Moved by beauty
Why are people fascinated by a painting, why do they continue to recite the
same lines of poetry and why am I always moved to tears by Zemlinsky's Second
String Quartet (especially when it is played by the Schoenberg Quartet)? In an
essay accompanying Tolstoy's short story The Death of Ivan Ilyich, August Willemsen
asks himself how we can be so moved by the beauty of art. His answer is thought-provoking:
"Whenever we shed tears over beauty, we are, in fact, mourning our death."
When confronted with their mortality, humans try to make themselves immortal.
These attempts are either doomed to fail or merely postpone the inevitable. Art
lives longer and thus mimics the appearance of immortality. The interpretations
of the Schoenberg Quartet move us because they confront us with the short amount
of time that we have been allotted.
Over the last years, the Schoenberg Quartet has regaled me with the musical
opulence of Wittgenstein's Vienna. As a child, I knew beyond a doubt that I would
never listen to string quartets and that I would never find anything more beautiful
than Peer Gynt and Swan Lake. Subsequently, however, my conviction wavered and
I gave string quartets a chance. It was easy for me to get to know and to learn
to love the chamber music of Schoenberg and his contemporaries. Unhindered by
any knowledge about music, I have no qualms about saying that the Schoenberg Quartet
knows how to combine passion and professionalism with Viennese Romanticism and
unruliness. How lucky I am to be a friend of these four string players!
Carol van Nijnatten
Chair, Foundation for the Friends of the Schoenberg Quartet