Ever so slightly too long

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Ever so slightly too long

Yesterday morning I managed to fit in a cheeky quartet at 6.30am, before the family woke up. I opted for Schoenberg's String Quartet No.4, a piece I have recently opened up to after many years of (mistakenly) thinking it was too complex. It has revealed itself as a  genial work, full of invention and graspable melodic motifs. Once I started to visualise it like a Calder mobile scultpure it started to work.

However, I have one niggle - it's ever so slightly too long. And not even by much... Somehow the Schoenberg's sense of proportion was slightly out of step with the material in hand, and apart from the Largo each movement runs out of steam  a couple of minutes early - which I find disappointing as the music is so strong. (as a note Schoenberg's most  over-long compostion is probably his Wind Quintet)

Anyone have examples of this? I am not talking about obvious examples like Bruckner symphonies or Wagner operas being overlong - rather  smaller scale works that are excellent compositions but somehow the golden section rules are a bit wonky?

RE: Ever so slightly too long

Repeats counted? Repeats in, the 'heavenly length' of Schubert's 9th always strikes me as less than heavenly.

RE: Ever so slightly too long

I could certainly live without the repeats in the 9th but please don't go skimping on them in the String Quintet!

To be fair to Arnold I actually listened to the quartet again this evening and it seemed better proportioned, but I did almost fall asleep in the final movement. I put that down to an exhausting weekend though.

I wouldn't mind if weekends were too long, with exposition repeats taking up Monday and half of Tuesday!!!

RE: Ever so slightly too long

Ah yes, the Schubert 9th and its heavenly length. I just love it. Roger Norrington came to San Francisco a number of years ago and I thought for sure he would do ALL the repeats, especially the Scherzo. Well, he didn't do any and the whole thing was over in about 45 minutes. What a disappointment. But then we have the case of Sir Adrian Boult who made numerous recordings and countless performances of the work. I'll just mention two of them - the EMI recording of May, 1972, and his live Proms concert of August, 1969. In both of them the Scherzo is the longest movement, over 14 minutes. Both performances run about 54 minutes. Of the two I prefer the EMI because the timpani taps stand out in the Scherzo, while in the Proms performance it's as though the timpanist took a break (he is very audible in the other movements. I know there are many who have derided Boult and his Schubert, but to me there are none better.


RE: Ever so slightly too long

Schoenberg at 6.30 am. A man after my own heart!

This is an interesting discussion point I think. Some music - Feldman, bits of Finnissy, Glass, Nono - deliberately play off exaggerated scale; the psychological impact of doing things for longer than is academically decent. And I get kinda irritated when people cheaply dismiss Feldman et al for being 'too' long when, really, that's the point. Their music needs to be 'too' long. It's up to the listener to adjust their scale of listening.

And that's very different from composers who merely miscalculate proportion. It seems to me that Schoenberg rarely got that aspect of his music wrong but I'll re-listen to his StQ4 with your thoughts in mind, Bob. Do you know the Third Quartet? A more robust construction I couldn't imagine. 

btw, I don't think I've ever listened to a piece and thought, umm, really that was too short...

RE: Ever so slightly too long

While we are on the subject of Schoenberg, his Pelleas and Melisande does drag on a bit. But a lot of early works by even the greatest composers do. A sense of scale is one thing that develops through trial and error (like everything else) and we wouldn't want to miss out on the fruits of this labour, however painful it might be sometimes. Early Strauss can be a slog (violin concerto) and I would have offered his Alpine Symphony as an example of 'over-long' but the fairly recent Naxos recording is beginning to change my mind and I'm feeling this symphony has greater depth than I'd previously thought.

RE: Ever so slightly too long

Phil, I just listened to the Schoenberg 3rd Quartet on my lunchtime walk - very pleasantly surprised!  I had a pop at it a few years back and apart from the rigorous 1st mvmt it didn't leave much of an impression, but on my walk it made sense. The slow 2nd mvmt was especially enjoyable - approaching one of my  ideals which has all the alienness of serialism but still lyrical. Proportionally it's pretty strong - he almost lost me in the intermezzo (again - a couple of mins too long?) but pulled it back nicely in the finale. The boy done well. Thanks for the tip.

Not sure if it makes much difference but I've switched from the LaSalle set to the Arditti's, who seem to have a little more bounce and tighten things up a tad.

RE: late Feldman - I dunno. I've tried some of the gargantuan late pieces like For Philip Guston and Crippled Symmetry but ultimately I can't find enough wonder in them to commit to the (very) long haul. Piano and String Quartet gets the proportions about right... and Coptic Light is  a fantastic one-off. It's possibly his flute writing that does my head in with certian of these late pieces. One day, when the kids leave home I'll give them another go.

Whatever you do, don't go to a Feldman concert on an empty stomach, as the chap sitting next to me obviously did! Your stomach will start improvising and be heard.

RE: Ever so slightly too long

Sorry, Atonal, but these two works are my "sensitive" area of my great interest.

Schubert's D.960 is a magnificent work in the History of Classical Music and every note counts, no matter how many times might be repeated.

The minute Waltz of Chopin is a "minute" and so of full Music making of the highest order.

Dig in a bit further and you may find more than the "label" and the "face value" may advertize.


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