Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Church of the Schubert C-Major Quintet

Here's something I'm not going to be disputing any time soon:
It is my belief -- a belief undimmed by its obvious foolishness -- that this is the single greatest piece of music ever written, by anyone, ever.
That's Joshua Kosman, in the comments to a posting on The Standing Room. At the point when I first read his comment, I had not yet heard the quintet. When I did, I fell over. No, not really, but close enough.

Yes, I guess it is foolish to deem any particular work the single greatest piece of music ever written, by anyone, ever....but I challenge you to hear the Schubert Quintet live, in any reasonably competent performance, and not reach the same conclusion. Me, I've been lucky enough to hear two much-better-than-competent live performances.

Tristan und Isolde! you say. And so do I, at least after seeing it performed. But the Schubert...transcendence in forty-five minutes. Truly, there is nothing better.


Anonymous said...

Fifteen years ago, I might have agreed with this.

The last time I heard this though, my reaction amounted to just a shrug. I'll listen again in fifteen years, just in case.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

the Beethoven String Quartet in A minor, op. 132?

or, sure, Tristan

not that I didn't love the quintet, though it was really more of a septet in my seat, what with the constantly crinkling plastic bag behind me and the woman to my right alternating loud coughs with loud cough drop unwrapping

Empiricus said...

I was relatively youthful when I first heard/recorded this doozy--with some pretty awesome players if I may add. After all these years, I still say it's the loudest string quintet I've ever heard. It rocks.

Philip Amos said...

It is a glorious work, I agree. On the matter of 'the greatest piece of music' -- and with the understanding that this question is so daft one can only approach it as matter of fun and idle curiosity -- I have wondered what would emerge if one put the question to, say, 100 professional musicians of eminence, with the condition that they should not confine their musing to their own instrument. One hundred different works is entirely possible, but my suspicion is that if one work did come out ahead it would be the Chaconne from the second of Bach's unaccompanied violin partitas. I just wonder -- such surveys are almost always much skewed in any case by the inability of people not to confuse 'greatest' and 'favourite'.

Anonymous said...

Are we starting a list for all-time best piece of music?

St. John Passion by J.S. Bach

Anonymous said...

"The Marriage of Figaro."

Anonymous said...

Brahms Clarinet Quintet. But I want one of those roomy desert islands, with plenty of hard drive space or CD shelving.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Paul, I didn't intend to start a list of candidates, but sure. It's entertaining to see what people think. Let's just say that I don't think it's anything any of us can prove. :)

Robert, what do you think changed, to make you just shrug over the Schubert?

Tim, my contenders for greatest opera are Tristan, Nozze, Poppea, and Falstaff. My problem right now is having heard Nozze enough times in the last decade to need to give it a break.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, we agree on three of your four best operas. My top four would be Tristan, Nozze, Falstaff, and Troyens. And I too could give Nozze a rest, even though I admire it the most. I've seen Troyens four times (3 in New York, once in LA), and I'd consider myself lucky to see it again ever.

My candidates for greatest piece of all time are the Schubert, Beethoven Opus 131, Mozart g minor quintet, and, uh, the Matthew Passion.

A useless exercise, I suppose, but fun.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sure, I could stand to give "Nozze" a rest as well, but I could probably stand to hear it 30 more times before I die, as long as the casts were decent. (As opposed to "La boheme," which I hope never to hear again. Fat chance.) My four favorite operas would be, roughly, "Nozze," "Falstaff," "Peter Grimes" and "Troyens." Though "Tales of Hoffmann" might be in there too.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I am lucky enough to have heard "Boheme" fewer times than Nozze - so I am not sick of it yet.

Apparently we're getting Nozze in the 2010-11 season; Opera Tattler found information about who was signed to play Figaro.

I have never seen "Troyens," weep, gnash.