Tuesday, 3 September 2013

July 2013 - Classical Music

Dvorak - String Quartets 7 to 14

After a couple of false starts, I finally realised my intention of listening to all of Dvorak's 'mature' quartets.

Except deciding just where the maturity begins isn't really any easy task. I've seen all sorts of opinions about which works are the ones worth listening to.  The last 3 are universally listed, but those were all written in the 1890s.  It's less obvious to decide where to place a boundary between quartets 5 (1873), 6 (also 1873), 7 (1874), 8 (1876), 9 (1877), 10 (1878/9) and 11 (1881).

I decided to start with number 7 for a couple of reasons. One was that number 6 is a work that Dvorak felt the need to revise but never finished revising. So it was something he himself was somewhat dissatisfied with. Another reason is that number 7 was the first to be published, and also (a few years later) the first to be performed at a public concert.  So this is where people were sufficiently impressed to become interested in Dvorak as a composer.

I have a vague plan for sometime in the future to work through these quartets backwards rather than forwards, and see at which point I start feeling that the level of engagement has dropped.  Because it's fairly clear to me that Dvorak's earliest quartets, while having a lot of nice tunes, really show him struggling to know what to do with those tunes.  The music tends to ramble on without clear contours or contrast.

But all the works I listened to in July had a fair amount of reward. I'm not entirely sure I could identify one as a personal favourite yet... possibly number 10? Recollection is already a little tricky.

I'm more sure that number 12, the 'American' quartet, is not my favourite. I don't dislike it, but I don't think it's typical Dvorak and I think it's one of those pieces where the popularity derives at least partly from a memorable gimmick (not unlike Shostakovich's 'autobiographical' 8th string quartet, which is one of my least favourite in that composers' quartet series). I wouldn't say it's not worth listening to by any means, but I think it's a shame that it has become so popular as to overshadow the other works.

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