decades it was mostly rock. About 15 years ago, I went through a big jazz phase and even subscribed to "Downbeat." Nowadays, I concentrate pretty heavily on classical.

My favorite composers, at least at present, are Beethoven, Mozart, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Bach.

I have two classical interests that put me at variance with many listeners. First, I am interested in Russian modernist classical music of the 1910s-1930s or so -- not just Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but other good composers who most people have never heard of, such as Alexander Mosolov, Gavriil Popov, Nicolai Roslavets, etc. For that matter, most people have forgotten Nikolai Myaskovsky.

I also am interested in contemporary classical music. Some of the people I listen to are William Duckworth, David Lang, John Adams, and Kaija Saariaho.

As for Beethoven, I have listened to all of the symphonies, piano sonatas and piano concertos, but I haven't covered all of the string quartets. So this reading group is an opportunity to explore a side of Beethoven I've neglected.

Oz Fritz said...

I began learning how to play the trumpet in the 3rd grade and continued just before going into the 10th grade. I was in the junior high school band in grades 7 - 9 and in a marching band in the summer after 9th grade. I didn't connect with the music so I stopped playing. Starting with The Beatles at the age of 11, my passion for music was much more into the contemporary rock, folk, and blues groups of the time; a few years later that included some country and bluegrass. I never got exposed to classical music growing up except for Italian opera which I hated. I got into good stereo equipment when I was 15. Listening to music was my primary activity in high school, more than going to class. My first concert was The Doobie Brothers at age 15. I liked half the show because I was never a Mike McDonald fan and he had just joined the group. The first concert that blew my mind was Jethro Tull which I saw on my 17th birthday. At age 19 I was asked to help run the sound and lights for some of my friends from school who had formed a bar band. I had an epiphany the first month with them that I could make money and have a career at doing something I loved, listening to music, and even participate in its creation. I did live sound for touring bar bands in Western Canada for four years before shifting gears and taking a Recording Arts program in New York. It was a one year course. Afterwards, I returned to Canada but was mostly unsuccessful at getting work in a recording studio. After two years of that I returned to New York and got an internship at an up and coming major commercial studio. I've been working as a sound engineer and some time music producer ever since.

I began listening to the "greatest hits" of classical music as part of my ear training regimen and actually started to enjoy it. Not long after that, at the age of 20 or 21, I read a book on avant garde composers that was a life changer. The theories and practices of John Cage in particular become a huge influence along with Edgard Varese and Charles Ives. I learned a lot about jazz and world music and got to work with some legends in New York. I've listened to some classical music over the years, Bartok rates highly with me, but am actually very illiterate in that world. I have listened to and sometimes been enraptured by Beethoven's Symphonies and have had small exposure to his piano sonatas. This marks the first time around on Beethoven's quartets, for me.

CrypticMusic said...

Hi everyone, my name is Colin and I'm a classical saxophonist and composer by trade. I started playing in school band when I was 9, and sang in the choir when I was 10. I grew up listening to my mom's record collection which had a mix of classical symphonies and waltzes, "adult" pop singers like The Carpenters and Helen Reddy, with some Elvis and ABBA thrown in. I remember being fascinated by Chopin's Minute Waltz, which I would time with a wind-up stopwatch (1'35"!!), and I adored listening to Beethoven's Symphonies 5 & 6.

I caught the bug to pursue music as a career late in high school, when I saw a performance on TV of the Toronto Symphony (can't remember the program), and there was a saxophonist who got to take a bow. "That's what I want to do!", I remember thinking. So I took an undergraduate degree in classical saxophone performance, and the rest, as they say, is history. I've had the great fortune to perform and create my own music, to play with some very nice orchestras, to sample other cultures through their music, and generally to meet and interact with some very wonderful and open human beings.

My musical tastes run mostly to contemporary composition, as the repertoire for classical saxophone is still relatively new, and post-minimalism is my favourite genre. But I'm also a big fan of the Baroque, with many friends in the early music scene, and my wife is a recorder player. Beethoven has always had a special place in my heart, and even though I don't get to play much of his work myself he is still a great model for this self-taught composer.

Eric Wagner said...

Thank you for sharing your stories. Roman, I've never played a Beethoven quartet. I played Beethoven's Seventh Symphony with the ASU Symphony Orchestra. I went to a chamber music camp after eleventh grade and played bass in a Dvorak quintet.

Tom, I love Shostakovich.

Oz Fritz said...

The quartet in G is my favorite so far. Kerman writes of several humorous aspects in this piece. I'm not literate enough in classical music nor do I have sufficient attention yet in that area to really connect the specifics of what he writes about with the actual music. But his writing seems very helpful for hearing the general mood and affects that he hears. In the 4th movement I could imagine Beethoven satirizing stiff formal conventions of his time. Kerman calls it a "dance parody."

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

When I wrote my "musical bio" and mentioned that I like contemporary classical music and cited some composers, I did not mean to leave out Colin MacDonald (e.g., "Cryptic Music." Although I didn't get around to putting up this follow-up comment as quickly as I meant to (it's been a busy week), I did listen to one of his albums that I own, "Circle of Wind," earlier this week. It's quite good, and available on Spotify, Freegal and other venues.

As long as I'm passing out music recommendations, I recently tried an album on Spotify that Oz Fritz worked on, "Sanctuary" by Achilles Wheel. It's a really good country rock album, kind of in the same ballpark as The Band or the Flying Burrito Brothers.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

It seems odd to me that no one here has talked about Opus 18, No. 2 in the comments. I'm not the analytical brains in this outfit, but it sounded to me like a piece that has a light, amusing touch, very different from the piece we listened to last week.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I wrote my comment before I realized Oz had posted about the piece.

CrypticMusic said...

P45. “Komplimentierungsquartett” - Compliments Quartet. You can almost hear the quartet members bowing and shaking hands with each other. “After you, kind sir.” “Oh no, please, after you!” Cuteness and wit abound.

The second movement Adagio Cantabile, to my ear at least, seems to have more in common with Mozart than with Haydn. The shape and of the phrases and color of the harmonies feel like WAM to me. But where did Beethoven pull that double-time dance section from! That was a surprise.
P.51 “It is in fact one of the earliest of Beethoven’s dance “parodies”, a parody contredanse in 2/4 time...” Musical parody in this sense did not necessarily have a comedic effect, but was more an acknowledgement of borrowing an earlier style, such as in the parody masses in Renaissance times.

P.51 “The humor grows almost kittenish in places.” I love that Beethoven’s Scherzo joking is reaching the level of an internet meme — kittens!

The Finale keeps up the Haydn-esque humour, and I particularly love the obsessive cadences toward the end (38 bars from the end if you’re following the score), almost as minimalist and tongue-in-cheek as Erik Satie’s Embryons Desecheés. https://youtu.be/WkSK3Jc4EEE

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

Greetings folks! I started playing guitar around the age of 12. My Mother purchased an old Silvertone SG style guitar for me from one of our local pawn shops. I started taking lessons for a while (about 6 months) but discontinued for various reasons. One of the greatest things that music teacher did for me was helped me develop my ear.By and large, i have been playing that way ever since. I can generally find the scale and key we are playing in almost immediately by using my ear alone. A few years later i was at a friends house and noticed his Mandolin sitting in the corner and i asked if i could check it out. I immediately fell in love. Fast forward 11 years later and it is now my main instrument i play. As far as influences go, starting back in my early teens i was in love with Classic Rock and Heavy Metal. My 8th grade teacher turned me on to the Grateful Dead and a 10 year obsession commenced. I eventually dropped out of High School and started catching as many shows in the Jam Band scene as i could. Like i said, OBSESSION.(I have an envelope PACKED with old ticket stubs,including my first Bob Weir show at the Fillmore in Denver in 2005). I have settled down a bit in that regard and now focus on making my own music. I play Mandolin in a local jam band called Clifton Hangar. I am thoroughly enjoying exploring the Beethoven/classical world granted it is all very new to me. Tom turned me on to Sviatoslav Richter and the Piano Sonatas a little while back and i have absolutely loved it. And now these String Quartets! Wow! So far i have been listening to the Alban Berg Quartet perform the Quartets for free on Youtube. I really like it so far.

Eric Wagner said...

I love Satie!

Eric Wagner said...

Joshua, I also when through a period of obsessively listening to the Dead, from 1999-2005. I bet you would enjoy Barry Smolin's podcast Head Room - http://www.mrsmolin.com/radio.php .

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

Thanks Eric I’ll check that out! I did notice Phil Lesh’s Searching For the Sound on the photo that was posted of your musical bookshelf. I really liked that book. It’s a bit more interesting to me to hear from the musicians themselves than from,say, a biographer. But I don’t mind biographies either.