Monday, May 25, 2009

S.Q. Daily #11: Korngold No. 3

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #11: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
String Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 34

Erich Korngold (1897-1957) is best known for his film scores, and next for operas such as Die Tote Stadt, written when he was only 23 years old. He wrote his String Quartet No. 3 towards the end of his life, in 1945, but his writing here is no less inventive, playful, or rigorous than those compositions from his early "prodigy" period.

Virtuosic parts and an active musical surface feature prominently amid distinctly modern counterpoint. While certainly grounded in tonal language, Korngold frequently departs so convincingly from the tonic that his final tonic triad cadences seem almost as out place as those of Hindemith (see the ending of Movement I). In this way, it is likely that he saw himself as an extension of the great late Romantic tradition or Strauss and Mahler in this way.

The Scherzo and Trio (Movement II) surrounds a smooth, sustained B section with a pair of lively A sections featuring a walking pizzicato cello line under a frantic and fragmented solo violin voice. Though slightly more ambiguous in its harmonies, Korngold's third movement rivals Barber's Adagio for Strings in its raw beauty.

The first and last movements are certainly well constructed and worth study, but they come across as somewhat dry and contrived on first hearing, without the immediate appeal of the inner movements. Of course, the idea I heard on NPR today of approaching classical music as a "long-term relationship" (as opposed to pop music's immediate sex appeal) may well apply to these outer movements. Perhaps I will pick this one up again before the summer is through.

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In other S.Q. Daily-related news, I have purchased (and loaded onto my iPod) the complete Bartók and Shostakovich quartets (6 and 15, respectively). Hooray! Hopefully these will inspire me as I work frantically on my own!

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