Bartok - string quartets

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Bartok - string quartets

Post by Intergamer » Fri Feb 16, 2007 3:51 am

I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's? :?

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Post by BWV 1080 » Fri Feb 16, 2007 6:54 am

Because they bloody well are. Nothing Beethoven ever wrote is as cool as the finale to the 3rd SQ or any part of the 4th SQ

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Post by johnshade » Fri Feb 16, 2007 8:39 am

BWV 1080 wrote:Because they bloody well are. Nothing Beethoven ever wrote is as cool ...

I am also a long time admirer of the six SQ. I like No. 5. I think it was written during the period that he wrote MSPC and the Sonata for two pianos and percussion (one of my favorite works of any composer). Bartok's compositions have always been very accessable to me.
JS
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Post by diegobueno » Fri Feb 16, 2007 9:15 am

I'm especially fond of 3, 4 and 5. I don't connect with 1, 2 and 6 in quite the same way.

5 is monumentally great. Just from the opening notes you know Bartók has something really important to say, and my god, does he ever! I'm always astounded by this music.

3 may be my favorite among favorites. This may be the most folkloristic of them, with its modal melodies (well... they all have modal melodies, but somehow it's the 3rd I think of in this connection). I heard a rivetting performance of this by the Guarnari Quartet in 1976, and I think it's the memory of this performance that makes this one my favorite.

More recently I heard one of the major quartets, I can't remember which, play the pizzicato scherzo of the 4th as an encore. It really was a tour de force for showing all the different shades of sound you can get out of plucked strings. The audience giggled at first, but when it was over they gave it a hardy applause, greater than any of the main items on the program received.

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Post by Ralph » Fri Feb 16, 2007 9:24 am

These are wonderful quartets and the best recording, to my ears, is by the Emerson String Quartet. I heard them play the full cycle at Alice Tully Hall and knew their recording would be superb.
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Post by piston » Fri Feb 16, 2007 10:05 am

I like them all, without equivocation. If I had to sample five or six minutes of this music as an illustration of Bartok's remarkable achievement in string quartet music I might select the Allegro molto movement from the 4th quartet (the fifth movement). With respect to performers, my highest score goes to the Vegh Quartet, partly for sentimental reasons (their gorgeous "Grand Prix du disque" LP with Telefunken). I have added the Alban Berg Quartet as well but never felt the need to look any further.
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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by karlhenning » Fri Feb 16, 2007 10:07 am

Intergamer wrote:I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's? :?
Partly because music has moved on since Beethoven, even if you have not.

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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by Burchest » Fri Feb 16, 2007 2:36 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Intergamer wrote:I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's? :?
Partly because music has moved on since Beethoven, even if you have not.

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl, your lessons with the Gurnster seem to be working wonders.
You seem to have a handle on his rule 125.9 , which is, 'Use not one word more than is necessary to get your point across.' :)
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Post by Barry » Fri Feb 16, 2007 2:41 pm

johnshade wrote: Bartok's compositions have always been very accessable to me.
JS
And they've always been extremely inaccessable to me (save the Miraculous Mandarin Suite). I react much more positively to most of the Shostakovich quartets and consider those and Beethoven's the best within the genre.
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Post by karlhenning » Fri Feb 16, 2007 2:49 pm

Interesting, Barry. I like all of Shostakovich's 15, and all of Bartók's six. Each set bears the imprint of its composer's personality, so they are different, naturally; but I do not think I could ever weigh one greater than the other.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by Sapphire » Fri Feb 16, 2007 3:08 pm

Intergamer wrote:I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's? :?
Before commenting, I would be interested to learn more about where this claim came from.


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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by RebLem » Fri Feb 16, 2007 4:44 pm

Saphire wrote:
Intergamer wrote:I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's? :?
Before commenting, I would be interested to learn more about where this claim came from. Saphire
Saphire, I think that's pretty much out there and part of the Zeitgeist. Barry and I may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but on musical matters, I find we are in agreement more often than not, and certainly here, with a few differences. I do love the Shostakovich quartets, too, but I differ with other contributors to this thread on a few points--

1. I am prepared to assume that my problem relating to Bartok's string quartets is precisely that--my problem, not Bartok's, or the problem of those who like them.

2. Although I do love the Shostakovich Quartets, my absolute favorite piece of 20th century chamber music is the Shostakovich Piano Quintet.

3. Greatest since Beethoven? Well, I would interpose the Dvorak String Quartets. Some might say Brahms, too, but my favoirite Brahms chamber music are the piano quartets and the piano quintet, not the string quartets.

4. Although I do not particularly appreciate the Bartok quartets, I love much of his other music. I guess my favorite is Bluebeard's Castle, as intense and gripping a tale as you will ever hear. Then the PC 1 & 2, and the VC 2. Also, The Wooden Prince.
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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by Barry » Fri Feb 16, 2007 5:08 pm

RebLem wrote: Saphire, I think that's pretty much out there and part of the Zeitgeist. Barry and I may be at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but on musical matters, I find we are in agreement more often than not, and certainly here, with a few differences. I do love the Shostakovich quartets, too, but I differ with other contributors to this thread on a few points--

1. I am prepared to assume that my problem relating to Bartok's string quartets is precisely that--my problem, not Bartok's, or the problem of those who like them.
Yes, we agree on that too. I'd never belittle Bartok. I understand that he was very influential, and that if SO many serious classical music fans and musicians rate him at or near the top among 20th century composers, there must be a good reason for it. It's just personal taste. I react very strongly at a gut level to much of Shostakovich's music (the first time I heard the first violin concerto, my thought was that I could sense this screaming out that he's suffering with this music.....it was a very powerful experience for me), while I don't to most of what I've heard from Bartok.
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Post by Reed » Fri Feb 16, 2007 5:25 pm

One of the best concerts I ever heard was the Borromeo Qt. doing all six Bartoks live. It seems like it might be a bit much, but I became more and more wrapped up in it as the night went on. They did the first two, then a break, then 3 and 4, another break. It was fascinating to hear the development of his style. And the group is great, too. They were just as intense, just as concentrated, on the last movement of the 6th as on the first movement of 1.

And, best of all, they record their concerts, so I was able to order the set from them and I can have the concert all over again any time I want to.

Otherwise, yeah, the Vegh Quartet are sill my favorites, though the Emersons are no slouches either.

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Post by Sapphire » Sat Feb 17, 2007 4:07 am

Redlem & Barry

I agree to some extent with what you say. I recognise Bartok's eminence and I like a lot of his works, but I'm afraid the SQs are not among my favourites. I find it an exaggeration to suggest that it's part of folklore that these SQ's are the best since Beethoven. Accepting that they are highly rated, I would have thought that several works of broadly similar description (4-5 piece chamber pieces) by Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak and Shostakovich are generally rated even higher.


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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by val » Sat Feb 17, 2007 8:22 am

Intergamer

I finished listening to all of Bartok's string quartets today. Why are they considered the best quartets since Beethoven's?
I don't know if they are the best since Beethoven. But, at least the 4th and 5th are extraordinary music, with a perfection of structure that never excludes the emotion.

The 5th Quartet, to me, is one of the most extraordinary and powerful works of the 20th century. The "nocturne" poetry of the Adagio, the explosion of energy in the Piu mosso of the Andante and the glorious last movement with all its fantasy have the evidence of the supreme masterpieces.

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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by johnQpublic » Sat Feb 17, 2007 12:31 pm

Saphire wrote: [ I would be interested to learn more about where this claim came from.
Perhaps from "Music in the Twentieth Century" by William Austin, p.328:

"The whole set of (Bartok's) six makes a unique volume of first-rate 20th century music, and the finest group of quartets since Beethoven"
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Post by rogch » Sun Feb 18, 2007 12:48 pm

I think it is fair to say that Bartok's string quartets re-established the string quartet as an ambitious and experimental genre. Some of Beethoven's string quartets are among his most progressive works. But after Beethoven much of the most influential music was in other genres: Schumann's piano music and chamber music, Wagner's operas, Mahler's symphonies. Plenty of good string quartets were composed during the 19th century, but they were not as ambitious as Beethoven's. Bartok's string quartets explore the possibilities of
the genre like few others. And yes, they are perhaps the best since Beethoven. Not sure though, i haven't heard Luigi Nono's music for string quartet...
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Post by BWV 1080 » Sun Feb 18, 2007 8:11 pm

karlhenning wrote:Interesting, Barry. I like all of Shostakovich's 15, and all of Bartók's six. Each set bears the imprint of its composer's personality, so they are different, naturally; but I do not think I could ever weigh one greater than the other.

Cheers,
~Karl
Ah, so if both sets are of equal weight then on average, a single Bartok qt is 2.5X greater than an individual Shostakovich Qt, right? :wink:

James

Post by James » Tue Feb 20, 2007 5:45 pm

these quartets by bartok especially no. 2 thru 6 are the works of a genius in full flower. i like them way more than anything ive heard from beethoven. thank you.

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Post by pizza » Wed Feb 21, 2007 8:44 am

I would easily include Bloch's five SQs in the pantheon of greatest quartets since Beethoven. The 1st is one of the most ambitious quartets ever written, and encompasses a full hour of drama and romance. It is almost symphonic in its presentation and the material could have been the basis of a major orchestral work. All five quartets are as good as any written in the 20th Century and better than most. There are some wonderful recordings, including the first 4 by the Griller Quartet from the '50s in mono, and the set by the Portland Quartet from the early '80s. The Pro Arte recorded quartets 1 through 4 and there are a few odds and ends by other ensembles.

Roger Sessions considered these works to be among the greatest of their genre ever written.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Feb 21, 2007 9:03 am

BWV 1080 wrote:Ah, so if both sets are of equal weight then on average, a single Bartok qt is 2.5X greater than an individual Shostakovich Qt, right? :wink:
Bartók: Tastes great!
Shostakovich: Less filling!

:-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by RebLem » Wed Feb 21, 2007 12:36 pm

pizza wrote:I would easily include Bloch's five SQs in the pantheon of greatest quartets since Beethoven. The 1st is one of the most ambitious quartets ever written, and encompasses a full hour of drama and romance. It is almost symphonic in its presentation and the material could have been the basis of a major orchestral work. All five quartets are as good as any written in the 20th Century and better than most. There are some wonderful recordings, including the first 4 by the Griller Quartet from the '50s in mono, and the set by the Portland Quartet from the early '80s. The Pro Arte recorded quartets 1 through 4 and there are a few odds and ends by other ensembles.

Roger Sessions considered these works to be among the greatest of their genre ever written.
I must say I erred when I said only the Dvorak quartets were as great as those of Beethoven, Bartok, and Shostakovich. I agree with pizza about the Bloch quartets, and the piano quintets, too, btw. But I know I sound like a broken record here, as I have been proselytizing for them for some time, but I must insist that the 6 string quartets of Wilhelm Stenhammar are as worthy a set as most of the others we have mentioned, and it remains, in my opinion, the most unjustly neglected body of chamber music we have.
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Re: Bartok - string quartets

Post by RebLem » Wed Feb 21, 2007 6:33 pm

johnQpublic wrote:
Saphire wrote: [ I would be interested to learn more about where this claim came from.
Perhaps from "Music in the Twentieth Century" by William Austin, p.328:

"The whole set of (Bartok's) six makes a unique volume of first-rate 20th century music, and the finest group of quartets since Beethoven"
I own, among others, the Takacs Quartet recordings of the Bartok Quartets, but I haven't listened to them yet. I probably will next week, but I do note that there is a little blurb on the cover that says the following:

Gramophone Award Winner 1998. "The playing imparts Bartok's all-embreacing humanity, and if the greatest quartets since Beethoven are still unkown to you, this Takacs set may well prove the musical journey of a lifetime."
--Gramophone Classical Good CD Guide
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Post by piston » Thu Feb 22, 2007 7:29 am

pizza wrote:I would easily include Bloch's five SQs in the pantheon of greatest quartets since Beethoven. The 1st is one of the most ambitious quartets ever written, and encompasses a full hour of drama and romance. It is almost symphonic in its presentation and the material could have been the basis of a major orchestral work. All five quartets are as good as any written in the 20th Century and better than most. There are some wonderful recordings, including the first 4 by the Griller Quartet from the '50s in mono, and the set by the Portland Quartet from the early '80s. The Pro Arte recorded quartets 1 through 4 and there are a few odds and ends by other ensembles.

Roger Sessions considered these works to be among the greatest of their genre ever written.

I had never listened to Bloch's string quartets and your message led me to the university library where I accessed the Arabesque CDs, with the Portland String Quartet. Bloch's first quartet is truly a monumental work. In length alone it could count as three of Darius Milhaud's string quartets :D Like you, I would be inclined to rank it as a leading example of excellent composition for string quartets during the 20th century. But not unlike the Olympic podium, with its steps to the bronze, silver and gold medals, I also believe that the competition for rising above the floor level is extremely stiff throughout the first half of the century. Anyhow, I did like Bloch's first three (that's all the library has!) and thank you for the recommendation.
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