Looking for the ‘Harp’ Quartet

I didn’t see it, and only read about it later from pundits, but I empathized with Sarah Palin when she apparently booted a question from Katie Couric a couple of years ago. She was asked to name a book she was reading, I believe, and hemmed and hawed in place of an answer. Well, that would happen most days if someone were to ask me. I’m always reading a book, and usually more than one at a time. I read on the train to and from work when I’m not in the last stages of a piece, editing last night’s printouts. So it’s usual for me to stop and start one book, get going on another, and be partially through two at a time; consequently, answering any question like the above will probably start with, “Um…”.

Plus, I’m awful at remembering titles.

But yesterday’s New York Times reminded me of a book I’m reading now. Pam Belluck’s article, “To Tug Hearts, Music First Must Tickle the Neurons” is an attempt scientifically to explain expressivity in music. By measuring speed and loudness and other factors, scientists hope to find out why we think some performances are more beautiful than others. Fascinating stuff.

But while the Times article is a lovely gloss on the subject, if it interests you, I can’t recommend highly enough Markand Thakar’s book Looking for the ‘Harp’ Quartet: An Investigation into Musical Beauty.

I am overwhelmed by the breadth and geniality of his knowledge. It is painstaking and delightful at the same time. Daedalus (a gruff music professor) leads occasional-know-it-all Icarus on a journey to discover where beauty lives in music, using Beethoven’s string quartet. It’s one of the books I’ve wanted to write. If I was smart, that is.

While reading it, I keep saying things to myself, and then Icarus says exactly the same thing. Daedalus then demolishes it, and points in another direction. But every once in a while Daedalus agrees with what I just said to myself, and… O frabjous day! What a jaunt this is. It is rare for schooling to be this blissful.

So, that’s what I’m reading now. Well, was. I’ll get back to it soon, but right now I’m fussing over the ending of The Waking Sun.

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