Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hearing Support

How often do we take support for granted?

The Lento of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 7 Op. 108 is powered by support from the second violin--the only part within the quartet that never gets to voice the long arcing melodies within this movement.

The muted second violin plays arpeggios in an ostinato as the music begins--bleak and foreboding:
The first violin voices a haunted tune, but do not be distracted--stay focused on the music played by the second violin. Suddenly the accompaniment breaks free [0:16], floating for three beats before locking back in pattern.

The haunted tune starts over [0:20] but the second violin breaks away more radically; launching into figuration that tickles, winding ever higher in unpredictable patterns that never break the steady rhythm. It articulates joyous support both spontaneous and lasting.

The cello and viola enter quietly with a ghostly glissando in fifths [0:37].

At [0:49] the ostinato in second violin is restored. The cello voices a variant of the opening tune with the viola taking over mid-phrase [1:11].

The support becomes compressed and does not voice the ecstasy that it dialed before. The second violin sinks to C-sharp and becomes at heartbeat at [1:34]. Hard to repress; the pitch of pulsing changes [2:14] and becomes more gradually expressive, voicing tritones [2:27] and climbing in register [2:43].

Suddenly, the pitch of the second violin falls to D [2:47] and remains motionless; sustaining. Then nothing [3:01]. The second violin part is silent, is missing, during the nine measures that close the movement. In the thick texture of closing, absence is hard to hear.

The second violin part expresses a symbolic concern. Do we perceive support? Do we notice when it is expressive? Do we notice as it dies away and is silenced?

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