September 14, 2009

Things we are thankful for: Haydn's string quartets

David Wilson joins us again to explain why Haydn is so important to so many of our musicians:

Musicians have been known to describe playing chamber music as “The most fun you can have with your clothes on.” Read on to find out why.

Chamber music is a collaborative effort. A collaborative approach isn’t terribly practical when there are even as few as 25 or 30 players involved. In its earliest days, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra was a conductorless, collaborative entity, and PBO players who remember those days observe that while the process of arriving at musical consensus in an orchestral context was musically formative for them, it was definitely NOT an efficient way to prepare for a concert. But collaboration is at the root of what makes playing chamber music so much fun. The process of discussing how a phrase should be shaped, of trying out different ideas and weighing their merits, even the sometimes-heated musical arguments among highly experienced and highly opinionated musicians, are in the end intensely satisfying.

Many musicians see the string quartet as the ideal chamber ensemble: four players make a very manageable yet extremely versatile combination, and four instruments in the same “family” have a great deal of built-in compatibility. Despite the fact that Haydn quartets are chronologically at the very beginning of the string quartet repertoire, they are among the most musically fascinating quartets to rehearse and perform. Perfectly crafted in terms of form and balance, they’re also charming, accessible, witty, profound, technically demanding, and above all conversational. In short, they’re everything that a chamber musician lives for. No wonder at all that Haydn quartets are adored by players and audiences alike.

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