I've been on a microtonalist kick in the last year or three. I've blogged relatively in passing bout Ben Johnston's string quartets, which started off pretty good in quartets 1 through 3 and went to fantastic from 4 to 10. For the first two thirds of the 20th century literature I'm an admirer of Bartok and Shostakovich first and foremost, and then I dig string quartets by Hindemith and Villa-Lobos as sort of the second-order string quartet awesome. But ...
I've been listening to the Haba quartets lately and they intrigue me. I still don't have any plans to be a microtonal composer myself but I find a lot of beauty in a selection of microtonal composition.
And the sheer size of the microtonal repertoire is another reminder why I couldn't even begin to buy a number of Andrew Durkin's probably well-intentioned but ultimately lazy canards about the fuzziness of Western musical notation. Sure, everyone knows it has limits, but when composers can write more than a dozen string quartets after breaking out of the constraint of the equal-tempered chromatic scale and those quartets can get recorded a few times (the composer who's the subject of this post) breezy claims that Western notation is kind of vague or imprecise seems itself a vague and imprecise claim.
Bruce Haynes has a book wherein he says earlier music theorists would say that a musical score is to music as a recipe is to a culinary experience. You don't eat the recipe, you use the recipe to cook something delicious.
Which is another opportunity to suggest that a lot of battles in musicology seem to be over the legacy of German idealism ... and maybe not even the legacy of German idealism across the board (because it's a mind-bendingly large range of literature) but the prosaic and provincial applications of those ideas and associated literary and artistic canons as mediated by Anglo-American scholars.
Or as Alex Ross suggested, there's a point at which we might want to ask whether the racism we see and hear in Wagner's operas is partly really there and yet even more a reflection of the racisms of our own time. Ross has a book about Wagnerism in the works and I'm curious to read it when it finally comes out.
But, as usual, I digress.
Well, let me digress some more. As bad as people may feel the German legacy is I don't think it holds a candle to the actual imperialism of the British empire or the United States. Germany was the nation that wasn't even a nation until relatively recently, quite a few years after even the United States emerged, let alone England. Germany was also the nation that lost both "world" wars 1 & 2. So ... in a way ... if we want to complain about cultural imperialism we might be better off complaining about British and American imperialism ... but that's perhaps my Native American side choosing to be an impudent sort for a moment.
Anyway ... hope you enjoy the string quartet and if not, well, no harm no foul.