Twelve Note Story
April 23, 2010
Take a deep breath and try to settle down. I know, I know. The task is daunting, but you’ve worked hard. Just be relaxed. Be focused. And now get practical. For starters, think of a good tempo. Not so easy based on the first two or three notes that are slow and deeply personal. Better to capture the pulse from those quicker notes later on. OK. One… two… three… four… yes, I think I can sense the tempo now. I’ll try to superimpose the opening notes on these solemn heartbeats. Am I ready to start? Not sure. Such a weight on my shoulders! How the first note is played dictates how the second will come out, which in turn influences the third, and so on through the entire first movement and all the ones that follow. I get crazy sometimes thinking about it. So just don’t! And while you’re at it, get a hold of yourself. There are several hundred people out there waiting for the music to begin. Good idea. Let’s see. I must play the very first note with enough substance to be heard yet with a veiled and limpid touch. Nothing left but to let go and just do it… Hmm, not too bad, not too tentative. Could have been worse. All right. Now I’ll try to slip very simply, even mournfully into the next note and begin to grow ever so slightly in volume, ever so slightly in intensity. Careful! The transition is everything. Aching sadness must give way to something else, but what? Never mind. Just apply heat to the sound as the second note evolves into the third and let the mournfulness be pushed aside by another element. Call it anguish, call it mounting anger but give in to the feeling as the next note looms and, oh please, a heart pang, a gasp for life itself with this fourth note. And now release! Let the desperation of the moment drown in a sea of resignation. Ach. Such meaning, such heartache in those four tones! They seem to contain a hidden code that cannot as yet be deciphered. But go on. Go on to the eight simple, almost plain notes that lie ahead, drained of everything but measured gentleness. Relish them lovingly as they drift down, then lift up slightly only to descend once again before a last upward tilt. And now listen reverently to the other three voices as they enter one by one—each player adding his own twelve note story to the miracle that is unfolding. Beethoven’s String Quartet, Opus 131 in C Sharp Minor, has just begun.
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