Hey, it’s a blog!

January 30, 2011

So what if mostly I’ve been putting up stuff on religion and churches? I can write about whatever I want to! I can write about Beethoven! So what if I don’t know how to discuss music like a trained professional discusser of music? It’s a blog. And it’s mine.

This afternoon I went to the Gardner Museum’s temporary performance space – the Pozen Center, right around the corner, belonging to Massachusetts College of Art and Design – to hear the Borromeo String Quartet perform all three “Razumovsky Quartets” (Beethoven’s op. 59). I’ve been hooked on classical music since my teens, and Beethoven as much as any of it. It has a unique, indescribable effect on my nervous system; it goes to the core of my most basic  sense of well-being. I can’t say anything more sensible about it than that.

Way back in the beginning it was mostly the symphonies that I got to know and love, and then the concertos. I only really got into chamber music later, in my thirties, but since then I’ve heard the Razumovsky pieces quite a few times, individually or all together. The first thing I knew about them, even before I’d really sat down to listen to them, was that one of them included a theme based on a Russian folk tune also used by Mussorgsky in the coronation scene of Boris Godunov, and which I also knew set to different words entirely from a song book in elementary school or somewhere. (I’ll never forget the day in ’91 I went home with a powerful urge to listen to the coronation scene, and nothing else; I played my CD of it, and then turned on the TV and found out about the coup against Gorbachev that effectively ended the Soviet Union by trying to save it…  I digress, but hey, it’s a blog!) Anyway, for many years this theme was the highlight of the op.59 quartets for me, the one thing really familiar that my mind could latch on to. Actually I could never remember which movement of which quartet it was, so I’d always feel a kind of suspense waiting for it to come up. Even as I got more familiar with the rest of op. 59, the “Mussorgsky” theme remained what I most looked forward to.

And the greatest single thing about today’s fine performance was that it cured me of that! The Mussorgsky theme was played with such a light touch, so well integrated into the structure of the music as a whole, that I no longer perceived it as a highlight, but rather just as one theme among many…

If I had a whole lifetime to devote to it, I would really study music and try to understand and write about how it works. When I look at analyses by musicologists, dealing with how this diminished chord modulates to that other thing coming up ahead, I find it all quite fascinating, but can never quite connect it with how the thing sounds to me, how it evokes that profound sense of well being which keeps me listening. Who knows, maybe a lifetime of study wouldn’t really change that; but I’d love to have the lifetime available, so I could at least try…

Update: the concert got a great review in today’s Globe. It’s always validating to see that someone not only enjoyed something I enjoyed, but can articulate why…

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