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19 Jun 2018

Locate a Complete Guide as to how to Write a History Essay: Impress your professors by placing idea

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Locate a Complete Guide as to how to Write a History Essay: Impress your professors by placing idea

Odds are if you should be scanning this article you’ve been assigned an essay paper that is historical. Read the rest of this entry »

16 Oct 2015

New Worlds and Familiar Stages

Posted by Matthew. No Comments

Living on Newcastle Quayside affords me the fortunate opportunity to attend one of North East England’s most impressive concert halls, the Sage Gateshead. As its name suggests, the Sage Gateshead is not actually in Newcastle, but the two quaysides are separated by nothing more than an entirely negotiable stretch of the River Tyne, and to cross the river on foot via the pleasingly minimalist Millennium Bridge on a summer’s evening is to experience a most acceptable journey to any concert.

Our resident orchestra at the Sage is the Royal Northern Sinfonia, and my girlfriend and I are veterans of many a satisfying Sinfonia performance. However we were recently visited by Manchester’s principal symphony orchestra, the Halle. Being a substantially larger orchestra than the Sinfonia, the Halle is able to tackle a wider range of repertoire, including works orchestrated for greater numbers than the Sinfonia features among its ranks, such as the more modern symphonies of Rachmaninov, Shostakovich and Bruckner. Their choice of Mahler’s Fourth for their Sage concert was definitely worth a short walk across a bridge.

But life composed solely of Mahler symphonies would be rather too intense, which is where Mozart comes in. The Mozart aria with which the concert opened was as Mozart should be, and usually is, certainly in professional hands: pure, pristine, youthful. The aria was originally featured in Mozart’s opera Idomeneo and was an admirably bold choice to start the programme, eschewing the easy temptation to begin with a popular but perhaps over-familiar overture. In this instance, the selection was apparently designed to accommodate both the soprano and piano soloists for the evening. While the performance was faultless, the orchestration was made to seem unnecessarily dense by the presence of the piano, which was written so Mozart himself could play along. But Mozart invariably complements other items on a programme so well, especially later ones, and such was the case here too.

The Liszt which followed, Piano Concerto Number 2 in A Major, felt rather more introverted and reflective than I had expected, given the composer’s reputation for wildly virtuoso piano writing. A few years back I had first come across Liszt in a Sage performance of his tone poem for piano and orchestra Totentanz, a dance of death, and the piano on that occasion rang out like an instrument possessed. Here we were, as I was then, right at the front underneath the piano, but this time our vantage point felt more like a shield from the orchestra than privileged access to the soloist. This owed a great deal to the character of the piece, and was no reflection on the excellent performance of soloist Benjamin Grosvenor, but my feeling was that we hadn’t been best-placed to enjoy the orchestra’s many pastoral melodies.

But we are told that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, and what for the Liszt in the first half had felt like a handicap transformed itself into a shining virtue for the Mahler on the second. The Mahler is another piece with lots of wonderful pastoral melodies, not least in the strings. And as a violinist and violist myself, albeit not of the Halle standard, I am always very keen to hear these. Happily we were perfectly placed for this, particularly for the second violins, who seemed to have been dealt a particularly lucky hand by Mahler with some very lovely and prominent melodic work, often while the first violins floated away overhead. That said, the first violins were not without their busy moments, especially the leader and his mightily impressive alternation between two violins tuned a tone apart in the chilling second movement, which actually recalled Liszt at his most macabre, rather than in the peaceful and lyrical mood in which the first half found him.

It was certainly a fabulous performance of the Mahler, which brought out all of the joy and exuberance, the vivid images and the colourful adventures to places far and wide that characterise so many of the Mahler symphonies, especially the earlier ones. Like the First, the Fourth paints bold pictures of nature and takes its listeners on exciting journeys between extreme moods and vistas. And, like the Second, the Fourth ends its journey in song, introducing words to make the pictures clearer and take the journey into an extra dimension. The introduction of the soprano Sarah Fox in the final movement of the Fourth was a special moment, beautifully handled by the orchestra, lifting the music to that heavenly plain of which the soloist sings.

Mahler’s symphonies succeed, and achieve such power, because of their avowed and unapologetic tonality, and it is in many ways a shame that there aren’t more composers like him, particularly modern ones. To a great extent, Mahler came along a generation before he was really needed. Dissonance and atonality work, and matter, only in the context of tonality, and intelligible harmonies, otherwise they connote nothing. Mahler uses such tools, but sparingly, such as in the sinister second movement. But he knows all about breaking the rules; the Fourth symphony, mostly in the calm and contented key of G Major, modulates during its final movement to E Major, and remains there until its conclusion. The effect is to move the music to a different sound world, enunciating its transition to an angelic climax. Famously, Mahler believed a symphony should contain the world; by the end of the Fourth he has gone one better, and taken us to a new one.

14 Jun 2014

Charity Concert: 24th July 2014

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Local string quartet Tyne Consort are delighted to invite you to a summer concert in aid of a fantastic local charity. The concert will be held in aid of the Children’s Heart Unit Fund, the fundraising organisation of the nationally recognised Children’s Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital. Experience the string quartet as it has never been heard before, with a programme spanning the genres, and the centuries, guaranteeing something for everyone. This unique performance will take place at Brunswick Methodist Church in central Newcastle, on Thursday 24th July at 7pm. Full price tickets cost £7.50, with concessions priced at £5, with the proceeds of course being donated to a wonderful cause, more information about which can be found at http://www.chuf.org.uk/. Your support would be very warmly appreciated!


15 Jul 2013


Posted by Matthew. No Comments

It is with much excitement that I end my accidental and largely unnoticed exile from these pages to announce that Tyne Consort are, later this month, giving two lunchtime concerts in two of Newcastle’s finest recital venues. First of all, the important details of when and where. The first concert is on Friday 26th July at our old friend (unlike some old friends, this one would surely not object to being called old) the Lit and Phil (this will commence at 1.10pm). Then on Monday 29th July we will for the first time be performing at none other than Newcastle Cathedral, otherwise known as the Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas (commencing at 1.05pm). Admission to both concerts is free and we are very much looking forward to the opportunity to renew our acquaintance with one esteemed Newcastle institution, make the new acquaintance of another, and hopefully reach out to new audience members for whom the free lunchtime recital is a more congenial (or convenient) enterprise than the usual evening one.

 Our programme is necessarily shorter than previous programmes, adapted to suit the demands of the flying visitor between appointments for a succinct, finely-crafted musical vignette to see him or her through the afternoon (as a veteran of lunchtime recitals myself, I know it can be important that these events do not overrun). We start with an early (Opus 2, Number 4 to be precise) quartet by the Italian composer Luigi Boccherini (best-known for the prolific minuet from his String Quintet in E Major). This light, delicate quartet of three movements glows with neoclassical elegance (although its provenance and influences are recognisably Baroque) and is the perfect aperitif to the main event, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. This scarcely needs an introduction, although some of course has already been provided in the very first of these posts. Nonetheless there will be some listeners to whom the later two of the four movements (the minuet and rondo, both in the home key of G Major) are less familiar than both the first, featuring probably the most recognisable opening theme in all classical chamber music (as well perhaps as the most perfect exposition, if that is the right word, of sonata form), and the second, the lovely swooning romance which remains, outside of the Romantic Period, the very definition of romantic music. The final item in the programme is Philip Glass’ Second Quartet (“Company”), a radical departure from the first two works in style, although it shares with the Mozart the traditional four-movement structure. Perhaps to a greater extent than any of Glass’ other quartets, Company bears all of the minimalist hallmarks: mysterious, mesmerically repetitive and fastidiously even-handed in its treatment of the quartet‘s individual voices.

The lunchtime recital represents a new scene for us, and it is a scene we keenly anticipate inhabiting in the coming two weeks. We would be delighted if you could spend an hour inhabiting it with us. It seems that we might even get the weather for it.

5 Jan 2013

Old Masters for a New Year

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Happy new year to all of our readers, who may have noticed in the news recently the survey apparently showing that the most popular new year resolution for 2013 is to read more books. A laudable aspiration no doubt, and one that can surely be just as easily applied to listening to more music. For my own part I am quite keen to become acquainted with (through playing where possible, though mainly through listening) as much previously undiscovered as music as possible. The difficulty of course is that each year the amount of music one has time to listen to, often enough to learn and know, is comfortably exceeded by the vast plethora of composers and works who make themselves known and, in time, become added to the imaginary “to listen to” list, which always seems to grow however much is crossed off it.

The question is, who or what should be made a priority? To fail to approach the task of discovery in an orderly manner is to risk failing to make the most efficient use of time available. An obvious starting point this year is Wagner, on the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth. Wagner is exactly the kind of composer who demands a dedicated and methodical approach; his is, generally speaking, not the kind of music to dip in and out of. And big milestone anniversaries such as bicentenaries guarantee a level of exposure conducive to winning new recruits. This logic is likely to be supported this year by that other giant of nineteenth century opera, Verdi, who also marks his bicentenary in the year ahead, and by way of reward is to have every one of his manifold operas played on Radio 3 (and, entirely separately, his Requiem performed at the Sage in April by the Newcastle University Symphony Orchestra and Bach Choir, to which I am most looking forward to being involved). At the same time though there is so much more to which I am eager to get round: Hindemith, the Beethoven Piano Trios, the symphonies of Prokofiev (and no doubt by June there will be even more examples). Then of course there are the old favourites, for which you still want to make time. It is likely to be no easy task.

Happily I have already managed to make a promising start, having enjoyed for the first time the urgent, insistent tenth string quartet of Shostakovich, and the quite wonderful two string quartets of Borodin, the first of which was entirely new to me, the second of which I was privileged to hear played live by the Edinburgh Quartet a couple of years ago but which, as is in the nature of these things, I could not recall in detail, having only heard it once. So the early signs are good; but the tendency of course is for new year resolutions to lose their edge as the year becomes progressively less new, so I will be trying hard to guard against this.

14 Oct 2012

The Autumn Recital Returns: Part II

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The second half of our autumn recital programme for this year begins with the Adagio from Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor. Not, you will note, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which if anything refers to the later re-orchestration of the movement for string orchestra; substantially similar to the original quartet version no doubt, but different in important respects (for example in the addition of double basses). Because of the reflective, intimate character of the work, it should be ideally suited to a recital setting, and will hopefully come as something of a pleasant surprise to those audience members familiar only with the more well-known orchestral rendering, which can certainly produce an awesome sound but arguably loses something of its delicate tragedy in its translation to the bigger stage.

Then comes the final act of the drama, Mendelssohn’s First Quartet, a hidden gem of the quartet repertoire. Any fears that Mendelssohn might have been slow to settle into quartet writing are allayed at the first hearing of this work of fabulous maturity. Most impressive is the sense of narrative which permeates the work. It opens with a gentle, if harmonically unsettled, slow introduction, which then gives way to joyous, pulsating allegro full of the youthful vigour we can hope the twenty-year old Mendelssohn still felt. However just as the work appears to be settling into a repeat of the exposition a bleak, haunting C Minor subject intercedes on second violin and viola. This trick of the abortive exposition, used in the first movement of the Octet (with which this work shares many common factors, not least a home key of E Flat with a G Minor scherzo), is particularly effective here, allowing Mendelssohn to introduce his cyclic melody. This theme never rises above piano in dynamic, making it a constant menace to the peace of the home key, latent but never resolved (in this sense it resembles, and shares a key with, the “fate-knocking-at-the-door” motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony). The second movement scherzo also occupies mysterious territory, although it is fundamentally wry and playful, an impish sprite of a movement which could so easily have sprung from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and whose mood is lifted by a scurrying G Major trio. There then ensues a delightful slow movement, though again not without its moments of doubt and tumult, followed by a tempestuous finale in C Minor, in which the suppressed fury prefigured in the opening movement is vented with devastating effect. The conclusion of the first movement is then reprised, seemingly at rest but with the unnerving return of the C Minor subject suggesting that the dark clouds can never be truly chased away.

Mendelssohn’s first quartet is a work of serious and sophisticated ideas, suggesting a wisdom far beyond the relatively tender years of its creator. However it is also a work of memorable melodic material, expertly developed, and as such is well worth a listen at our forthcoming performances. We hope you can attend.

7 Oct 2012

The Autumn Recital Returns: Part I

Posted by Matthew. No Comments

With the harvest season more or less upon us it is once again time for us to reap the fruits of those endeavours we have sown over the past year and put on what could be wryly described as our very own harvest festival. The venues for this two-day musical extravaganza (though maybe more understated than that; an introvaganza perhaps?) will again be our faithful friends the Lit and Phil in central Newcastle, on 26th October, and St. Peter’s Church in South Shields the following evening.

The programme is, we hope, a varied affair, with a baroque sonata for two violins and a movement of a mid-twentieth century string quartet standing alongside three of the staple composers of the classical repertoire, Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn; the latter is of course a romantic composer by many definitions, though the Mendelssohn we are playing, the composer’s first quartet, was written just two years after Beethoven’s death and one after Schubert’s, and could therefore legitimately be treated as a classical quartet. Mozart’s fourth quartet which opens the programme, fulfilling its traditional Mozart amuse bouche role, is in the best traditions of early Mozart quartets, with a relaxed yet precise first movement sonata and an energetic, impudent rondo finale at either end of a sombre, almost tragic slow movement which provides the quartet with real depth and contrast from the sunny outer movements. The Schubert on the other hand is a rather more curious affair, an intriguing tapestry of apparently unrelated movements. A slow and mysterious introduction eventually gives way to a dark, impassioned presto vivace (Italian for “rattling along at a fair old pace”), nominally in G Minor but containing at its development a D Major fugue. This fugal idea is taken up in the last movement, again presto but with a completely different mood, in B Flat Major and full of vim and élan, rather like the last movement of the Mozart. In between there is what could be described as two minuets, a gentle and pastoral first followed by a slower, but still becalmed and pleasant, second. Other than being in three-four time for its entirety, save for the slow introduction to the first movement, the quartet contains few obvious unifying threads; indeed the quartet tends to be described, unusually, as being in “various keys”. It is perhaps best seen as Schubert feeling his way into the quartet form by just writing those ideas which came to him, and in it we see fascinating glimpses of the almost nonchalant genius Schubert would become.

The first half also features the baroque sonata for two violins, by French composer Jean-Marie Leclair, hopefully providing an invigorating contrast with the quartets. It is enough to say about this work for now that its golden, uplifting mood suggests nothing of the violent fate which would befall its composer, about which my fellow violinist in the duet can hopefully be prevailed to expound on these pages at some point. More on the rest of the programme anon.

7 Sep 2012

Close House, Newcastle

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In September we had the pleasure of performing at Close House Hotel, Newcastle. We were greeted by a beautiful estate and fantastic weather and enjoyed performing some of our newest arrangements made especially for the occasion. As musicians we are too busy making music to explore such grand buildings as Close House, however, as with most estates of this size, its history is fascinating, and dates back almost 800 years to the thirteenth century.

Newcastle Close House

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11 Aug 2012

Things Unwritten

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The historian Niall Ferguson once edited a book called Virtual History. The purpose of the book was to explore the power of the counterfactual; through the course of nine chapters its various contributors, each experts in their respective historical fields, considered what the consequences would have been of alternative outcomes to such events as the Battle of Britain, the American Revolution and the Cold War. A similar exercise could surely be undertaken in relation to the history of music, and specifically in relation to the most agonising counterfactual of all, namely what would have happened if composers who died having yet to write their best music had lived to write it. Read the rest of this entry »

15 Jan 2012

Sad Songs of Hope and Joy

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We have recently given some attention to the Molto Adagio from Barber’s String Quartet in B Minor, Opus 11. The deserved fame of this beautiful and tragic middle movement contrasts with the angular and tempestuous outer movements, which are as well-known as one might expect for a twentieth century American string quartet. That the Adagio should be such a cultural phenomenon in its own right testifies to this contrast; it can be no coincidence that the movement itself is in B Flat Minor, whose constituent notes are diametrically different from the quartet’s home key, producing a concomitant divergence of mood. The Adagio has something in common with Shostakovich’s Eighth Quartet, considered here previously, in that although it began life in quartet form it was later transplanted to full string orchestra, in order to explore the original material with a wider and richer palette of sounds. Like the Eighth Quartet though the Adagio remains at its most perfect in the raw and brutally intimate setting of the quartet rather than the more impersonal orchestral environment.

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8 Oct 2011

A Musical Pilgrimage: Part 2

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Of course our odyssey is not as linear as it might have appeared from the previous post, punctuated as it is by a welcome diversion East for the Prokofiev Cello Sonata. Although I have made it my business to seek out and listen to the first movement of this work, I profess no great familiarity with it and do not feel qualified to comment on it in any real detail. However it is patently a great sonata and in Michael’s capable hands it will be an undoubted success. If it is anywhere near as good as last year’s Brahms sonata then it should succeed in occasioning uncharacteristic paroxysms of self-doubt in Rostropovich, should he be listening from his place in the Soviet equivalent of heaven.

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24 Sep 2011

A Musical Pilgrimage: Part 1

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And so to autumn, a season of maturing blackberries, blushing leaves and Tyne Consort recitals. There is a real sense of progression to this year‘s programme, from the finery of the European imperial court, to the wild undiscovered spaces of the New World. The contrast could scarcely be greater; yet it is more a happy accident than a grand design. The journey begins with early Mozart, which by definition means young Mozart, very much child as well as prodigy. Fittingly, the E Flat quartet throbs with carefree youthful enthusiasm. Even its A Flat slow movement, positioned between confident, pulsating outer movements full of melodies the composer liked so much he happily re-used later in life, is calm and reassuring, lacking in cynicism. The whole quartet is the Mozart of the popular imagination: enormously likeable and with everything sounding exactly as it should.

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24 Aug 2011

Keenly Unanticipated

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On Monday I attended Prom 51 at the Royal Albert Hall, and heard a terrific performance of Brahms’ First Symphony by the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Preceding Brahms in the programme was the “World Premiere” of Volans’ Piano Concerto No.3. The word “premiere” strikes fear into the heart of any experienced concert patron; they are typically something to be endured between the works which everyone has come to hear. An accurate impression of Volans’ concerto can be ascertained from the programme notes. The music is described as “spare”, “bleak” and “edgy”, which casual observers could be forgiven for thinking are the only moods of which modern composition is capable. Predictably the composer “mistrusts the whole idea of ‘form’” (in addition, it would seem from the music, to “melody”, “harmony”, and other things which make music worth listening to). Most illuminating of all is the composer’s “anti-conceptual” compositional style; “in practice this means he has no idea what will happen to a piece until he starts it”. More fool the likes of Brahms, who to the best of our knowledge actually thought about what they were going to write before they wrote it. Read the rest of this entry »

29 May 2011

Immense Taste Vacuum

Posted by Matthew. No Comments

Apparently something called the “Classic Brits” is to be televised on ITV this evening (technically ITV1, but the other ITV channels are so bereft of meaningful content that their existence is barely worth acknowledging). This represents a change from the usual “Classical” awards, which some wise executive has decided is too redolent of an elitist, disdainful art form for mainstream viewers. I would be fascinated to meet the person whose viewing intentions were influenced by this wordplay. Perhaps he is among us, this floating viewer who tunes in expecting something about vintage cars, only to discover a world previously denied to him by small-minded elitists with their unreasonable insistence on sitting still and listening for what are sometimes long periods without cutting to an ad break, clapping out the pulse or taking a ghoulish interest in the performers’ private lives. Read the rest of this entry »

2 Apr 2011

The Benefits of a Little Philanthropy

Posted by Matthew. 1 Comment

It was Tyne Consort’s great pleasure to give a recital at the Lit and Phil, or the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle in full, last autumn. It is a well-named place, resonating with a stylish antiquity which cannot fail to appeal to classical musicians who spend their time cherishing those things – musical works, buildings, civic institutions – which have survived their hazardous exodus from history. It is very clearly a product of the Enlightenment, in thought if not in strict chronology; it puts one in mind of coffee houses and the kind of unregulated spelling which prevailed before Dr. Johnson intervened. At the same time it is hard to avoid the thought that one of the Enlightenment’s principal bê tes noires, Edmund Burke, that great believer in tradition as the repository of the wisdom of the ages, would have felt as much at home there as Thomas Paine or, for that matter, Mozart.

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22 Jan 2011

A Return to Form (and other good things)

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Of course not all modern “serious” music is like Cage. Among the more welcome musical developments of the modern era is minimalism, the repertoire of which we are currently exploring. The genealogy of minimalism is peculiarly contemporary in contrast to its predecessors which grew up in such institutions as the court and the church. The earliest examples of minimalism were conceived on the university campuses of the post-war generation, before the movement found its role as a rearguard against the advances of the tuneless post-modernism of Cage and Stockhausen. That such music has ceased to be fashionable owes much to the success of minimalism in rediscovering such pure and simple virtues as harmony and structure. For, seen in its proper place, minimalism is a reaction, and a very welcome one at that. It is recognisably modern but respectful of the lessons of the old masters rather than childishly rebellious against them, and most of the best twenty-first century art music acknowledges its influence.

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24 Dec 2010

Replacing One Machine with Another

Posted by Matthew. 2 Comments

Many readers will know about the recent campaign to have John Cage’s four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence elevated to the top of the charts for Christmas, as a rebuke to the power of X Factor and following on from Rage Against the Machine’s number one last year. In the end the campaign was a fairly emphatic failure, but it did raise some interesting issues. It is surely a noble endeavour to protest against the X Factor, a miserable excuse for entertainment and an enemy of both good music and good television. And while the programme’s success was hardly diminished by last year’s festive setback, the idea of such an enterprise is useful as an elegant reminder that the X Factor leviathan it is not in fact omnipotent.

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17 Oct 2010

Concert Season Coming Up!

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Regular readers of this column, should they exist, will have noticed from elsewhere on our website that we have our Autumn Recital series of concerts coming up next month, occasions which everyone hopes will be suitably auspicious for all concerned. The details of those two concerts are available on our “November 2010” tab, but I mention them here for the reason that I intend this to be my last post at least until the concerts are over. Preparing for and promoting the concerts are substantial tasks which require and deserve as much attention as possible; time spent planning and writing these columns would necessarily distract from this. In any case it shall do us all no harm for the creative well to be replenished. Read the rest of this entry »

3 Oct 2010

The Composer’s Vehicle of Choice

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Last time we considered the early development of the symphony and the string quartet. The obvious difference between these two forms is that while the symphony orchestra has undergone manifold changes in the intervening centuries since Haydn was active, the quartet has continued to comprise the same four trusty instruments. Therefore the endurance of the string quartet has been, in a sense, far more meaningful than that of the symphony orchestra. What is the secret of the quartet’s success? Why has it survived when other formats of yesteryear, popular in their own time – one thinks for instance of the madrigal, the trio sonata and oratorio – have more or less fallen into disuse, though some determined souls doubtless continue to persist with them? Of course there are a variety of reasons, many cultural, many technological. However there are purely musical reasons as well, and it is worth briefly considering what these might be. Read the rest of this entry »

12 Sep 2010

A Most Underrated Genius

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The famous quartet the Lindsays once said that they started out believing that Haydn quartets existed to fill the gaps between Mozart and Beethoven, but then on getting to know them discovered that they were the works to which they kept returning and found most rewarding of all. This tendency to overlook arguably the most important composer of the classical canon is a curious phenomenon. For it is possible to attribute to Haydn the upbringing of the two most enduring classical forms: the symphony and the string quartet, built around his other great innovation, sonata form. Clearly Haydn was not the first to formulate music in a ternary order, but of the major composers he probably was the first to present a ternary structure as a harmonic journey, progressing to the dominant before returning home to the tonic. Even the traditional four movements of the symphony – allegro sonata, slow movement, minuet and trio and faster finale – can be traced back to this grand composer, the progenitor of so much that today’s listener takes for granted. Read the rest of this entry »