Monday, October 15, 2018

Kerman/Beehoven reading group, Week Ten


Another photo of the Borromeo String Quartet. Listen to a live recording of Opus 74 from the Gardner Museum. Photo by Richard Bowditch.

Kerman Week 10 – Op. 74 The First Half of Chapter 6

By Eric Wagner, guest blogger

This week please read sections one and two of chapter 6 (pg. 155 - 168) and listen to Op. 74 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. The expression “with the Bartók quartets twanging in our ears” on page 161 has always bothered me. It struck me as dismissive of Bartók.

Pg. 163 – Schubert’s song Das Wirtshaus appears in the song cycle Winterreise.

I have never really loved this quartet, but I have enjoyed listening to it this week. Kerman calls this work “a work of consolidation than of exploration” on page 168. Well, the rest of the quartets devote themselves savagely to exploration as we will discover over the next eight weeks.

5 comments:

Eric Wagner said...

Of course, Crowley associated Harpocrates with the Fool in the tarot. I associate the Harp Quartet with those as well as with Harpo Marx.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

This quartet did not grab me on a first listening.

Before we get too far from the Opus 59 quartets, I want to mention one of my favorite stories about Beethoven, about when Italian violinist Felix Radicati complained that Beethoven’s Opus 59 Quartets were 'not music', and Beethoven responded: 'Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age'.”

Oz Fritz said...


Kerman suggests that Beethoven sold out a bit with Op. 74 making it easier to understand because people weren’t grokking the earlier Op.59 quartets. Not modulating keys in 74 like he usually does seems one main difference in this composition hoping for greater appeal.

Harpo Marx and Harpocrates get connected by Silence. The posture of Harpocrates intends to invoke a profound inner silence which doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of outer activity, including, though not in Marx’s stage persona, talking. Some conspiracy theorists maintain that Marx deliberately chose the name Harpo to invoke the god, hence his verbal silence. They claim the Brothers Marx were undercover Sufi adepts who chose vaudeville comedy to transmit their teaching. Their movies certainly contain a wealth of crazy wisdom.

Harpo plays “Beethoven’s Minuet” on harp in “The Big Store.” In the Star Ruby, one of Crowley’s foundational rituals, the sign of Harpocrates get paired with its counterpart, the sign of Horus aka the sign of the Enterer, or Going Forth. Kerman aptly illustrates this dichotomy on p. 156 when comparing the E flat major and the F minor quartets, “… one work looks outward, the other inward.” On p. 158 he hints at this dynamic again this time within the E flat: “… the Quartet in E flat is ostentatiously at peace with itself. The sense of supreme and easy technical control strikes the listener forcibly.” That might make more sense to anyone who has tried the Star Ruby, or just the sign of Horus.

Kerman indicates the Silence of Harpocrates and the Going Forth of Horus on p. 160 though he criticizes the inner as “facile” – lacking depth. “A further instance of calm or simplicity of structure comes with the development section.” … “Now the interesting fact about all these figures is the great length of the development, and at the same time its relative vacuity.” Harpocartes intends invisibility, he becomes the god of protection as well. Deep and profound silence renders appearance toward invisibility. I haven’t heard the quartet yet so can’t say if Kerman rings true, or if the E flat Quartet does have a spiritual depth invisible to him.

Eric Wagner said...

Interesting comments. I haven’t seen The Big Store for years.

Eric Wagner said...

Tom, your comment reminds me of Joni Mitchell's song about Beethoven, "Judgement of the Moon and Stars".