excerpt from 'A Puzzling Schubert Quintet' pp. 160-161 (399 words)

excerpt from 'A Puzzling Schubert Quintet' pp. 160-161 (399 words)

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A Puzzling Schubert Quintet

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Last night I attended a private concert, at which I heard a puzzling performance of the Schubert String Quintet... played by five professional musicians... who described themselves on the programme as getting together as often as possible to play chamber music.... [F]rom the very first chord - mis-coordinated, and haphazard in tone, it was clear that no-one would be able to lose themselves in it.

Immediately, my head began to buzz with devil's advocacy. 'Oh, come on, this is just a social occasion. Stop being critical. This is just fun for them - they probably haven't had much time to rehearse.... [D]on't be so judgemental!' But the prevailing feeling was one of resentment on Schubert's behalf, and on behalf of the listeners too. 'How dare they take up an evening of our time with this dabbling?' It felt a bit like being invited to a meal, and finding the ingredients all laid out on the table for our admiration but no attempt to cook them....

...[O]ne of my university tutors... used to say that the test of a great piece of music is that a bad performance cannot ruin it.... But I found myself thinking that had I not known the work already, and had I been hearing it for the first time, I would have wondered why it is so celebrated....

Often when you hear a good performance, you realise the performers feel that the music resides in them. Whatever happens, they possess their interpretation. Yet in this case the five players all had expressions that showed that they had already felt defeated by their task, or locked out from it...

...It was as if they all thought that by playing the notes, something composite would emerge, the greatness would be there without their seeking it. And this is what began to puzzle me. The greatness is there in the notes, of course, but the notes are also a kind of cipher, or a set of signs which stand for something greater...

...[W]hen you hear a performance by people who have immersed themselves in this music, it seems so clear that the piece abounds in contours, light and shade, in earthly and heavenly, in sudden outbursts and sudden consolations, in narrative and in abstraction; it's hard to listen to a performance where none of this appears to have occurred to the players.

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excerpt from 'A Puzzling Schubert Quintet' pp. 160-161 (399 words)


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