A Cunning Blog

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Music and Memory


This is meant to be a review of the Jerusalem Quartet’s second Sydney concert, which I went to yesterday afternoon. It’s meant to be a well-informed, insightful response to a live performance. But it’s not going to be. You see, I particularly chose to come to this concert because of the repertoire, Haydn’s The Lark and Beethoven’s first Razumovsky. (If that makes you glaze over, leave now. This is a string-y post).

A few thousand years ago I spent four years at Edinburgh University, supposedly studying Latin but actually drinking beer and playing string quartets.


Not sure, but this looks like the Pear Tree, scene of many an afternoon which should have been spent studying in the library.

The Patten Quartet was a motley crew — an economist, a linguist, a chemist and a medic. Our leader, Andrew, was a bit of a genius on the violin. I’m sure he worked very hard at it, but it seemed effortless. Haydn, with all his twiddly bits, was right up his street, and The Lark was a favourite. I just have to hear that dry, chippy opening and I’m already salivating at the thought of the melody about to come soaring over the top. And the final movement, the moto perpetuo… The second violin has an entry mid-bar, and it’s like jumping onto a moving train. As I listen to the Jerusalems I get flashbacks of me stamping my feet, shouting “Stop, stop, I missed it…” Needless to say, the Jerusalems don’t miss the train. They’re on it, speeding away, with a shared internal rhythm that makes four one.

We — the Pattens, I mean — picked up the Razumovksy after a successful tussle with Mozart’s Dissonance. We were eager for a new challenge but, honestly, it was like walking into a new world. I’ve still got cryptic notes scribbled in pencil on my part, from when I tried to write down my colleagues’ reactions to our first play through. (No, sorry, I can’t make sense of them…) All I remember is that it felt like a huge privilege to be playing something so, well, significant. A privilege, and a responsibility. (I also remember getting drunk and dancing maniacally to the second movement in the early hours of the morning as the sun came up over the Mound, but that’s another story). It was fascinating to read, in Jessica Duchen’s interview with the Jerusalem Quartet, that they are only now coming to this quartet for the first time. No drunken dancing and fudged notes for them. It is in good hands.

Ross Edwards’ third String Quartet, Summer Dances, was only written in 2012, so no Edinburgh flashbacks here, but a bevy of sonic images, from snapping twigs, cicada drones and bird song through to a clear but accidental Sephardic tang in the opening movement. How come I picked that up? Was it transmitted via the memories of the quartet? Memory and music make strange magic together. Which is why I can’t pretend to be reviewing yesterday’s concert because, while I heard it, I was somewhere else, listening to temps perdus. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Much gratitude, then, to the Jerusalems, to Musica Viva, and to Haydn and Beethoven.

(By the way, there’s one more concert, in Melbourne, on Tuesday, and the concert’s going to be broadcast on ABC Classic FM next Sunday. Well worth a listen.)





  1. Lovely review with insightful comments and reminiscences. Music always does bring back memories and places visited in the past. I can’t hear the Soldier’s Tale without remembering hearing it for the first time with Stravinsky sitting across the aisle from me. I was all of fifteen and it was mind blowing.

  2. Pingback: A sort of memoir | A Cunning Blog

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