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Beethoven for a Later Age
The Journey of a String Quartet
Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-31713-4
Indiana University Press. 504pp., 77 b&w illustrations.
262 pp. £18.99 hardback
The Takács ('Tah-kah-sh') Quartet was formed in 1975. Edward Dusinberre has been the quartet's first violinist since 1993. Born in Leamington Spa, he now lives in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
His account ranges widely. Dusinberre describes how Geraldine Walther joined as the quartet's new violist in 2005. Plunging into quartet life, Walther would sometimes wake up at two a.m. to practise for several hours in order to prepare the large number of quartets the Takács played during her first season.
Dusinberre relates how looking around the group while trying to play 'with a less rigid posture' can be a perilous activity. And he reminds us of the old adage: Look up, screw up.
At times, Dusinberre's account is surprisingly tolerant of modern morés. He relates how Colorado has recently legalised marijuana, facilitating an additional form of medicinal and recreational relief. The Colorado Symphony, based in Denver, has taken advantage of this to introduce a private concert cycle, Classically Cannabis: the High Note Series, which encourages patrons to bring their own marijuana to enhance their musical experience!
Dusinberre is not shy to refer his readers to popular performers to emphasise a point he is making. For example, on the debate concerning the force given to the repetition of final chords in Beethoven's Opus 131, he discusses the question of which of the many chords used will prove to be the final one, "a feature parodied in Dudley Moore's magnificent Beethovian 'Colonel Bogey March.'" Moore's hilarious and clever performance can be viewed on YouTube. Similarly, Dusinberre confesses that he clears his head by 'blasting' Jamie Cullum's recent CD Twentysomething through his headphones. Clearly, Dusinberre's life is not lived in an ivory tower.
Much of the charm and wit of Dusinberre's writing comes from his readiness to make fun of himself. For example, here he is thinking about which brand of strings to use:
"…Perhaps a brighter sound for the G and D and a warmer sound for the A would suit my violin the best? Or the opposite? Were the Infelds really an improvement on the dark power of the Vision Titanium Solos or the subtle warmth of the Pirastro Olives? It was a heady time not only for me but for my wife Beth and four-year-old son Sam, struggling to restrain their over-excitement at the dinner table as I explained the pros and cons of different types of strings and wondered whether or not to schedule a last-minute soundpost adjustment in London."
The book has 14 musical examples, and no illustrations.
Dusinberre has given us a most readable account. Well-written, modern and witty, it can be highly recommended.
John Robert Brown
First published in Classical Music Magazine, 2016. Used by kind permission. Reproduction forbidden.