Beethoven For a Later Age by Edward Dusinberre


The University of Chicago Press, 2016

The Takacs Quartet was founded in 1975 by four talented Hungarian students of the Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest – first violinist Gabor Takacs-Nagy, second violinist Karoly Schranz, violist Gabor Ormai and cellist Andras Fejer. Through the years, a few of its members have come and gone but Karoly and Andras remain in collaboration with violist Geraldine Walther and first violinist Edward Dusinberre, the books author.

This is a must read for players who take their chamber music seriously, as there is much detailed information about the book’s focal point: Beethoven’s sixteen string quartets plus the Grosse Fuge Op. 133, the original final movement of Op. 130. This composer’s middle and late quartets often seem to confound listeners and musicians with technical and aesthetic difficulties that elicit words such as exciting, inspirational and incomprehensible. Dusinberre offers unpretentious reflections about how he went from Dorothy DeLay’s class at The Juilliard School to a successful audition with Takacs members in 1993. His engaging and direct style relate nearly twenty-five years of experiences that range from concert tours and rehearsals to recording sessions and instrument swapping, prompting his comment, “Playing it safe didn’t seem to form any part of the Takacs’ musical philosophy.”

Each chapter is chock full of tips about the study and performance of these quartets by group members and notable string players such as Denes Koromzay, violist of the famed Hungarian Quartet. Dusinberre’s comments on interpretation, bowing speed, sound blending, phrasing and metric inflections are interspersed with historical snippets about Beethoven’s Vienna encounters with Haydn, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, benefactors like Prince Lichnowsky, Prince Razumovsky and the violinist Felix Radicati who the author writes “was bold enough to describe the new quartets {the Op. 59 that were commissioned by Razumovsky} in the composer’s presence as ‘not music.’ Beethoven retorted, ‘Oh, they are not for you, they are for a later age!’”

The Takacs received a Grammy award for their insightful recordings of Beethoven’s complete string quartets on the Decca label and critical acclaim for a discography that includes string quartets of Bartok and Brahms. In addition to a strenuous concert schedule, they are in residence at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Dusinberre offers a summation of life as an ensemble player; “The basis of a string quartet is the work that four people do together over a long period of time, the empathy that we develop both personally and musically, and the bonds that are formed from shared experiences and challenges.” This book is a tribute to their staying power as one of the preeminent string quartets.