Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Beethoven String Quartets

This coming Friday we will once again begin the process of hearing live all of the Beethoven String Quartets over a relatively short period of time. In this case, we will hear the 16 quartets spread across six concerts that will take place during the month of February, all at Lincoln Center. Each concert will be played by a different, highly acclaimed quartet. Back in the summer of 2007, we heard the great Emerson String Quartet do them all at Carnegie Hall.

To hear the Beethoven String Quartets in this way is, in my humble opinion, one of life's great pleasures. I have now been listening to these quartets for almost 35 years, and I continue to be amazed not only by how much is in them and how much is to be learned from them, but also how increasingly dear and familiar they have become to me. They are beautiful and challenging, but they also include some of the most gorgeous melodies I have ever heard. Beethoven isn't just being cerebral with these quartets, he is allowing his whole personality to be on display. They are by turns playful, funny, solemn, clownish, ostentatious, spiritual, absurdly fast, maddeningly slow, optimistic, God-like, and tragic. Everything is there in all its variety and comprehensiveness like a microcosm of a rich life well lived. The only thing I know that is comparable to Beethoven's achievement with these quartets is, well, Shakespeare's tragedies. Both convey every possible emotion and both provide a genius with a canvas to express the entire range of human experience. What a privilege to be able to hear them again. How fortunate to live in a city where music such as this is played at least every week in a public performance by some group of outstanding musicians. How Beethoven would have loved New York and how much his public here in this great City continues to revere him.

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