11/4/09

Details, people. Details.

Question: What do music critics value above all else?

I'm going to guess...the music.

No, no, journalistic integrity.

Perhaps, the service they provide to the community and their readers. ...

figure answer: "The...all....ighty....ollar...... Hahahah..I get it!"
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Nat Bauer, of the Rockford Register Star, reviews the Cypress String Quartet, but more importantly has reminded me of a valuable lesson -- look deeper, and ask yourself what's missing.

Before we get to the review in question, let's start with some practice.

What's Missing?




How'd you do?

Great. Your skills have been honed and now, onto the review.

Quartet embraces classic, contemporary works

I'm glad to hear this, because those classic works are just too infrequently played and unfairly maligned. If musicians would just program these works, and give audiences the chance to get to know this music, the gifts of Georg Christoph Wagenseil and Josef Mysliveček wouldn't be lost on this generation.

So, what old, forgotten works in need of a good hug were on the concert?

Kleotzel [the cellist] introduced the first work, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s “Siring [sic] Quartet in A Minor, Op. 13,” also known as the “Ist es Wahr?” (“Is it True?”)

"also known as"...really? Not subtitled or inscribed...but, aka? ...I just hate when our vocabulary gives out on us.

But really, all of those would have been wrong. The piece is not subtitled "Ist es Wahr?", but instead borrows a three-note motive from a song of the same name that the composer had written a few months earlier. Small details, I know, but if you're going to mention them, accuracy helps.

And if you're into fun facts, why fail to mention that this three-note motive is eerily similar to one used in a Beethoven string quartet. String Quartet No. ...? Ooh, which one? I know I'll think of it, if you just give me a minute.

Oh well, I'm sure it'll come to me. Let's move on. What else is on the concert?

Ward [one of the violinists] introduced the next work, “Lento Assai,” which was commissioned for the quartet by Kevin Puts and premiered in February at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Details would help here too. Kevin Puts is the composer, not the commissioner. It helps when sentences make sense.

Anyways, moving on...

Borrowing some ideas from Beethoven,...

Really, like what?

...the work very slowly emerges with a pianissimo D-flat major chord,...

Oh, well, why even point out something this obvious. I mean a D-flat major chord, that just screams Beethoven. It's just like his famous D-flat major symphony, and all those D-flat major string quartets and piano sonatas.

...slowly builds to a haunting melody by first violin, expands into a more contemporary melody and harmony, then returns to conclude with the soft, subtle and almost seductive texture that began the work.


I've always enjoyed music that builds before it expands so much more than when it expands first and then builds.

Which, reminds me...what was that Beethoven quartet again?

The final work of the evening was Beethoven’s “String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135,”...

Ahh! Damn it! You beat me to it. But, that's the one.

So, this is excellent. Both pieces on the same concert -- explain to us, Mr. Bauer, how the Beethoven utilizes three-note motives and then was likely a source of inspiration for the Mendelssohn....


...which was written shortly before his death. Filner [the violist] explained that it poses two thoughts in musical motif format: “Muss es seine?” (“Must it be?”) and “Es muss seine!” (“It Must Be!”)


Okay. Yes, but what of the connection to the Mendelssohn? You hinted at it...now finish us off by explaining the similarity of the motives, and how they use similar rhythms which were derived from three word, existential questions.

To this day, 184 years later, the reason for and answer remains a mystery.

Umm...what? First, grammatically speaking, you need an object in that sentence. I assume you're referencing the quotes, so you could write, "...the reason for the quotes and their answer..." and so forth. Although, it still suffers from a lack of clarity.

Also, remains implies a singular object....
i.e. It remains...
They remain...
...so in this case we have two objects being referenced (the reason and the answer). Therefore, the sentence should read, "the reason for and answer remain a mystery."

Okay, now I'm getting sidetracked...let's try this again.


To this day, 184 years later, the reason for and answer remains a mystery. The music surrounding them, however, is classic Beethoven and has gained upper status in classical repertoire.

Mr. Bauer...praising the music is all well and good, although, I'm not sure what "upper status" means exactly, but you're missing the obvious. You're so close...you could have just made the connection between the Mendelssohn and the Beethoven and tied the whole concert (and review) together into nice, neat little package. But sadly, no.

First of all, not to be picky or anything, but the Beethoven was written in October 1826, making it pretty much exactly 183 years old. You're within a reasonable margin of error, but two seconds of research or editing would have prevented that mistake.

And, "the reason for and answer remains a mystery". Well, the quotes may have unknown origins (I'm not a German scholar, but I'd probably guess some literary source, while others have suggested they were inspired by an exchange between Beethoven and a friend regarding the payment of money), but this isn't like trying to unify relativity and quantum theory. These quotes do have some explanation -- musically speaking, Beethoven utilizes the implied rhythm of those two phrases (as though set for voice) to create his two rhythmic motives.

"Must it be?" = long, short, long
and
"It must be!" = short, long, long

...also, (and I hate to write so lengthily on this) why not mention that these motives are for the fourth movement, also known as "Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß" (or The Difficult Resolution), and not the entire work? It's kind of confusing, because it seems like you're implying that these motives are present in the first movement, and that's just wrong.

Remember, details help. Details are our friend.

The opening begins grave and poses the “Muss es seine?” motif, quickly followed by the playful and energetic allegretto. The scherzo has brilliance and a unique 50-measure robust repetitive rhythmic figure in the lower voices with first violin playing a melody like a country fiddler.

Do you see how this is confusing? You wrote about the fourth movement first (but I think you think it's the first movement), and then the second movement, which you fail to introduce as such.

Remember: Details, good. Confusion, bad. If confusing prose were an ice cream flavor, it'd be pralines and dick.

And, again with the clarity issues, "a unique 50-measure robust repetitive rhythmic figure," makes it sound like the figure that was repeated was 50 measures long. Frankly, I can think of several different ways to interpret that phrase. Your thought could so much more easily expressed if you had written something like:

...a unique 50-measure passage in the lower voices prominently featuring a robust rhythmic figure.

Or any variation of that, yes?

The third movement was very soft with a simple chorale like melody in four variations, the final movement culminating with a very definitive musical “It must be!”

figure shirt: Your article being the cognitive culmination of "It must be user error."

Okay, so you're not so much deliberately misleading us, as much as I think you're a bit confused. The first movement doesn't feature those motives. It's just in the final movement. So, the final movement is also the very definitive musical "Must it be?" as well.

figure confusing article:
"Must it be?"
"It must be!"

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Amongst all the confusing sentences, really the most confounding issue is why you failed to understand the connection between the Mendelssohn and Beethoven string quartets. You linked the Puts to Beethoven (which you hadn't even introduced as having being on the concert yet) and fail to give tangible evidence of the association, but not the Mendelssohn, which actually has a credible, if not direct connect to Beethoven himself, and specifically the Beethoven string quartet being performed on the concert?

Seriously...I had to do way too much research just to understand all of the misleading statements in your article. I know you're a busy guy...so, I wonder if the perhaps the newspaper could hire someone to help review the factual parts...but who?

6 comments:

Sator Arepo said...

"And if you're into fun facts..."

How'd you know?

Danny Liss said...

I feel like I understand Op. 135 worse than I did when I started the article.

Plus, while I was reading it, the @#$! Yankees won the World Series, and I blame Nat Bauer of the Rockford Register Star for that fact.

missmarple said...

Also, it´s spelled "Muss es sein?" and "Es muss sein." That is, without the e. It actually hurts my eyes when I see it spelled like that ;)

Gustav said...

Good catch, missmarple. I had the score there in front of me, and didn't catch that. But, then again, I don't spreche the German.

Empiricus said...

Don't forget the "Fact-checking is hard to do" tag.

Gustav said...

Right, E. I'll go add that one.