Thursday, October 10, 2019

Listening to Beethoven String Quartets "einmal anders" with Animated Graphical Scores

Go ahead and watch before you read further:

I have enjoyed Stephen Malinowski's animated graphical scores ever since they first appeared on YouTube. I used them in my music appreciation classes to help students who didn't read music follow the scores of pieces we were studying. I imagine there isn't a reader here who hasn't come across one of Malinowski's animations in these musical internets. It's hard to imagine the amount of thought and time and work and love that he has put into this project.

This Beethoven String Quartet project is a collaboration with the San Francisco-based Alexander String Quartet. He used the Beethoven cycle they recorded for Arte Nova in 2010.

During my decades (!) of being a CD reviewer, I combed through at least a dozen sets of Beethoven Quartets with score in hand. My task was to evaluate the playing and the quality of the recordings and write about the differences between this or that interpretation. Sometimes those differences are difficult to put into words, and sometimes those differences are extremely difficult to put into words. From what I have heard so far (and I'll be listening one quartet at a time, just like you) the recordings are expertly balanced (am I just hearing the viola in this movement from Opus 18 no. 2 more because I can see it--"dressed" in green--or has the engineer brought up the level on that voice when it should be heard?). The playing is excellent, and the interpretation seems to be more equally-voiced than those first-violin-dominant recordings of yore when microphones and mixing boards were far less sophisticated.

Through his work as a composer, as a person fascinated by graphical representation of music (which many of us did by hand with graph paper before we had computers), and as a pioneer in applied computer graphics, Malinowski has found a direct way to explain the way pieces of music work from the inside, and in real time, so that people without any musical background can have a more complete sensory experience with these quartets than they would listening to a recording on its own.

For those of us who get non-computer-aided stimulation from reading scores, I can say that what Malinowski has represented graphically with color, light, and shape, is right on the money. Or non money, because he distributes it for free.

He writes about his methods here.
You can find the complete Beethoven Cycle (on YouTube) here.
And you can follow links from this page that show the history of Malinowski's work and the tools he uses (and has used over the years) to do it.

If you want some more guidance, you can go to my 2010 post about listening to Beethoven String Quartets.

I just learned that Malinowski has just started working on animations of the Haydn Opus 20 Quartets. Coincidentally my Haydn Quartet Project quartet (playing through all the Haydn Quartets in order with a group of quartet novices--people who have never played in a string quartet before) is finishing up Opus 17 and embarking on Opus 20 soon.

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