Free Associations

P1280110_edited-1Odds and ends are accumulating, so I thought I’d put them in a post. (If there’s a trail to follow here, it’s only to follow where my mind is prone to wander, so beware, all ye who enter here.)

In the Great Composers Society this month,  we are set to listen to two string quintets: Schubert’s String Quintet in C, D956, and Brahms’s String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111. Fool that I am, I decided this was a good opportunity to find out how the string quartet “morphed” into a quintet, and who first chose a second cello as the fifth instrument. This took hours of surfing, to negligible effect, though I quickly learned that Boccherini wrote a slew of them. La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid captured my imagination for reasons it’s beyond me to explain.

Thinking about the origins of the string quintet led me back to thinking about string quartets, which in turn led me back to the stack of absolutely brilliant Pacifica Quartet CDs I’ve been listening to in bits.   Whenever I put on one of the Pacifica Quartet CDs I become enthralled with something—most recently Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 12.

Amongst all this, while following the Habsburg clan through all their bewildering battles, I landed here:

. . . Haydn churned out a simply baffling, almost frightening, amount of music to order. A friend once gave me a boxed set of every one of Haydn’s symphonies and even these are unmanageable—like a nightmare where you are trying to cram into your mouth a sandwich the size of a dinner table. I have now spent years trying to take these pieces in, some four hundred movements of music, and it cannot be done. People have done their best to help—they have numbered and ordered them and some have jaunty nicknames (‘the Clock’, ‘the Hen’, ‘Hornsignal’, ‘la Chasse’) but the sheer scale defeats even these well-meaning efforts. Some of the symphonies are in practice quite boring and reek of loveless background music for the aristocratic soirées of yesteryear, with brocaded people who have not washed for quite a while kissing hands, fluttering fans and peering through quizzing-glasses. You can hit a really rough patch where you suddenly feel you have overdosed on lavender-flavoured comfits. But it is always worth persevering as something will turn up . . . [Simon Winder, Danubia 280-281]

I know how he feels, though I have much less reason . . .

Thus do trains of thought go speeding by. In a Quixotic effort to catch up, I’ll be offline for a bit. I look forward to catching up with one and all on my return. And speaking of trains, here’s the Hudson, seen through the window of the train from Poughkeepsie en route to New York City.

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Listening List

For a list on Spotify, click here.

On YouTube:

La Musica Notturna delle Strade di Madrid

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 12

Credits: Danubia may be found at the link given in the post; the quotation is from the page numbers cited.

11 thoughts on “Free Associations

  1. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Dear Sue,
    to feel as you do is very understandable (I told husband yesterday: I have the feeling I should go on a data-fast; best in a cloister in Bavaria). So: enjoy your “free-time”, take it to center yourself (for me that only works for the time “off-line”). Sometimes I feel we are offered ‘too much’, feel we should see/read/hear too much, and think that we miss something if we don’t run. More in the city (which I love) than in rural country. I wait patiently till your return – and think about the “you” in “take your time”. Britta

  2. David N

    Ah, the wonders of Winder – I’m so glad you took the bait, and thank you for reminding me of one out of hundreds of unique passages. I am such a slavish follower of our intrepid Simon that since he declared Philip Roth his favourite author I have buried myself in American Idyll, so obviously a masterpiece from the first chapter.

    How I would love to have seen ice floes in a river this year. Yet despite the freezes in Reykjavik and Oslo it was not to be. Spring is on the way here in Bordeaux, despite (or maybe even because of) the heavy showers between the sunshine.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: So, you travel from Danubia to one Roth, and I to another (Joseph)! I’d read The Radetzky March, but didn’t know there was a “sequel” of sorts in The Emperor’s Tomb. Wonderful book. (I actually went to the bookstore with a list culled from the book, though what happened, as it had when I did this with Magris, was that almost none of the authors, let alone specific books, were available. Off to try again today, along with a stop at the second-hand CD store to see if I can find Mikrokosmos.)

  3. newleafsite

    Sue, such a lovely amble! The veiled Dante reference is certainly inappropriate to this piece. Your investigation is both sequential enough to be cohesive and open enough to encourage further exploring: an invitation I gladly accept!

    Fellow readers may recognize where the “associations” began for me: the post where you wrote about the Schubert String Quintet in C, D956, combined with Tomas Tranströmer’s poem “Schubertiana” ( I am enjoying the way the quintet, like the river in your excellent photos, has meandered: over to Great Composers Society, where it is paired with the Brahms; and now traveled here, where you have enriched it with Shostakovich and Boccherini. Though the original subject has roved around the posts, you have developed it with careful selection, well beyond the notion of free associating.

    Hoping that during your hiatus you have an afterthought to add to this beautiful flow! I’m always so curious to find where you will wander next.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Elizabeth: Kinds words from you as always! It is and has been refreshing simply to listen and read offline–and to be back in the out-of-doors. Not sure what will bubble up or when, but something is bound to arise in time.

  4. shoreacres

    Wonderful photos in your slide show, particularly two of the bridges. And why the “100” at Grand Central? It must be left over from last year’s anniversary celebration.

    I enjoyed the Boccherini, too. I’ve listened twice now. It’s cold, and wet, and I’ve been forced inside, so I’m doing my own catching up and taking in some of your listening suggestions I often don’t take time for. It’s good work you do here, and much appreciated!

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: I enjoyed taking those photos–and I decided that the “patina” on the train windows added something atmospheric . . . though others might just say it was dirt! I took those photos on the trip to NYC the morning after Seeger died, so there’s a special resonance there, too. As for the 100, I think that’s got to be it–well, after all, we’re not into March yet, so what’s the hurry . . . So glad you enjoyed that Boccherini, and thanks for the kind words. It’s relaxing to be offline, though I do miss my friends, so nice to see you here–and of course I shall return in a while, over your way, too, where I know there is a grand new post up!

  5. Steve Schwartzman

    Here’s my free association: your pictures of the Hudson remind me of the train sequence in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest.” And with that train sequence the association will have to end, because you’ve told us of your choice not to Rush More for the time being.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Steve: Yay! I love your free association. As for not Rush[ing] More, I continue in my slo-mode for a while more yet, but please know that has not stopped me from enjoying the marvelous photographs that appear in my feedreader from your site!

      1. Steve Schwartzman

        Happy slo-mode and happy viewing.

        By coincidence, last night on television I saw a feature about Eva Marie Saint (now 89 years old!), who, along with Cary Grant, made that train sequence in North by Northwest so memorable (and who near the end of the film dangled from Mt. Rushmore).

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