In the fourth episode of Opus 3 of The Counterpoint Club, Let Them Eat Cake, we discuss balancing sound in a chamber ensemble (and there may be a few layer cake analogies involved!). In the history lesson, Willie explores the story of egalitarianism amongst the roles of a chamber ensemble, and how that has developed over the eras of chamber music history. In the technique portion, Justin looks at how to conceptualize the layering of sound in a string quartet. In this episode, we finish the third and final installment of our round table interview with our special guests, the Lafayette String Quartet, who are based in Canada and are in residence at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. In the latest Skyros Chat, Sarah and Willie recommend books inspired by classical music.
In the history segment, Willie discusses the hierarchy of voices in an ensemble and how these roles changed and evolved across different eras. Here is an example of a sonata da camera, featuring two violin soloists and basso continuo; in this instance the basso continuo is played by the harpsichord and viola da gamba. Notice how the viola da gamba plays only bass lines, which are mirrored in the harpsichord while the violins play all the melodies.
If you had trouble picking out the parallel harpsichord/viola da gamba bass line, try following along with the score in this video. In this example, you can also see the figured bass symbols the keyboardist uses to improvise and flesh out chords on top of the bass line.
Here is one of Haydn’s earliest string quartets. As you listen, think about how often the melodies are played by each instrument, who gets the fastest subdivisions, and if/when and how these roles change throughout each movement.
One more example from Haydn: the fugal finale from his String Quartet Op. 20, No. 5. This animated graphic score makes it very easy to follow each voice. You can see how each part is relatively equal in terms of complexity, number of notes, and melodies passing around. The parts are truly conversing with each other!
Mozart’s Prussian Quartets were written for and dedicated to Prince Frederick William II of Prussia, an accomplished cellist who later became king. This video will begin with the second movement, which has beautiful soaring melodies that pass around between each instrument. The whole quartet is worth a listen if you’ve got the time!
And finally the last example Willie discusses, Shostakovich’s third string quartet, performed here by your hosts, the Skyros Quartet. At the 1:55 mark in this video, there is an incredible viola solo that sends Justin into the top range of his fingerboard!
In the technique segment, Justin discusses how to create a well-blended group sound. Using the layer cake as a visual aid, the elements that comprise a well-balanced sound between the group members is considered through the lens of roles and voices. These voices are: the lower voice (bass), inner voice (tenor, alto) and upper voice (soprano). Download the worksheet to see a visual representation of the layer cake.
We have the third and final segment of the round table talk between the Skyros Quartet and the Lafayette String Quartet. Episode 4 features questions from Justin.
See the Episode 2 blog post for more information about the Lafayette String Quartet.
Book recommendation from Sarah:
The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.
Book recommendation from Willie:
Do you have a favorite book inspired by or about classical music? Please share it with us in the comments!