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Mixed Company

Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

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May 18, 2005

There's no place like home...

For me, one line really stands out about this Saint Paul Sunday program with the Takŕcs Quartet, of which two members are Hungarian: right before playing the piece by Béla Bartók, a Hungarian composer, one of the musicians said that the melody really reminds him of home. At that moment, playing a movement from Bartók's String Quartet No. 6, he felt homesick for Hungary. It reminded me what personal meaning a piece of music can carry, even if it's something the composer never imagined. It also reminded me that being a professional musician is not easy.

When I tried to think of a piece of music that really reminded me of home, I realized I've never been out of the country long enough to be that homesick. I do remember, though, listening to Ravel's string quartet while I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed the woodwork in my first apartment. What piece of music, or even type of music, reminds you of home?

Posted by Suzanne Schaffer at May 18, 2005 09:13 AM



The Takacs Q is the only one of the world's great quartets that I have not heard live. It was wonderful to hear them in your studio. Just absolutely beautiful playing.

However, I have two comments. One of the members indicated that they recorded Beethoven's Op. 59
first because they wanted to make a "bold statment". The comment begged for a follow-up question: Bold? How? Their playing of Op. 95 fell well within the realm of how I've heard it played countless times.

Second, the micing (sp?) of the quartet made it sound as if they were playing in 55 gallon drum, particularly during the first piece. (Lots of echo.) Perhaps this could be avoided in the future.


John Niesyn
Fairfield, CT

By John Niesyn at May 22, 2005 10:09 PM


Hi John,

Thanks for the observations; we'll keep them in mind. How did Takacs make it on your list of "world's great quartets"? What are some of the qualifications?

By Suzanne Schaffer at May 23, 2005 11:08 AM


That's a very good question, and it really goes to the heart of music making--whether in jazz or classical playing.

What makes a great Q is much different from that which makes a great orchestra--the conditions of playing are so different, they outweigh the similarities.

What makes for a great quartet is not simply technical brilliance (though that's a requirement) but the melodic whole they create through the harmony of playing together. It's an amalgam similar to great poetry, but in this case four "poets" aim to speak in one voice.

Interpretaion, harmony, balance, and technical brilliance; these combined are the necessary elements in making a great quartet.

If technical brilliance alone were enough, then the Emerson Q would be the world's greatest existing Q. However, they lack a greater whole through deficits of harmony and (for lack of a better word) "touch".

My opinion is that the three greatest existing quartets are: the Borodin, the Guarneri, and the Tokyo.

The original Budapest Q gets my vote for the all time best.


By John Niesyn at May 23, 2005 02:15 PM



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