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Dear NCMF fans,
You may have seen me around Newburyport or playing viola in the summer concert: my name is Alessandra, and I am David's younger daughter. In mid-September, a group of friends and I decided to create a chamber music quarantine bubble. We stumbled through Beethoven's String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132 somewhat disastrously:
Over the following weeks, we refined and polished the first three movements. Let me take you through places we rehearsed, describing aspects we hoped to improve. The short clips in the link below correspond to the examples.
Example 1: Getting it together
Practically speaking, you need to be able to play together before adding musical subtleties. In the first movement, there’s a run of fast notes that is difficult to synchronize. The example shows both a before and after rehearsing clip so you can hear and see the difference (0:07 before, 0:20 after).
Example 2: Dynamics and cues
Beethoven is famous for sudden and extreme dynamics. Here we needed to coordinate the sudden drop from loud to soft and decide which of us is physically leading the transitions. The example shows both a before and after rehearsing clip (0:32).
Example 3: Stroke and balance
Bow strokes are like gestures with a paintbrush and vary widely: long or short, bouncy or on the string, etc. In this excerpt, there’s one “solo” instrument with the other three providing support. We decided how long those notes should be: too short would blur the harmony, but too long kills the mood. The example is an excerpt from the second movement (1:08).
Example 4: Vibrato
Vibrato is the wiggly sound you hear when a musician shakes their hand on the string. It is like salt; too much or too little and you’ll notice (we think about this a lot). We even tried some sections without vibrato altogether. The example in the video has both a “with” vibrato and a “without” vibrato clip so you can hear the difference. Is there one you prefer? (1:24 with, 1:38 without).
Example 5: Tempo and mood changes
Big tempo changes come with big discussions: how much faster or slower, how should that change the mood, who’s in charge of cueing? In the third movement, drastic changes in tempo and mood required extra rehearsal. The example is an excerpt from the third movement (2:00).
Of course, there are only so many things I can tell you about; every moment in the music has its own magic. Happy 2021!
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132
To learn more about Beethoven Op. 132,
click here for the Brentano Quartet's program notes.