Report of Eliot String Quartet workshop
Music exists by virtue of social interaction through technological mediation. When you hear music, you hear not just the sound of musical structures, but the sound of human beings’ social and creative interaction.
The string quartet has been emblematic of this idea; often described as a conversation, string quartets enact the close collaboration between a small group of individuals, each making an equally important contribution to the unfolding music.
The Eliot String Quartet is specialized in the historical performance of classical and early romantic repertoire. They came to Parnassos on 24 May 2017 to give a performance seminar to students from the UU Musicology course. They played repertoire that is usually associated with the end of this way of thinking about string quartets. Beethoven’s late string quartets were the first string quartets to be published as a score rather than in parts. With parts, the complete piece only emerges in performance; as a score, all the musical lines are aligned and presented as a whole to the reader. For performers, this had no functionality: the only purpose was to be able to read the music, silently, to study it, not as a prompt for interaction but as a Work of Art.
Or at least, that’s how the story is usually told. Of course performers have still always played from different editions of published parts, and Beethoven had to be highly aware of such interactional dynamics in preparing the performance markings of his pieces.
Second violinist Rachel Hodgson, who is a PhD student at Kings College, Cambridge, talked about her research on the early performance history of the late quartets, and how such knowledge might help contemporary performers.
The quartet performed different movements from different editions, discussing how the various lay-outs, markings and materials of these editions structured the social and musical relations between each other, their instruments, and Beethoven as author. They had asked the audience to come and sit around them, so they could see what the musicians were doing.
Through close interaction with the musicians, students of the musicology programme learned about the relevance of historical knowledge for performers of classical music. More importantly, the event showcased the contributions that the practical expertise of musicians can make to musicological knowledge. By performing and discussing their relation to the different editions, the musicians made clear how musicological knowledge can inspire new ways of performing familiar repertoire, and how new performances may inspire new ways of understanding the music.
The Eliot Quartet consists of
Rebecca Huber, violin (artistic director and concert master of Symphonie Atlantique; teacher at Koninklijk Conservatorium, Den Haag)
Rachel Stroud, violin (co-founder of Symphonie Atlantique; PhD candidate at King’s College, University of Cambridge)
Samuel Kennedy, viola (Symphonie Atlantique)
Shuhei Takazawa, cello (MA student of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, replacing Rebecca Rosen)