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Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in…

Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony

by Arnold Steinhardt

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Of the biographies and autobiographies I have read on musicians, this memoir is my favorite.
The author bring in numerous topics outside just his life. This alone elevates the book above most. It is also very memorable from the numerous small stories and bits of history he has included.

On recurring topic throughout the book is how music should be played. Early in the quartets' life, the players would usually try to honor the exact way they felt the composer had meant the music to be played. On this they often debated from several viewpoints. Later, mentors suggested that they play the way they felt it should be played. This method also elicited debate during practice sessions because the different quartet members commonly had different opinions on how they individually like to play a piece. Later during the career of the quartet, the members got to know how the composer really wanted the music played and they often switched to playing that way. Like many other topics, this evolution of playing style was meshed with the evolution of their lifestyles and families.

There are no photos or illustrations between the book covers. This is a book on how the individual lives and playing styles changed with the quartets' own maturity.

Topics are brought up in the appropriate place in their playing history. The last part, "Death and the Maiden" is a good example of this. The author connects a poem, heard by the composer of this music over 150 years ago, to the music he then wrote with this title, and then connects that songs playing by the quartet during their late stage history as a group. By this time the quartet members have mostly shifted to the music style of playing as they feel it should be played, especially since they are all reaching the late part of their career and physical ability. That last part alone would elevate this book from a 4-star to a 5-star quality.

There is more in this book than just the author's chronological life.
There is the initial way in which the quartet set their rules and followed them for decades.
There are lessons on how to handle U.S. Presidential requests.
There are lessons on how to get along as a group.
There are lessons on how to play as a cohesive unit with numerous details and examples.

If you read this book, you will learn more than just the life of a quartet member. ( )
  billsearth | Apr 30, 2016 |
This is just a great read for anyone who loves chamber music. I had the pleasure of sitting in the audience no more than 10 feet away from Mr. Steinhardt during a recent performance and he come across just as affable as he is in person. I read the book on the plane traveling to chamber music festival in France. It's a good story, funny and informative, no big secrets revealed, told with generosity toward his fellow musician travelers and the audience who love this music. It was very grounding for this reader and audience member to be reminded that this glorious music is composed and performed by humans who are out there trying to make a living like the rest of us. ( )
  k2togger | Feb 3, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374527008, Paperback)

Chamber-music lovers will rejoice in this story of the formation, nurturing, and maturing of the Guarneri String Quartet. First violinist Arnold Steinhardt has written a delightful memoir that radiates the love of music and sense of mutual respect and affection that have kept the Guarneri's players together since the ensemble was founded in 1964. How a famous, extremely busy musician learned to write so well is a mystery, but Steinhardt's style is as engaging and captivating as his playing. After sketching his own and his colleagues' pre-quartet careers, he describes how they choose and rehearse their repertoire and how they resolve their inevitable disagreements--and he even throws light on the inexplicable magic that happens in performance. Steinhardt recounts the pleasures and hardships of traveling and the group's partnership with illustrious guests (notably pianist Artur Rubinstein); he tells musical and personal anecdotes, wryly poking fun at himself and others, but never saying a malicious or derogatory word about anyone. Most remarkably, his discussions of a score are illuminating without becoming too technical. Steinhardt describes the emotional impact of music with a strikingly felicitous, often poetic touch, yet his characterizations resonate with his own experience and avoid the overblown or extravagant. Though it helps to know the music he feels so strongly about, this is a book anyone can enjoy. --Edith Eisler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:49 -0400)

Arnold Steinhardt, tracing his own development as a student, orchestra player, and budding young soloist, gives a touching account of how he and his intrepid colleagues were converted to chamber music despite the daunting odds against success. And he reveals, as no one has before, the intensely difficult process by which--on the battlefield of daily three-hour rehearsals--four individualists master and then overcome the confining demands of ensemble playing. --from publisher description… (more)

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