I’m trying my best to resist the urge to spend RM260 on parts for Beethoven string quartets – and all for just some two minutes worth of a simply beautiful secondary theme of a third movement scherzo.
There’s something tremendous about chamber music. Perhaps even more so when most of one’s time is spent teaching, and orchestral playing the number two activity…. With education, one spends so much time trying to find or refine the individuality of students and then with the orchestra it seems that playing together leads to musical compromise leads to a loss of one’s one individuality. Not to mention that any deficiencies in the conductor or the orchestra leads to a lack in the message or its execution. Major solo works are a rather lonely way of spending time, and seems rather exhibitionist in the end.
But with chamber music, there’s the beauty of composition turned into performance. Sure, musical conversations, fugues, counterpoint and all jazz that exist in vast amounts in orchestral work, but there’s something unique about the way it comes out in chamber groups. There’s something less contrived than having whole sections of an orchestra question-answer, and to feel individual personalities… and that the ratio group rehearsals to personal practice and is likely higher than orchestral work. From the pure blends of Borodin Quartet, to the more individual Alban Berg Quartet… It’s really, as they say, quite the something.
Not that it doesn’t come without some personal cost – I’ve been told that the Guaneri Quartet traveled on separate flights, stayed in different hotels and refused to even look at each other when they played because outside of pure music, the members couldn’t stand each other. But still, more often than not, serious musicians who are in the profession at least in part for the real love of it all and not just as a job, seem to have some internal compass with chamber music permanently affixed as North.
For now though, I think my compromise will be getting to work on the exhibitionist Weber concert solo work, procuring the much less expensive full score and not yet the parts of the Beethoven, a CD of Mendelssohn quartets of which I already have the parts. And what remains of the journalist in me has regrets that the publishing world has not surprisingly decided to maximize profits of a niche market – considering unlike say medical textbooks which include the necessity of the high cost of modern updates and editing, or the printing costs of photography and architectural books, musicians now head for Urtext (unedited) texts, which are virtually the same as was written centuries ago, with no royalties, or any elaborate printing facilities. It’s times like this that as much as I know Beethoven wouldn't care one way or another 300 years later on the ethics of photocopying, I have to regret my own unfortunate affinity for original scores.
It's also at times like this, that whatever disadvantages the Suzuki method may have, it would great if a revival of direct listening to playing teaching gave the publishing companies a run for their money, and if someone is ready to point out that it was meant for solo work, I’ll leave visuals to do the talking, while still dreaming happily of two minutes of pure Beethoven genius.
The Smetana Quartet members memorized melodies, harmonies, everything.