Anna Tonini Bossi
You will never find anyone like him: Haydn in love
If it was immediately clear that Prokofiev would become our warhorse, with the same clarity, from the very first rehearsals, we noticed how Haydn was bound to represent a more hard-core challenge. The father of the string quartet, strictly anchored to the magistral classical transparence of his compositions, had no intentions to get scratched by our attempts to shape his melodies in convincing and expressive phrasings: the general impression always sounded either banal (thus boring) or excessively artificial. Something seemed to prevent us from understanding the score fully, doing complete justice to it.
The problem was particularly evident in the second movement of Opus 20 number 4, Un poco adagio e affettuoso, in Theme-and-Variations form. What could we do in order not to tire the audience in that endless series of repetitions? How to add the ornaments tastefully, without suffocating the main line? And the sotto voce indication? How should it be interpreted and which colour were we supposed to create from our tone palette to represent it at best?
In short, good old Joseph had more than one reason to give us a hard time in this case, while we, poor fledgling quartet players, had to quickly find the key to solve the impasse, before the Rovereto competition, which by that time was just around the corner.
One day, practising the solo of the cello in the second variation, tired of working on technique without a clear idea of what I wanted to express, I let the music link naturally to my emotional state and I finally found the inspiration. At the rehearsals I told the ladies, knowing that Janela specifically would understand me at once.
It is necessary to clarify at this point in the story that Janela and I shared back then a stratospheric crush for a very talented, rather handsome musician. He was a mature man, dashing and cultivated (one may have said bordering on “nerd” type, which for us, lovesick girls, was only a sign of his eccentric artistic nature) and therefore he won over us as soon as we met him, becoming inexorably the watershed between two distinct periods in our lives: the “before him” and the “after him”. The problem? A little detail, not quite insignificant, to tell the truth: he was married.
Chiara, despite staying (like Michaela) somewhat indifferent to the charm of the fascinating heartbreaker, was the one who found the most appropriate definition for him: – He’s the king of phrasing –, she observed one day (being unable to deny his undoubtable musical gift) and since then we called him this way among us.
End of the introduction.
Now, having made my discovery, I revealed it to my colleagues straight away.
– I know what to think about during my solo in the second variation: “He will never love you”. I’m going to write it on my part as well.
The exchange of glances that followed proved to be more eloquent than a thousand words!
Janela sighed looking at me in a significant way between compassion and self-pity, as if saying: “I know, sister, it’s unfair”.
The sceptical gaze coming from Chiara and Michaela, on the other hand, showed something more like: “here we go, it’s him again!”
However, once the first impression had passed, we all agreed on the fact that this new reading key marked Crazy Amai World could actually work. Thus, for example, if reconnected to our personal experience, the first variation, built like a dialogue between second violin and viola and less introspective than the rest of the piece, seemed to narrate something involving: it sounded like a conversation between two friends, worried for their unlucky comrades, stuck in some amorous delirium, disruptive and rather obsessive.
Then, of course, I doubt that Haydn ever had in mind this kind of girly chats when he wrote the piece, but that’s not the point. The beauty is to let the works of great composers (and of great artists in general) tell us something about our own lives, taking cold notes engraved on paper with a dusty quill and making them alive at the contact with their interpreters’ reality, even after centuries.
Therefore, thanks to the help of charming King of Phrasing, good old Joseph got less harsh and, little by little, the notorious so-called Affects (stylised emotions, described through standard musical procedures and rhetorical figures) started to unfold their mysteries.
How strong can an impossible love be! It will not loose its intensity, albeit merely whispered, exactly like the main theme, when it is reintroduced at the end, sotto voce: an intimate admission of feelings, a private acknowledgment made in the gloom, at the pale light of melancholic candles.
– You know what? – pointed out Janela after some time, – The real problem is that no one will ever be like him. This is what I’m gonna write on my part: you will never find anyone like him.
She was right, her analysis was more accurate. Bur what could I do? It’s because of my nineteenth-century soul, which often tends to a melodramatic approach.
Anyway, to be sure, I wrote both quotes down: Janela’s at the beginning of the movement, mine right before the cello solo.
If anyone at the competition had felt the curiosity to check our scores for whatever reason, I really don’t know what they would have thought of us!