Friday, July 29, 2011

Come Together

This is one of my favorite John Lennon songs. Here is a version of it I just discovered:

Now I know what you are going to say: "hey, they are just doing to The Beatles what Kronos already did to Jimi Hendix--and in much the same way!" Well, yeah. But that doesn't mean it isn't interesting/fun/a treat. They have some nice twists on the harmony and a lot of great colors. Here's my sense of it: one thing we learn from the rash of unusual transcriptions for string quartet is that there is some real creativity going on in the string quartet world these days. While the big orchestras seem like aging Titanics, unable to avoid the icebergs of bankruptcy, the nimble chamber music groups stay afloat and make some fine music in the process.

Another thing is that the string quartet medium, one beloved by composers for the last 200 years, is an astonishingly malleable and expressive one. It is amazing how many colors are available. But at the same time, the fundamental unity of the ensemble--all bowed strings (but with the plucking option)--makes for a satisfying effect. There is always something awkward and raucous about wind chamber music. My apologies to wind players, just my humble opinion. See what I mean:

One small critical observation: the underlying problem of all these transcriptions is twofold: the originals are songs. With words. That change with every verse. All the string quartet can do is keep repeating the basic idea with whatever variations they can come up with--hence the nifty harmonies. Second, especially with The Beatles, the composition is partly the way it was constructed in the studio. This quartet makes a valiant attempt to capture some of the feeling of the drumming in the song. But they just can't. Here's the original, in case you haven't heard it in a while:

You can't tell me that the words, the way Lennon sings them, and the production generally, isn't pretty crucial. But just because this is the definitive version doesn't mean we can't cheer on some creative takes on it by, among others, string quartets. OK, now have a look/listen at this:

Wow, that's pretty amazing. Ok, some of the string-bending doesn't quite happen and the ending isn't quite right, but what a great job of capturing the percussion part! Ebene Quartet? Better check this out! I've been trying to make an arrangement for voice and classical guitar of "And I Love Her" (because George plays the solos on a Ramirez classical guitar on the recording) and this will undoubtedly inspire me.

And I really want to write a string quartet...

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