We love chamber music because it offers intimacy and the exhilaration of animated conversation. Chamber music has been called "the music of friends.” Goethe described the string quartet as "four rational people conversing.” This conversation refers to the way one instrument introduces an idea and other instruments respond to that, repeating it, embellishing it, arguing with it, shouting it down, or giving it the silent treatment.
Here are a few of the selections we heard on Nov. 19. Thanks to all who came.
Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 132 in A Minor, third movement, with the Ebene Quartet. Start at 19:50.
Schubert's String Quintet in C Major, Borodin Quartet with unidentified second cellist:
Brahms' Piano Quintet in F Minor, Scherzo, with Orion Weiss, piano; Noah Bendix-Balgley and Diana Cohen, violins;, Dimitri Murrath, viola; Robert deMaine, cello:
Arvo Part's "Spiegel im Spiegel," Leonhard Roczek, cello; Herbert Schuch, piano:
At my next class, Nov. 19, we will explore a handful of chamber music works known for their astonishing beauty. Each of these pieces speaks to my heart and I know they will speak to you, too.
For example, after nearly dying, Beethoven wrote a string quartet in profound gratitude for his recovery, asking the musicians to play a thanksgiving hymn “with the most intimate emotions.” We’ll also hear what experts consider the best piece of chamber music ever written and we will hold onto our seats for the demonic Scherzo from Brahms' Piano Quintet in F Minor. We'll also watch Martha Graham dance to “Simple Gifts,” a song that evokes the pastoral beauty of America in Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” and we’ll end with a work so hushed and remarkable, it will leave you speechless.
I can't wait to share these with you.
At my last class, Oct. 29, we learned that singing can be a direct conduit to the heart.
We listened to rich examples from Bach, Brahms and the quietly radiant "Dirait-on" by Oregon-raised Morten Lauridsen and heard how composers can express themselves using human voices in ways they can’t with purely instrumental music. Think what a different experience it would be if Beethoven had not used a chorus in his Ninth Symphony.
Here are just three examples from class. First, the powerful Prologue from the opera "Mefistofele" by Arrigo Boito. It's a relentless crescendo that builds to a thrilling climax. The San Francisco Opera performs.
A beautiful arrangement of the Scottish folk song "Loch Lomand" by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It takes us out of the here and now and shows what a creative arranger can do with a simple song. Listen to the harmonies, the suspensions that slowly resolve, the long phrases where the singers don’t take breaths. This arrangement turns a folk song into polished art, self-consciously slow, artfully shaped.
Morten Lauridsen's ravishing song "Dirait-on" from a song cycle "Les Chansons des Roses."
David Stabler is a teacher, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and rode across America with his brother in 2017.