Gulliver Ralston

Beware the Shoe Removers

Beethoven for a Later Age: The Journey of a String Quartet

By Edward Dusinberre

Faber & Faber 262pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

Edward Dusinberre is first violinist of the Takács Quartet. In these elegant memoirs he reflects on a life spent in this small community, nourished and challenged by Beethoven’s sixteen string quartets. Dusinberre was the first non-Hungarian in the group, joining it in 1993 as a 25-year-old graduate of the Juilliard School. He had little professional quartet experience (a pre-Takács performance of ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ at Downing Street was described by Margaret Thatcher as ‘lugubrious’) and no real idea of the nature of life inside a world-class touring ensemble. After applying for the first-violin ‘job’ he was told, ‘This is not a job: it’s your family, your life. We hope you’ll be with us for at least fifteen to twenty years.’ Over twenty years later, he has written an account of this unique experience, chronicling his move from outsider to family member and describing the central part the Beethoven quartets have played in his musical development.

It is an impressive story of devotion: the intensity of the ensemble’s regime is apparent on every page. Returning time and again to the same works, Dusinberre reveals the musical ingenuity of Beethoven’s quartets and demonstrates how the technical and artistic difficulties that challenged the original performers of them still require attention from today’s musicians. He shows how days can be spent practising a single phrase, fingering or bowing in order to convey the appropriate sentiment.

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