April 1, 2017
A message from Dr. Arnie about string quartets:
I know, I know. String quartets are a troublesome business.
Take Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet in which a poor young girl has to die despite desperately pleading for her life. Just terrible if you ask me, and by the way, my condolences to her parents. Then there’s the story behind Leos Janacek’s Kreutzer Sonata Quartet. Imagine: A jealous husband murders his wife because of an affair with some dumb fiddle player that actually didn’t even happen.
And aside from death and murder, what about sickness? Ludwig van Beethoven wrote a movement of his Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132 in which he thanks God for recovering from illness. Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the guy, but do we really need to know about his personal problems? It gets worse, though. The whole string quartet repertoire is dripping with meaningfulness, spirituality, and, ugh, profundity. Frankly, I think profundity is greatly overrated, don’t you? I’ll take a nice, crisp musical joke any day over profundity. Which reminds me, Haydn wrote a really nice “Joke” Quartet. Good job, Joseph.
And while we’re on the subject of string quartets, don’t even get me started about the members of my own quartet who think they’re God’s gift to music. Why, the other night, I played a phrase in the slow movement of Beethoven’s Opus 59#2 quartet so beautifully that it brought tears to my eyes. At least, I thought it was beautiful; but my so-called colleagues? One said I rushed, another complained about my intonation, and the third said—imagine—that I played without any soul.
String quartets? Not for the weak of heart.
But where was I? Ah, yes. I’ve got some string quartet reading material for you folks to look over in the hope that it will chase away some of that four-voice doom and gloom, that it will put a skip in your viola step, a smile on your violin lips, a song in your cello heart. Or then again, maybe not.
World-renowned string quartet seeks first violin, second violin, and cello. For further information, please contact the violist.
An old definition of a string quartet:
One good violinist, one poor violinist, one ex-violinist, and someone who hates violinists.
A new definition:
One good violinist, one equally good violinist without ego problems, one former violinist with a fear of heights, and someone who believes the chin should only be used for chewing.
Definition of a Cold War string quartet:
A Soviet orchestra returning home after a USA tour.
1930s Depression joke:
A man hails a taxi but has to get into the front seat because a string quartet is playing in the back.
“Why do you have a string quartet playing in the back seat?” he asks the taxi driver, who answers, “I couldn’t afford a radio.”
A lady overheard congratulating a string quartet after their performance:
“I just loved your little orchestra and I hope it grows and grows”.
A string quartet riddle:
What is one Russian? An anarchist.
Two Russians? A chess game.
Three Russians? A revolution.
Four Russians? The Budapest String Quartet.
A Sad Story
The resident psychiatrist at the Shady Lane Mental Asylum interviewed Mr. Smith, a new arrival, for the first time:
“Welcome to Shady Lane”, the doctor said to Smith who was sitting peacefully under a tree on the institution’s grounds.
“I understand you are a concert violinist, Mr. Smith.”
“That’s right, doctor. I’ve performed all over the world as a soloist—with Herbert von Karijian and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to name just a few.”
“That’s marvelous, Mr. Smith. Did you also perform as recitalist?”
“Yes, and I was fortunate enough to play the sonata repertoire with some of the world’s greatest pianists. Notably, I performed all ten Beethoven Sonatas in three concerts in such places as Paris, London, and New York City. You cannot imagine what a joy it was to immerse myself in the study of these miraculous works and then to perform them for music lovers around the world.”
The doctor was highly impressed by Smith’s accomplishments but also perplexed. Smith appeared to be so calm, so put together, and so at peace with himself. He seemed out of place in this asylum for the severely disturbed. Another question crossed the good doctor’s mind.
“Have you ever played string quartets?”
The presenter of a chamber music concert series called his best friend to tell him the exciting news that he had just hired an outstanding string quartet to open the next season’s series:
“Great,” says the friend. “Who’s in the group?”
“Well, I have Ma on cello.”
“Ma? You managed to get Yo-Yo Ma? That’s fantastic.”
”Actually, it’s not Yo-Yo. It’s Albert Ma, but he’s a terrific cellist.”
“OK, but who’s playing viola?”
“I have Zukerman on viola.”
“Wow! You succeeded in getting Pinchas Zukerman! Oh my God.”
“Uh, no. Not Pinchas. It’s Moishe Zukerman, but believe me, he’s really good.”
“Alright then. What about the violinists in the quartet? Who did you manage to get?”
“For one, I got Perlman.”
“Itzhak Perlman! I’m going to faint. What incredible news.”
“Sorry, but it’s not Itzhak. It’s Sam Perlman. But he’s really a very fine player.”
“OK. But who did you get as the other violinist?”
“I got Steinhardt.”
“Steinhardt? You actually managed to get Arnold Steinhardt?”
That’s all for now you string quartet people. Best wishes, and for God’s sake, lighten up.
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