Bela Bartok String Quartets 1-6 Or What Is Happening To The Enamel On My Teeth?

First, I should say that my interaction with any type of classical music began and ended when I was in the third grade. At that time I was taking a music class (yes, this was back in the day when schools had art type classes) and my teacher allowed me to bring home Flight of the Bumble Bee (can't remember the composer) and 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky).

My father hated it. I was in the living room listening to the music on the huge 70s style record player that doubled for a small cabinet (this was long before boomboxes, walkmans, and ipods even head phones weren't popular yet) and he was in the kitchen complaining to my mother about it.

(My parents were very particular about the music I listened to. My mother would often cross off songs on albums I wasn't allowed to listen to because she felt they were inappropriate, like the song by Peaches ‘n' Herb "Shake Your Groove Thing", that's not a joke.)

After that, the only classical music I heard was what was the most popular in the culture; Beethoven's 5th Overture and Moonlight Sonata, Four Seasons, Rock Me Amadeus and the like. I had read a very glowing review of Bartok's Quartets a while ago (then wikipediad him) and just recently found an inexpensive CD of a new recording of them so I figured, what the heck, expand my musical palate so to speak.

Well, during my first listening I am fearing the enamel on my teeth will begin to crack. Did someone record a protracted cat killing? What's the subtitle of these quartets: Music To Commit Murder By? Music To Go Postal By? Just Slit Your Own Throat And Get It Over With?

I'm not one to give up on music after one listen. Usually I will give it a second go. Sometimes I like it better but not enough to keep (in which case the music gets passed on to a friend). Sometimes I am surprised and actually like it much more than I did the first time. And then there are the times where I hate it even more than the first time.

Last evening I had my second date with Bartok. I have no idea what Bartok was trying to convey in these quartets (at the time of the writing of the first he was infatuated with a music student and at the time of the writing of the sixth his mother was dying but I have no idea if either of these events were what he was trying to put into his music) and I've deliberately not reread the review (or wikipedia entry) that introduced me to them.

I still heard the shadows of psychos on shower curtains. I also began to hear a deeper, hungrier current, I heard hints of Jaws. Echoes of every written and musical version of the longing and insane torment of The Phantom Of The Opera. The "oh woe is me" hand to forehead damsels in distress of silent films. Villains at their Edgar Allan Poe/Vincent Price best. The tip toeing of Bugs and Elmer ("Kill the wabbit with my magic helmet!"). I even heard moments from the new Asian visual stunning mythos movies (Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower).

It still sounded like slightly "off" music played by a crazy man walking a crooked path. There seemed to be some humor in the homicide as well as some depth in the darkness. I wonder if the composers of scarred would be lovers and children's cartoons deliberately put in bits of flesh from the body of this work into theirs. Or maybe it played in the background as authors wrote their novels of underwater terror and scripts of gravity defying martial artists.

I can't say that I like the quartets, at least not yet. Maybe I never will. I am, however, upon second listening, becoming fascinated by them, and that's definitely worth a third date.

August 1, 2008

Bartok Comes To Sin City 1/2
Bartok Comes To Sin City 2/2

Bela Bartok, Wikipedia entry
Bartok: String Quartets 1-6 performed by Belcea Quartet

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