My New Kindle Book (Last update August, 2017)
Last Friday, I published String Quartets – A Most Intimate Medium on Amazon. It contains discussions on 150 composers and 250 quartets. If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you’ve probably already read it!
I have made considerable changes to the text, especially my early posts, some of which I completely rewrote as they seemed a bit amateurish.
You can have a look and preview the book here. Designed for a Kindle, it also runs great on the Kindle App on a tablet.
If anyone feels like doing an Amazon review, please go ahead.
About Style and Categories (Last update, June 2017)
I have been thinking about implementing a set of style descriptions for use in upcoming posts. I have come up with six that seem to suit my needs.
Late Classical – As I only write about quartets from 1800 (although I have made exceptions) I consider this category to be quartets written after 1800, until the style disappeared, probably around 1850; just speculating on that date. Examples would include Arriaga and Cherubini.
Romantic – Quartets written after Beethoven. Examples would include Schumann, Schubert and Dvorak.
Late Romantic – Composers who continued to write Romantic quartets from the late 1800s well into the twentieth century. Examples would include the recently discussed Marx and Wolf.
Early Modern – Music written in the early to mid 1900s. Examples would include Schoenberg, Bartok and Haba.
Contemporary Modern – Composers who developed modern styles from the 1950s until now. Examples would include Feldman, and Carter. This style is characterised by immense diversity, with a tendency to varying degrees of difficulty for the listener.
Contemporary – Again, an extremely disparate style of mainly current composers, who do not overtly embrace the concept of Modernism to any great degree. Examples would include Tavener and Part.
Of course, styles overlap and my examples may not be the most appropriate. Does anyone have any thoughts?
May Mayhem (Last update, May 2017)
You may, or may not, have noticed, that I have been publishing four posts weekly for a while. Since May had five Wednesdays this year, that was 20 posts. I was clearing a backlog because I tend to forget about posts once I’ve written them. That’s not helpful as I like to publish a variety of styles each week.
In the interests of quality, as of June, I shall be going back to three posts every Wednesday.
I’m also noticing that more string quartets are being deleted and available as download only, if at all. I guess we all will have to get used to the new digital music business model eventually. It will be interesting watching how it all unfolds.
A Year Has Passed (Last update, May 2017)
My first post was in May, 2016 and I’m still hard at it. Today I cracked 120 posts. I didn’t know what to expect when I started, but I am really enjoying the writing experience in examining many and varied obscure, and some not so obscure, string quartet works.
I must thank a few people who have been with me for the journey: friends Eric Taffyn and Ken Engel for their advice and support; the mysterious Annie Ballentine for her inspiration and her compliments; Steve Farrell, who can be found at Art Music, for his considered responses; and Kai Christiansen at Earsense, for his terrific string quartet resources. Thanks also to the folks who have contacted me via email to express various thoughts and feelings. I am always up for a chat about string quartets!
Oh yeah, and I’ve finally worked out how to spell You Tube (YouTube in links). I won’t be fixing all of the old instances. 🙂
Bartok SQ No. 6 – An Historical Recording (Last update, April 2017)
I am very fond of historical string quartet recordings, even dating back to the 1930s where the sound of the 78 RPM records is not always exemplary – but that doesn’t worry me. I just love those old string quartet ensembles. They are from another time and place.
There is a fascinating site, The Shellackophile which offers free downloads of historical recordings. I recently reviewed Bartok No. 6 and now it has turned up as a download by the Erling Bloch Quartet, recorded in 1948. It’s a fascinating listen. You can find the site here. Just scroll down to ‘Happy Birthday, Bartok’. You have an option of FLAC or MP3 formats.
You will have to go through the machinations peculiar to file download sites but it’s pretty straightforward.
If this piques your interest, they have many other historical quartets. I especially enjoyed the Coolidge Quartet.
Links Added to Composer Index Page (Last update, April 2017)
I have recently added links to the Composer Alphabetical Index page. This should simplify navigation through the posts. I should have done it earlier but I didn’t know enough about WordPress blog software. Please let me know of any bad links 🙂
Presto Classical (Last update April, 2017)
I intend to start using Presto Classical (UK) as another source when discussing availability of CDs and downloads. Apart from having a vast range of string quartets, they have a lot of downloads not found on Amazon US or UK, that will mostly never be available on CD again.
Given the state of the industry I believe we are all going to having to get used to using downloads to satisfy some of our needs. They also download to Australia, and presumably other countries, whereas Amazon don’t.
Downloads are offered in FLAC, as well as MP3 format. FLAC files cost more but are true CD-quality and can be used to create a regular CD, with the right tools.
Presto also offer sound samples of tunes, something you rarely see on Amazon these days.
My buying experience with them has been positive and they come well recommended by someone I trust. Their website can be found here.
Forgotten String Quartets (last updated March, 2017)
I recently came across an e-book entitled Forgotten String Quartets which has been converted to PDF and can be found here. You can download it if you wish.
The authors seem to have a lot of knowledge and for string quartet obsessives like myself, it contains a lot of interesting and useful material. I have many of these works and will be discussing some in the future. There are links to performances of the quartets.
Just a thought.
Two Great Blogs (last updated, January 2017)
I have come across a couple of very interesting chamber music blogs lately. They both feature music videos to sample.
The first, Art Music, is run by Steve Farrell and contains a host of stuff on string quartets. Steve has been making some intelligent, salient comments on my blog lately.
The second is Earsense, run by Kai Christiansen. Just follow the ‘Explore’ link and you will find a series of articles on string quartets. It also features a huge database of string quartet composers and their works.
Steve and Kai are both nice people and are very knowledgeable and friendly. I recommend checking out their sites.
Why I Can’t Write About Brahms’ String Quartets (last updated, January 2017)
A few people have asked me about Brahms so here goes!
German composer Johannes Brahms [1833-1897] wrote three string quartets and was a consummate symphonist. He was one of the greatest, most influential Romantic composers. However, he took his time with string quartets. With his friends badgering him, he apparently made 20 attempts before he completed his first! Having achieved that, he quickly wrote another and they were published together as Opus 51. A third was later composed and published as Opus 67.
On to the topic at hand. I find a lot of the music contained in Brahms’ string quartets to be of an orchestral or symphonic nature. For example, the outer movements of SQ No. 1 are so symphonic as to be bombastic at times. Structurally, they seem to me to be driven by this orchestration which I believe makes them unique in the string quartet repertoire.
String quartets are generally assumed to be intimate works and to contain an overt emotional expression, particularly in the Romantic era. I don’t find any intimacy in these quartets. When I listen to them I mostly don’t feel any of the aforementioned expression.
From Wiki – Brahms strongly preferred writing absolute music that does not refer to an explicit scene or narrative. For that, add ‘or expression’.
My method of reviewing is to click ‘play’ and start writing, occasionally pausing to catch up or re-listen to a passage. As I proceed, descriptive terms usually come into my mind and I write the narrative. With Brahms, my mind is filled with wonder and I marvel at his composition but I can’t think of anything to say. Obviously there are some sections of traditional quartet writing, but not enough for me to put a post together. Having said that, these are brilliant, individualistic works! I highly recommend them.
A footnote. I have just read Vikram Seth’s novel An Equal Music. It wasn’t until I started that I realised the story is based around a string quartet. It’s a good read. There is a scene where they are running through the first quartet of Brahms, whom none of the members like. At the end they come up with the term ‘no melodiousness’ for the work. I shall leave it there.
Composer Alphabetical Index (last updated, January 2017)
This is an index of posts in composer alphabetical order, showing the month of review. It should be helpful if you are looking for something in particular, especially as the list grows over time. I hope that it provides a useful tool for navigation of the blog. 🙂
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