String quartets are basically the greatest achievement of Western civilization, right?

I amused myself last night listening to the Shanghai Quartet play Beethoven’s Op. 130 string quartet. It’s a live recording from the Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw in 2004. (The booklet people are very precise – I am told that not only was it recorded on 4 April, 2004, but that it was recorded on 4 April 2004 at 12pm.* Possibly this may allow us to identify the source of the chiming sound that is audible during the andante. It sounds somewhere between a phone alert and a percussion instrument – as if someone sneaked onto the stage with a triangle and managed to knock out one “ping!” before getting dragged off again.)

This is a great performance. I love the way they sink into those big looming opening chords, and later, in the second movement, there is a series of falling phrases in one of the violin parts that feels as if it’s literally falling, or unspooling, it’s done with such perfect ease. The recording of this work that I’m used to is the Kodály Quartet on Naxos, and this performance by the Shanghai Quartet has more contrast in tempo. In addition, the recorded sound has a lot of depth and resonance to it – in the third movement, for example, you can hear the second violin and viola parts with perfect clarity. And the main theme of the finale has the perfect amount of springiness.

More than this, I got the chance to listen to the whole thing twice, because WordPress ate the first version of this post and it took me a little while to reconstruct it. Fortunately, I had a backup (with bonus German vocab intrusion):


*I am assuming that this means that they began at 12.00. Unless there is something gnarly going on with space-time in the Grand Hall of the Royal Castle and the whole thing really was recorded between 12.00 and 12.01. (Maybe the Met lent them one of their more interesting metrics? I’ve heard they’ve got a bunch of them in storage in a warehouse in Queens.)

2 thoughts on “String quartets are basically the greatest achievement of Western civilization, right?

  1. I always found it odd that “shit happens” (pronounced “sheet häppens”) has long been a ubiquitous expression and yet “fuck knows” has yet to be appropriated. The German expression for that would be the delightfully ominous “weiß der Henker!”.


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