Thursday, August 30, 2007

d'Indy before bed

Vincent d'Indy is a composer one doesn't often hear from, and for once I'm not lamenting this arrangement. His music never seemed particularly exciting or moving, and so it was an unexpected occurrence yesterday night that I found myself listening intently to his string quartets. (Or more specifically, his first last night, the second right now).

They're not something you can just pick up and listen to, they don't really have the power to draw you into the music as do the major French quartets: Debussy and Ravel, nor do they have the immediate accessability and relatability of Haydn, Mozart, or Mendelssohn: they're too strangely complicated. I'm not sure whether it's the music itself or the performance by the Kodály Quartet, but what I hear strikes me as very methodical, yet neither plodding nor self-concerned. The harmonies occasionally remind me of Janáček, particularly in the viola line, and the thematic treatment can be very subtle: the material can be fragmented, and it's hard to spot where a previous motif has been inverted or transposed and placed in the harmony. But if you've got a good musical memory, these quartets can be very rewarding. Oh, and they really do have some great moments.

I'm not saying go out, get a recording, and listen immediately. You will likely be disappointed. I skip over these quartets all the time, because usually I find them boring. It's odd, but if my own emotion doesn't match the music a priori, the d'Indy quartets are a chore to listen to; if, on the other hand, I'm in the right state of mind, it seems I find them most enjoyable. For me, these quartets are just perfect for late-night listening, or a hot room with dry, still air. Regardless of where and when I best enjoy d'Indy's first and second string quartets, you can be sure that I'll put each of them on the airwaves at some point.

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