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Monday, October 8, 2018

Beethoven string quartets/Kerman reading group, Week Nine

The Modigliani Quartet, sometimes called the Amadeo Modigliani Quartet. For the group's live recording of this week's Opus 59, No. 3, go here. 

Kerman Week 9 – Op. 59, No. 3 – The Second Half of Chapter 5

By Eric Wagner, guest blogger

This week please read sections 4 - 6 of chapter 5 (pg. 134 - 154) and listen to Op. 59, No. 3 over and over again. Please comment on this week’s reading/quartet and continue to comment on previous weeks’ readings/quartets.

I hope all goes well. On page 136 two lines from the bottom of the page it says, “The piercing viola F# (bar 18)”. That should read “violin F#”. The F sharp appears in the second violin part.

Reading the discussion of the key relationships in the slow movement on page 148 I found myself back in the Pale Fire reading group. I expected to turn to notes where Kinbote explained the real meanings of the development section.

The Lovecraftian in me wonders about the “chthonic tone” of Schubert on page 149.

When we finished the Op. 18 quartets, I went back and listened to all six quartets. I’ve just begun listening to the three Op. 59 quartets again. We have come a long way, but we have a wonderful journey ahead of us, even if Kavanaugh gets confirmed.

Beethoven wrote sixteen string quartets. I associate this with the tarot trump the Tower. P. G. Wodehouse’s novel Leave It to Psmith gives an important role to sixteen flowerpots. Of course, the Hebrew letter peh has a value of 80 and corresponds with The Tower. The silent P in Psmith corresponds with peh, so I associate the numbers 16 and 80 with both Leave It to Psmith and the Beethoven quartets. The Hebrew letter feh (similar to peh) also has a value of 80, and I associate that with the flowerpots in the Wodehouse novel. I think of the Beethoven quartets as sixteen flowerpots waiting for us to explore.


Oz Fritz said...

It was 89 days between Kavanagh’s nomination and confirmation to the Supreme Court.

I like the image of the 16 quartets as 16 flowerpots and the rationale behind it. I have a mild interest in Cabala yet this marks my first encounter with the Hebrew letter feh. This letter must have been overlooked, or dropped when kabbalah became qabalah – when this Hebrew mystical lexicon got expanded to include all religions and mythologies by Mathers, Bennett, and Crowley. I’m surprised they did since Crowley deliberately provokes ambiguity with other associations. The flowerpot metaphor seems most apropos since, like a flower, a musical understanding of Beethoven’s quartets grows and eventually blooms with the right kind of attention and nurturing. This recalls the well-known slogan from “Illuminatus!:” Ewige Blumenkraft.

Bob Dylan, whose poetic license thrives on ambiguity of correspondences, begins the song “Changing of the Guard” with the number 16: “16 years, 16 banners united over the fields …” Beethoven taking over from Mozart as his era’s preeminent living composer can be seen as a changing of the guard. Music that guards against aesthetic apathy and existential despair in a time when Napoleon begins his efforts to destroy the prevailing world order. Now we need music to guard against this as Trump tires his brand of destroying world order. Harmony vs chaos?

Dylan pays homage to Beethoven in “Tombstone Blues:”
“Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedrolls
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells roadmaps to the soul
To the old folks home and the college.”

Including these disparate musical innovators – Rainey was called the “Mother of the Blues” – in the same line shows Dylan’s respect and acknowledgment of Beethoven. Dylan’s avid interest in musical history – whole PBS documentaries have been made from his collection of old film clips – indicates his great respect for Ma Rainey whom he pairs with Beethoven. The remaining lines of this stanza superficially appear as a cynical view of societal programming, but I choose a different interpretation.

“Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole” – music claims new territories like a flag does symbolically. What territory? Tuba or not tuba, that is the question. This kind of phonetic allusion seems very much a part of Dylan’s repertoire. He has read James Joyce.
“Selling roadmaps to the soul” echoes the point I made in last week’s post.

The stanza that follows in “Tombstone Blues” seems to equivocally apply to both Dylan and Beethoven.
“I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That would hold you dear lady from going insane
That would ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge.”

Eric Wagner said...

Happy John Lennon’s birthday.

Oz Fritz said...

Early in his career, John Lennon made several requests to Beethoven to roll over. Dylan notes when Beethoven unwrapped his bedroll. Michael Bloomfield, implicated by name in the Ewige Bloomenkraft caper, played electric lead guitar on "Like A Rolling Stone." And just to demonstrate the multiplicity of the word "roll" in music, the Doors sing, "Let it roll, roll, roll, let it fill your soul all right," on the live version of "Roadhouse Blues."

On p. 134 what Kerman writes about Beethoven could equally apply to intrepid listeners of Beethoven, or any other great music for that matter: " Beethoven found himself coming back to questions raised by the E minor ... There was a need to test and answer the questions again from newly achieved levels of technique and emotional awareness." This indicates the power of growth inherent in working with music.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I don't know if this week's quartet is one of Beethoven's best, but I thought it was one of more interesting. The instrument with the repeated plucked strings in the second movement -- which instrument is being used?

Eric Wagner said...

Thanks for the great comments. Oz, feh and peh differ only by a diacritical mark. Tom, the second movement opens with plucked cello notes.

Eric Wagner said...

Well, I put four Bob Dylan cd's in the car today to complement my Beethoven listening.

Oz Fritz said...

On tour being driven through the Canadian Rocky Mountains listening to the E minor and C major quartets on headphones. Driving through valleys between Earth reaching up to Sky with pure white snow crowning the peaks. These mountains come in all shapes and sizes, some resembling pyramid-like Egyptian tombs housing long dead giant Queens and Kings. Another one suggests a castle chess piece.

The opening Allegra of the E minor sounds like a woman to me with all the infinite depth, drama, sudden change in mood, soft, delicate, questioning, bold, timid, angry, fearful, giving birth, etc. – quite a lot of mood shifts for a 9:30 piece. Perhaps these ears get biased from currently reading Mead’s translation of the Pistis Sophia. The C major quartet also sounds feminine, to me. I like the moments of dissonance. Maybe this dissonance causes Kerman to label the opening movement “strange?”

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I love classical music and I love he blues, and I like the way Dylan pairs a "classical" tradition with a "popular tradition" and shows respect for both.