Unbroken Peace

I have heard it said that the music of Haydn and others from his era is like ornamental porcelain.  Quite what is meant by this, I am not sure.  Maybe it is a compliment; I suspect not.  I think the implication is that it is a thing of beauty but rather distant and somehow rather fragile and passionless. From the musician’s perspective, Haydn’s music is supremely crafted, as is the very best porcelain of this period, with classical proportions, but what makes it so rewarding to play is the way the parts balance, there is an astoundingly sophisticated awareness of texture, and the emotional content is so varied, from melancholy to silly humour.  His music – his quartet music at any rate – is clearly written for friends and emanates from a warm heart.         Eirene, goddess of peace. Meissen (Michel-Victor Acier). The Hermitage This stunning Meissen figure was made in or around 1772, the same year that Haydn wrote his ground-breaking but not porcelain breaking Op 20 quartets. Eirene, the Greek goddess of peace, stands elegantly – almost provocatively – atop various symbols of war that have been immobilised by her, presumably.  The ancient classical allusions are very clear but this is a decidedly modern take on the subject, and unmistakably of this neoclassical period of European art.  (There is no doubt a potentially lively feminist response arising from this depiction of Eirene, and on the origin of the subject.  An online group debate could be fun.) Can we see a link with Haydn’s music?  Well, it is porcelain, which Haydn’s music is too, apparently! The classical basis is there, and the ornamentation,...

Motherly imagination

“Who Is Musical?’ – not perhaps the most eye-catching title for a book, but this is indeed the title of a book by Brahms’s close friend Theodor Billroth, who Brahms dedicated his Op 51 string quartets to.   Billroth was working on the text of this first ever scientific study of the nature of musicality late in his life and it was published posthumously. A highly regarded and innovative Viennese surgeon, he was also a very good musician.  I find it moving playing the viola part of the Brahms quartet knowing that he would have played this very part and that to some extent Brahms would have had his friend in mind in his musical imagination. Billroth stated that “it is one of the superficialities of our time to see in science and art two opposites. Imagination is the mother of both.”         Max Klinger. Brahmsphantasie: Accord   1894 Brahms was a great enthusiast of the art of Max Klinger – and Klinger was equally enthusiastic about Brahms’s music.  They were without doubt artistic soul mates, in touch with their subconscious and finding ways to express their imagination. Brahms felt that writing his music was about realising what he heard in his dreams, the sphere of imagination. Perhaps with science so pivotal and revered today, and with the arts being existentially challenged, the friendship of Brahms, Klinger and Billroth can show us the importance of imagination.  Against all odds, we can still...

My First and Last Love

Music was my first love And it will be my last. Music of the future And music of the past.   To live without my music Would be impossible to do. In this world of troubles, My music pulls me through.   John Miles ‘Music’ Songwriters: Breyon Jamar Prescott, Michael C. Flowers © Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd. I was rather keen on this song when it came out and still retain a curious fondness for it.   I related to its obsessive, repeated message and found it musically and structurally interesting – well, more interesting than some.   Apart from its obvious message, the lyrics also summarise the lives of many composers and artists who have produced extraordinary and elevating works of art, often in the midst of suffering and difficulty.  Beethoven, Schubert, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Proust, Joyce – the list goes on and on. The lyrics also convey something of the compulsion musicians have to make music, and touch on the reason why people act on their wish to experience live music and go as far as venturing out to attend concerts – when it is safe to do so! Since this quartet’s live public music making was terminated, albeit temporarily, along with music making the world over as a result of lockdown, we have enjoyed putting together some videos to connect with those who have been drawn to our music making, and to show that we are still up for it.   Obviously we are aware that the videos may reach an audience but it is a very different sort of chemistry from playing live, interacting...