This video clip is even better than the one I posted on Dean Martin 's birthday (June 7) of the famous reconciliation scene during the Jerry Lewis Telethon of 1976 twenty years after he and Dean Martin broke up their world-famous comedy act, with "Jer" playing the out of control overgrown teenager. and "Dino," nine years older, the straight man and Lothario. They had enjoyed a ten-year-run of movies and sold out appearances at the Copa and other such hot spots when they decided, like many a couple, that they had irreconcilable differences and couldn't endure another day in each other's company. The Telethon enounter, arranged by the Godfather, was the first time they saw or spoke to each other after twenty years of stony silence. Sinatra: "I think it's time, don't you?" [Imagine if you could reconcile two warring nations this way.]. Notice the cigarettes -- not as props but as part of the routine in several senses. The Dean-Jerry exchange is sweet: "So. . . how ya been? . . . There were all these rumors about our break-up and when I came out to do the show and you weren't here I knew they were true. . .So. . .ya workin'?" Dean, on why they broke up: "Because I was a Jew and you were a Dago." The phone number line is good, the duet with Dean and Sinatra is funny ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Too Marvelous for Words"), and though Dean is not in the best voice, the sequence helps substantiate Jerry's assertion that he was the greatest straight man of all time. -- DL
The composer Lewis Saul was prompted to write to us about the current movie release "A Late Quartet" and his reaction to the trailer. Lewis had earlier written about the Beethoven String Quartet in C Minor, the subject of the film and one of his most beloved pieces of music.
December 17, 2012:
I have not yet seen the entire film. Watching this trailer, I wonder how
many of you -- trained musicians or not -- can tell that the actors are
"faking" it? Does it bother you?
Obviously, good directors do everything they can to "shield" the
audience from seeing this sort of thing -- but as a musician, and IN
PARTICULAR -- as someone who considers this marvelous piece of music to
be one of the most sublime compositions ever created by human spirit, I
am hoping it won't ruin any part of the film for me!
With that in mind, I thought folks who have already seen the film might
enjoy reading my post on this unbelievably potent and heavenly work. Or
read my post, then go see the film.
I still cannot believe they made a movie about the Great Opus 131, and I can't wait to see it. Soap opera and everything."
Here's Lewis's original post from July 12, 2010: Op. 131:
The Seven Most Meaningful Compositions That I Will Love Forever -- II. BEETHOVEN: String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131 (1825)
It was forty years ago today ...
No, that can't be right -- it just sounded nice! But it was like 39 or so -- and it was Paris -- a Montparnasse cafe in fact and it was raining lightly (probably) and I knew a poet (definitely) who expressed his unreserved enthusiasm for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Op. 125 -- particularly the final movement, the "Ode To Joy," where Beethoven unleashes all the forces at his disposal, including vocal soloists and chorus.
I tried to explain to this poet how Beethoven -- using only the simplest and most basic harmonic structure (think two-chord rock 'n roll) -- spins the earth around with powerful orchestration and unbelievablly brilliant variation in color and temperment ...
... but the best part was that this particular poet taught me the meaning of the German words which I had never really taken the trouble to learn.
Muß ein lieber vater wohnen means a lot more to me now thanks to this wonderful poet friend who turned me on to James Joyce, playfully informed me that Joan Miró was not a woman -- and had the good sense to bring Frank Zappa along as the soundtrack to our local hysteria ...
Much like his musical output as a whole, Beethoven’s 17 string quartets can be divided into three convenient periods: Early, Middle and Late.
Early: Opus 18, Nos. 1-6, all written between 1798-1800; Middle: Opus 59, Nos. 1-3 (1805/6); Op. 74, the “Harp” (1809), and Op. 95 (1810); Late: Op. 127, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135 (1823-26)
I cannot recall when I first heard a Late Beethoven quartet. It must have been my senior year of high school at the Interlochen Arts Academy, where my composition teacher had pointed me towards the microfiche machine and a few spools of microfilm which contained the Complete Works of Beethoven! How I used to pour over those beautiful scores, surfing the microfilm the way we do the net today -- carefully studying these (mostly) unfamiliar scores.
After thoroughly absorbing the Late Quartets, I began to feel a particular fondness and appreciation of Op. 131 -- not that the others are not equally brilliant and exciting, world-shaking music -- but 131 became a focal point for my idea about what it means to write for these four stringed instruments …
HOW I BECAME SUCH A HUGE AMADEUS FAN
I have 15 or 20 different recordings of the string quartets. The Amadeus Quartet recordings from the 1960’s -- recently reissued on CD -- are my favorites, by far!
I still have the original 10-LP DGG set and listen to it often, marveling at how much better analog vinyl sounds than squeezy-thin dynamic range and contrast CDs. I’ve never heard better performances -- particular the Late Quartets.
Unlike most quartets with a famous name, who routinely replace departing players (“Juilliard,” “Tokyo,” “Turtle Island”), The Amadeus Quartet had always agreed that “ … if any member could no longer play, for whatever reason, the Quartet would not continue” -- and when Peter Schidlof, the violist, died in 1987, The Amadeus Quartet disbanded.
I had the good fortune to hear the Tokyo Quartet play this here in Tucson in April of 2008. My review of that performance is here.
HOW FIVE BECAME SIX AND OTHER DETAILS
Op. 133 (“Grosse Fuge”) was originally the last movement of Op. 130. Shockingly, Beethoven listened to reason and his publisher and agreed to replace the mammoth movement with a light dance movement (one of the very last things he ever wrote!), which now stands as the Finale to Op. 130.
Op. 133 was published separately -- although more and more quartets today are playing this as the Finale of Op. 130, a strange historic reconstruction …
What makes these late quartets so special?
First of all, if you are familiar with the Ninth (Op. 125) and/or the Missa Solemnis (Op. 123) or the Diabelli Variations (Op. 120), you already know that his style and perhaps even his fundamental musical language had changed dramatically from his output of the previous decade or so.
But the string quartet being the intimate, ultimate form for any composer (true today, methinx), Beethoven seems to have deliberately set out to not only “change” music -- but to revolutionize it!
Briefly, the other Late Quartets:
Op. 127 (Eb Major). The “Eroica” (or “heroic”) key! The quartet begins with massed tonics (seven or eight notes played by four) going to dominant seventh chords in -- respectively -- second and third inversions -- all leading to a quick transition to a delightful, slippery Allegro trip in ¾ time, which ends simply. The second movement is an astonishing series of variations on a simple, rising theme in Ab Major. The notes become blacker and blacker (faster rhythms) as the movement progresses, modulating to E Major a few times, before a beautiful ending; simplicity itself. The third movement (“Scherzando vivace”) is the usual jocular Beethoven, but in this Late period, the joke is a bit bizarre and otherworldly -- particularly in the Trio, which sweeps by like a witch on a broomstick. The Finale is a regular rondo-type 4th movement -- but the theme has a very bizarre (“Late”) element to it -- the Ab changing to an A-natural after two repetitions:
Op. 130 (Bb Major). Not only did Beethoven search out new sounds and explore novel harmonic territory, but he obviously felt constrained by the typical four-movement form (Op. 127, for example). Here he burst forth with six separate movements!
I. Adagio - Allegro. A wonderful example of beginning with a fairly typical sonata-form type of exposition and quickly changing key and mood (there are some major seventh chords in this section which are astonishingly beautiful for 1826 or anytime!)
II. Presto. A thrilling fun ride. Beethoven screws with your head as he jumps from duple to triple meter;
III. Andante. Gradually increases in intensity until it fairly busts apart at the end!
IV. Alla danza tedesca. A light joyful dance -- four voices in perfect balance;
V. Cavatina -- Adagio. This short movement is rightfully proclaimed a mini-masterpiece. The middle section (Beklemmt [“anguished”]) is positively 20th-century sounding!
VI. Finale. A bouncy happy replacement for what used to be a massive double-fugue (see below).
Op. 132 (A Minor). Beethoven makes do with only five movements in this soul-shaking masterpiece. That he opens with a low G# (the “leading tone” to A, the tonic) on the cello was in itself a revolutionary thing to do -- but Beethoven pushes the form to its limits in these quartets. Here -- as in 130 and many other late, and even early and middle works -- he moves back and forth between slow and fast. A Minor is a “dark” key -- and he ends the movement with the first violin sawing back and forth on the same E on two different strings. The second movement (A Major, ¾) also begins on a G#! The trio uses the first violin’s A string to make a bagpipes-type sound. Then follows the famous “Lydian” hymn of thanksgiving, a march and a dazzling ¾ Allegro appasionato to close things out.
Op. 133 (Bb Major). This massive double-fugue which must be heard to be believed. There is a massive amount of ink, virtual and real, spilled over this masterpiece. One of my favorites is here.
Op. 135 (F Major). Famously, Beethoven “prefaced” the music with actual musical notation (which does not appear in the actual work itself) from a goofy canon he had written several months earlier. (Beethoven wrote many such canons. Some are very funny.)
Thus, we are given an unusual visual clue to what was on Beethoven’s mind! The final movement literally explodes with these questions. Must it be? Yep? Etc.
OPUS 131 in C# Minor (39:17)
1. Adagio, ma non troppo e molto espressivo -- attacca: (6:58) 2. Allegro molto vivace -- attacca: (3:05) 3. Allegro moderato -- attacca: (0:56) 4. Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile -- Andante moderato e lusinghiero -- Adagio -- Allegretto -- Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice -- Allegretto (14:17) 5. Presto -- Molto poco adagio -- attacca: (5:27) 6. Adagio quasi un poco andante -- attacca: (2:04) 7. Allegro (6:30)
No one had ever written a string quartet in seven movements before!
The word “attacca” means that the players proceed directly to the next movement without pause. Therefore, a listener with no program might conclude that the piece is in two very long movements! (The only pause occurs after the fourth movement).
In fact, the quartet is really in five moments -- Nos. 3 and 6 are really just short introductions to Nos. 4 and 7, respectively.
1. Adagio, ma non troppo e molto espressivo -- attacca: (6:58)
A fugue of unsurpassed beauty, intensity, majesty -- and of course, inventiveness! The first violin (notation above) opens with the dominant note (G#) which lands on the leading tone (B#), followed by the tonic (C#).
The fourth note (the first beat of the second full bar) dips down to the submediant (A) and is held for three beats -- almost like a divine sigh -- before it continues on its way towards the second entry in the second violin, played a fifth lower. The texture thickens magnificently as the viola enters back in the tonic and the cello follows, again a fifth lower. With much typical fugal imitation, the music continues along, moved steadily by the quarter-note pulse, surging towards something.
Using an enharmonic (D#/Eb), he modulates to six flats; nine bars later to G# Minor (eighth-notes are introduced), and then to A Major, where we then encounter the First and Second violins in a delicious duet:
Soon, the pulse picks up again (more eighth-notes); the theme is heard in various disguises; and then the sun seems to set:
This gorgeous, peaceful ending is actually no ending at all!
Beethoven immediately repeats the octave skip, but a half-step higher, as he moves to D Major for the
2. Allegro molto vivace -- attacca: (3:05)
second movement -- a delightful romp in 6/8. Beethoven at first holds back a bit with a fermata and ritard, but eventually the quartet shouts out a slippery bit of off-beat sforzandi in unison much of the time -- until the music simply dies away …
3. Allegro moderato -- attacca: (0:56)
This quick transitional movement features a wonderful run in the first violin:
and ends on a nice loud dominant chord.
4. Andante, ma non troppo e molto cantabile -- Andante moderato e lusinghiero -- Adagio -- Allegretto -- Adagio, ma non troppo e semplice -- Allegretto (14:17)
This massive theme and variations begins with a theme which speaks to simplicity itself. There is barely anything to it.
A long passionate section follows and transforms itself with dotted rhythms and a sweeping lick (a 16th and two 32nds) until concluding with a light flurry of 32nd notes leading right into a 4/4 march variation.
I escaped the public school system and spent my senior year of high
school at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, where I met
50% of the Brubeck kids – Kathy and Danny were both at the Academy and
Chris, who had just graduated. Danny and I became good friends.
Dave was visiting his kids and attended my Senior Recital on Thursday,
May 7, 1970. The first half of my graduation requirement consisted of
three “classical” works: a solo flute piece, a piano trio and a string
quartet. The second half consisted of three pieces I wrote for the jazz
band – or as it was called at IAA, “The Studio Orchestra.”
The last work on the programme – FINALE – consisted of a frenzied
accumulation of bebop jazz clichés and harmonies which gradually settled
down into a 5/4 groove in which I quoted the “Interlochen Theme.”
I met Dave Brubeck right after the recital. He asked me if he could look
at the scores, which I had created with my specially-nibbed ozalid pen,
black ink and my drafting tools – the way we notated music in the olden
days, ya know?
He seemed very impressed with my manuscripts, and asked me if I would
come to work for him that summer, and copy the score to his latest
orchestral work, TRUTH IS FALLEN (Atlantic Records, OOP, write your
congressman and tell him to release it on CD already!)
I had already made a commitment to work at Interlochen that summer, but
it ended in early August and he said that was fine with him.
I arrived at the mansion in Connecticut and we immediately went to work.
An early breakfast was always the highlight of the day. Iola, Danny,
nine-year-old Matthew and I listened to Dave’s incredible stories about
EVERYTHING – the early days on the road; his refusal to play in clubs
that would not admit blacks (one such story moved the entire breakfast
table to tears); Lena Horne; and his studies with Darius Milhaud, which
was particularly fascinating for me. [Months later, my studies at
Juilliard were interrupted when I was nearly killed by a drunk driver.
When I got out of the hospital and made my way back to New York, Dave
asked me to come visit. It was now the second semester and because I had
started in advanced classes (third-year theory, for instance), it would
not have made any sense for me to return to Juilliard at that time.
Dave picked up the phone and called Milhaud who suggested I go to France
to study. A few days later I was living in Paris, studying with Nadia
Then we went to work, walking down the ramp by the waterfall to the
sunken music room. Dave’s record collection – around 10,000, it seemed
to me – was stacked in high shelves above the pianos.
I sat at my drafting table while Dave sat at the piano and the process
began. I was constantly surprised and honored at Dave’s interaction with
me vis-à-vis my “classical” education – and I was consistently
encouraged to express ideas and concerns about orchestration,
particularly the problem of balancing a large symphony orchestra, chorus
and vocal soloists, with … a ROCK BAND! (New Heavenly Blue, Chris’s
band, which had recorded an LP for RCA Records.)
The human body is tuned to 4/4 time. We march, left-right, left-right. We sing:
(1) EENIE (2) MEENIE (3) MIENIE (4) MO
(1) CATCH A (2) TIGER (3) BY THE (4) TOE
(1) IF HE (2) HOLLERS (3) LET HIM (4) GO
(1) EENIE (2) MEENIE (3) MIENIE (4) MO (5) bang!
(1) CATCH A (2) TIGER (3) BY THE (4) TOE (5) plop!
(2) (1) IF HE HOLLERS (3) LET HIM (4) GO (5) crash!
You are now in 5/4!
Try putting the 5th beat in some other place within the phrase and you
alter the accents; and further, subdivide the beats into 10 units
instead of 5 (1/8th notes) and you can see how delicious you can make an
unusual rhythm sound!
On one of the most exciting days of my life, Dave and I were discussing
the meter of SEVEN, which is usually subdivided into either 3+4 or 4+3.
You set up the rhythm and the melody fits into either of those patterns.
I bravely and nervously invited him into my guest room where I had my
KLH record player set up – and put on Frank Zappa’s “Legend of the
Golden Arches” from UNCLE MEAT. Zappa’s 7 rolls over barlines, twisting
and turning over an ostinato which continually plays with 7/8 – 7/4
paradigm (making two bars of 7/8 into one bar of 7/4).
His nose wrinkled at the electric “noise” – but I could tell he was impressed!
That’s what pioneers do. Others follow and try to make sense out of the past.
Personally, in my own world, I hear nearly everything in SEVEN or NINE or ELEVEN (6/8 + 5/8) …