#Classical365: 3 – Mozart String Quartet No.19 in C Major – ‘Dissonance’

This morning saw the first doubts creep in as I shuffled stiffly down the stairs and make for the kettle. Was I really going to listen to a classical music work every day during 2015 and blog about each one?  The thought disappointed me: I hadn’t expected the idea to get tarnished until the end part of next week.

As it happened, help was at hand. The marvellous classical music blogger and journo Jessica Duchen posted a video of the Ebène Quartet’s recording of Mozart’s ‘Dissonance’ Quartet, no.19.

I don’t naturally gravitate to string quartets, possibly because my default is always the large scale – usually romantic – symphony. But this was new, not something I had considered listening to and something which had come about as a result of coincidence, it seemed.

Listened to it at the gym. Yesterday I needed my Eurovision playlist to get me powering through a 30 minute ski, today, it’s Mozart. I’d wondered whether I might be able to do both – listen and ski. As it turned out one action made concentrating on the other not just easy but pleasurable too. One hand washes the other.

The opening of the first movement is jaw-dropping. I’ve never heard any music by Mozart quite so dark, full of foreboding and un-Mozart as the introduction. A sweet, playful melody follows which seems ‘more Mozart’ than the unsettling opening. The second movement – andante cantabile – makes me think of an operatic aria. Dripping with longing, the music hints at regret before almost petering out. The effect is heartbreaking.

And it’s then I reckon the music so far is even more surprising: we’ve gone from an attention-grabbing, dark opening, to a charming Mozartian first movement, before losing ourselves in something incredibly intimate and at times emotionally painful. It feels like we’re a long way from the start already.

The efficient third movement – the minuet and trio – provides light relief. It’s momentary though because the trio casts us back into something altogether tense and inexplicable – there’s no sense we’ve reached any kind of resolution … yet. That’s when I realise I’m lost in the music, marvelling at the composer’s ability at conjuring up a musical argument articulated across different movements of a work.

The final movement provides the resolution we crave. But I can’t quite put my finger on exactly which point that occurs. The end, obviously, but before then there must be a turning point – a point of no return when we realise – put crudely – everything’s going to be OK.

At the time of writing, I can’t tell you where that point is. It creeps up on me as I listen to it. At times the resolution is hinted at but never completely arrived at because the composer pulls us back just in the nick of time, allowing another stab at the main theme.

It is as though the music – played by just four musicians – is conjuring up a feel through a musical argument consisting of harmonic progressions and key changes which move at such an alarming rate that I can only keep up with how I’m feeling as I listen.

The music runs out as I’m doing the second set of leg presses. I carry on through the bicep curls and much-needed lower back stretches with my ear-plugs in but not listening to anything.

Unfamiliar classical music presents a rather delicious puzzle to be worked out the first time you listen to it. It will always yield more on repeat listens. I love it for that.

I was listening to the Ebène Quartet’s recording of Mozart’s String Quartet No.19 in C Major – ‘Dissonance’ on Spotify.

 If you’ve got a suggestion for a work for me to listen to, leave a comment below or tweet me @thoroughlygood.