WORKS: String Quartet; Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H; Six Studies for String Quartet; String Quartet; Two Pieces for String Quartet
PERFORMER: Leipzig String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 999 341-2
Like Nietzsche, the philosopher Theodor Adorno harboured serious ambitions to be a composer. Much venerated for his seminal writings on music, Adorno became a devoted pupil of Alban Berg during the Twenties, yet until very recently his compositional output has received surprisingly little attention.
Clearly a figure of such importance doesn’t deserve this level of neglect, but I must confess that my initial impressions on hearing these three early quartet works for the first time were somewhat mixed. There’s little doubt that Adorno was capable of sustaining a musical argument and creating a clearly defined emotional mood. But in the freely atonal Six Studies, and the 1921 String Quartet, the progression of ideas is too four-square and predictable really to grip one’s imagination. On the other hand, the Two Pieces, composed under Berg’s tutelage using serial technique, mark an astonishing advance. Still, it’s a moot point whether Adorno would have attained the same degree of mastery as Hanns Eisler, had he chosen to concentrate all his energies upon composition. As it is, I feel Eisler’s highly charged two-movement Quartet of 1938, which also employs serial technique, offers far greater musical substance than anything by Adorno, but perhaps listeners ought to judge for themselves by hearing this fascinating and outstandingly performed programme. Erik Levi