Saturday, July 23, 2011

Why are we moved?

I had a moment on the subway the other day. I was listening to the Beethoven String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29 - II. Adagio molto espressivo played by the Budapest Quartet, recorded in the 1940's. I guess there was something about the painful sweetness and intimacy of the performance that got to me. They begin in parallel motion, with such a gorgeous sonority. To me, it was like four voices all expressing independently and simultaneously the pain and beauty of life.

It also moves me that I imagine I can hear where Schubert was coming from. Certain works of Beethoven were a great influence on Schubert, and some of the painful sweetness of the Schubert quartets (or the great C major quintet) is here in the Beethoven. It is surely no accident that Schubert's own string quintet was written in the same key of C major.

The Budapest Quartet had a profoundly vocal style in their playing. Each instrument had a quality of tone and vibrato reminiscent of the great singers. We seem to hear one magnificent instrument, richly sonorous, that intimates the possibility of a social harmony, where our inmost feelings are shared and even developed with others.

Once in great while in my life, I have felt that possibility of an intimate union of mind with others. It may only be an illusion, that we can see other than "through a glass darkly" on this earth, and truly know one another face to face; but it is magnificent to hope for it, and works like this give us the intimation of possibility.
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