I don't know how many string players have had the opportunity to perform Beethoven's 9th Symphony in public (twice this weekend, and for sold out houses! That was fun) but whatever the number it must surely be dramatically more than the number of those who have also had the opportunity to perform Beethoven's Grosse Fuga, Op.133 for String Quartet - much less the complete cycle of the composer's 16 String Quartets, much less record them all for commercial release. Perhaps the reverse ratio is larger, i.e. the number of professional quartet players who know Op.133 inside and out who have also gotten to study and perform Beethoven's 9th symphony.
Why am I going on about this? I just did some cursory googling about the symphony compared with the quartet and the closest I came to finding something relevnt was someone's college thesis contrasting Beethoven's Quartet Op.132 with his 9th symphony (Op.125). Somewhat interesting, but not what I was hoping for. Yes Beethoven's Late Quartets generally share rough similarities in ever-more complicated structures and dramatically contrasting themes and characters running the gamut of expression, but in the midst of the 9th's Ode to Joy finale I found myself feeling right at home with it and experiencing a particularly strong familarity with the musical content as reminding me in many ways of the Great Fugue. Maybe it's just my sense of Beethoven's "Late" period style generally that had my hairs standing a little more at attention than usual, but a few connections felt fairly obvious in the moment.
The progression of the entire piece from struggle or triumph
The alternating passages of fast sixteenth notes and fast triplet eighth notes are particularly reminiscent of the first extended ff section of the Fuga
The alternation of violence with angelic chorales
The shoxking introduction of humor - the Alle Marcia in the 9th; the relatively lighthearted 6/8 sections in the Fuga - interrupted with violence before a more beautiful chorale moment blooming into the final triumph
...anyway I don’t in any way profess to be an expert in comprative musical literature when it comes to symphonic repertoire, but I have my fare share of rally and if you’re reading this I would actually enjoy hearing your take on Beethoven’s late symphony’s compared with his late Quartet’s. Some points are perhaps obvious but I feel like opening a conversation nonetheless. Let’s see what happens! Leave me a comment or something...
Meanwhile, a few more days have passed and I am now currently (how unnecessarily redundant can I be?) on a Via Rail train from Toronto to Ottawa where I’m spending the week playing Heldenleben and Beethoven’s “Emperor” Piano Concerto with Emanuel Ax (he’s got chops!, says my friend Adam) and the NACO. I came very close to missing the train, all because I was enjoying a brief moment of social grace following a chamber music concert at Gallery345 this afternoon. Indeed, between the concert and the after party I had a rehearsal in the same gallery space with a different group for a recital next Sunday at the Rosedale Presbyterian Church. So I realize I created my own stress and near-total misery. In the end, a friendly Neighborhood Uber driver got me downtown and to my train platform with a little less than 2 minutes to spare, so all is right with the world.
But now, as the stress-sweat begins to evaporate, I’m thinking a little more about the music we just performed today: one movement of a piano quartet by Chausson, three songs by Faure arranged for viola (me!) and piano, and the rather massive, and frankly weird, Piano Quintet from 1890 by Sibelius. Do you know that one? Yeah, I didn’t think so. You should check it out, in the spirit of being willing to always try anything at least once... We’ve done it twice now, and thankfully it went better this time. But it’s still an odd piece. Five huge movements clocking in at nearly an hour total, concluding wth what can only be described as a pirates’ sea shanty. Parts of the thing are fun, parts beautiful, parts ridiculously bombastic and rambunctious... Tons of great viola-centric melodies help it’s case, of course. I heard after the concert a comment that the piano part is actually written, er, terribly, more of an orchestrestration condensed into a two-stave piano score than anything. It feels like Sibelius, then just 25, couldn’t get the symphonic form out of his head despite the limited instrumentation... I don’t have any great profound insights here, just thinking about it. So there!
Next Sunday afternoon, it’s Hindemith Trio Op.47 for viola, ‘hecklephone’ (for now, saxophone), and piano; and an amazing stark and devastating duo by Giya Kancheli for viola and soprano. I love my recital partners for this one - fab saxophonist Wallace was my future wife’s roommate in Boston and his wife Xin is the soprano for the Kancheli. But MAN it’s tough music. I probably said this elsewhere recently but if you are available you should totally come hear us. It’ll be memorable and maybe even moving, in a good way.
But first, Strauss! I roll into Ottawa near midnight tonight. Rehearsal #1 at 11am tomorrow. Concerts Wednesday and Thursday. Wish me luck or something. I’m looking forward to the work this week, but I’ve never played this particular music before, except portions that sometimes show up as audition excerpts... [Orchestral rep is] A very different beast vs. the great variety of string quartet music I’ve previously been immersed in for so many years - even though I’ve been working hard and finding some success as an orchestral musician and freelancer for almost two years since we moved up here, I still often feel very much like a newbie. I wonder how long that’ll last! (In my Quartet, I was “the new guy” for the entirety of my 15 year career.)