Thursday, December 09, 2004

A cellist's smile...

Lately it is not an entire quartet that I remember after an evening of chamber music. It is a few measures here and there that are memorable and give reason to keep going. There is much to praise in the music of the great 18th and 19th century string quartets. The integrity of their structure. The richness and diversity of their harmonic language. But I have reached a point where musical incidents and details are what, for me, count the most. A simple approach perhaps...but it works for me. I will leave the structure and harmonic issues to musicologists and theorists. I'm just a simple viola player.

Last night the "incident" was about eight seconds of music towards the end of the first movement of Haydn's Opus 76 no. 1. The second subject of this movement is particularly tuneful. When it returns after the recapitulation is is accompanied in the cello by a drone. Charming enough. But when that second subject repeats itself and that rustic drone happens again, the drone itself is ornamented by the addition of a grace note at the begining of each measure. For me it is a completely inimitable moment; an ormamental touch delightful beyond measure. The cellist, who has played this music with me before must have remembered how fond I am of this grace-note ornamented drone. Because as she played this music, she briefly took her eyes off the page and gave me a smile.

A fine moment... Haydn, a drone, a scattering of grace note, and a cellist's smile.