The smell of rosin on a bow, the satisfaction of slow scales played with a partner, the sleepy somnolence of working a piece through in your head just before sleep - I miss these things. I forget them too. Viktor Seth lent them back to me this week, in his novel An Equal Music.
I’ve read An Equal Music before, quickly. This read, with bed rest time to spin through, I read it page by page, at half tempo. It was delicious. Seth recreates the world of a violinist in a string quartet, bringing in the human element of chamber music, and, more bravely, the music. Music is frustratingly difficult to write about - what seems glorious to experience becomes trite on a page, or simply does not show up. But Seth does it well, mixing chewably real details with tone poem text to help you hear the music.
Or almost. After the first few pages, when he really started to dig into the sound, I had to stop reading and start looking up pieces so I could hear them too. Some of them I've played and know well, like Mozart’s Sonata in E Major, and the Prelude to Bach’s Partita for Violin No. 3. Others I could only find as snippets on iTunes and Amazon. A snippet wasn't enough, but I didn’t want to download entire albums (classical music used CDs have a higher sound quality and are cheaper than buying digital). After a day of searching the web for individual pieces, I thought of YouTube.
Not all the music mentioned is there, but about half of it is, and I made up a list for anyone who needs to hear, straight away, some of the music in the book before they can locate a CD. And as an extra bonus, the old recordings of players like Nathan Milstein, Jacqueline du Pré and Glen Gould are remarkable in their own right, not just as introductions to the music in the book.
Ralph Vaughn Williams: "The Lark Ascending" Janine Jansen
Mozart: Sonata for Piano and Violin in E minor, K. 304, Hilary Hahn
J.S. Bach: The Art of the Fugue, Contrapunctus 1, recent Glen Gould and younger Glen Gould, slightly out of tune but also beautiful.
Partita for Violin Solo No. 3 in E BWV 1006, Preludio, Nathan Milstein
Beethoven Piano Trio in C Minor, op. 1. no. 3, Allegro Con Brio, Isaac Stern, Eugene Istomin, piano, and Leonard Rose on cello.
Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A, "The Trout"
For a complete recording, follow the movements through this link. To see one of the most famous concerts of the Trout, featuring Itzhak Perlman, Daniel Barenboim, Jacqueline Du Pré, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman, try these excerpts: cello snippets; 3rd movement; 4th movement; documentary of concert.
Dining out for Life
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