Trying Something New

 

Last Friday we enjoyed a marvelous concert of music by Beethoven and Brahms. They’re
famous. Just say the name and everyone knows of whom we are speaking.

History is full of talented composers who have produced glorious music, but most are completely
unknown. I adore the guitar music of François de Fossa. Have you ever heard of him? The
symphonies of Mary Alice Smith have held me endlessly fascinated. Who is she?

It is a mere handful that have come to hold iconic status, whose names are instantly recognizable.
How did they, among all the brilliant musicians, find an honored place in history while many,
many others slipped unfairly into obscurity? Occasionally it is mere chance that shines upon one
and turns away from another. Sometimes their achievements are so monumental that they stand
head and shoulders above everyone else. But music history shows that one of the most reliable
predictors of legendary rank is innovation.

It is the composer who charted a new path who is honoured above his peers. The story of the one
who ventured down an untrodden road, outraged his contemporary audience and then found
himself lauded in the end as a visionary is remarkably common.

Beethoven was an innovator. His String Quartet No. 1, played so beautifully by Vetta Chamber
Music, was merely one example of this. He worked in the shadow of Josef Haydn, the Father of
the String Quartet. Two years passed before Beethoven was satisfied that he had sufficiently
learned the craft of writing string quartets to allow this work out into the public. By the end of
his life, he had produced what many hold to be the pinnacle of string quartet writing, his last five
quartets.

The clarinet quintet which Jose Franch-Ballester played so brilliantly along with the Vetta String
Quartet is another example. The elder Brahms, who retired from composing at the venerable age
of 57, was captured by a virtuosic performance on an instrument he had until then sneered at. He
tried something new, and we now have four glorious works for the clarinet to enjoy.
The next concert for The Valley Concert Society on Thursday, October 18, at 7:30 p.m. is again
a performance of musicians trying something new. Who has ever heard of an ensemble
consisting of piano, accordion, cello and percussion? Ladom Ensemble is putting that before an
audience because—why not?

They’ll play Bach and Radiohead in the same program. They’ll put Klezmer music and Chopin
side by side. If they play some Prokofiev, why not something from Romania too? And then they
might as well write their own music and play it too, because innovation can spark greatness.