Dvorak's American quartet

September 1, 2016 at 02:40 PM · So I'm in a quartet with a few other fairly strong amateurs and we are planning to perform Dvorak's American quartet in a few months - mainly for friends and family, but still aiming to do a good job. :)

(We also considered Death and the Maiden, but that's probably too demanding for us, both technically and musically...)

Does anyone have any personal tips on how to approach it, or know any good resources about it?

Replies (8)

September 1, 2016 at 03:16 PM · My quartet is working on this, too, for a performance in October at a local museum (so a public concert, not just friends and family).

I suggest that you rehearse at least partially from the score. It makes it a lot easier to figure out how everything fits together.

Everyone needs to be very rhythmic. Metronome practice for individual members of the quartet is a good idea, but the rhythms need to be clear, not just right.

I think that Death and the Maiden is easier than the American, actually, but YMMV.

September 3, 2016 at 07:32 AM · I have played the American - I don't think any of us found it too intimidating and we really enjoyed it. I would echo Lydia's comment about rhythm - we did have some problems maintaining a stable tempo in the first movement (and failed in the actual performance!).

I'm intrigued by her comment about Death and the Maiden being easier. Having played through it a couple of times I would have said the opposite - I would have been scared (to death?) at the prospect of performing it. The first 2 movements are big, dramatic structures, the first with huge contrasts, not easy to hold together.

September 3, 2016 at 05:10 PM · Dvorak American quartet is the classic example of a piece that is much harder than it sounds. Rhythmically it is quite tricky to put together.

Death and the Maiden is easier to put together than the Dvorak in my opinion. Maybe the individual parts are harder (I can't remember; it's been a very long time) but it is easier to put together, or at least easier to play through without falling apart.

September 3, 2016 at 08:14 PM · A lot of chamber music is easier to sight-read than it is to perform, so to speak.

A bunch of decent amateurs can get through a reading of the American, or of Death and the Maiden, with sufficient ease that it's a fun experience. Stuff that isn't quite right can be handwaved.

Preparing for performance is another matter, because of the need for precision. That means that you have to not only get precise, seamlessly interwoven rhythm, but you also need to get balance right (which is far more than everyone just respecting their printed dynamics) and in some places, carefully tune intonation.

September 3, 2016 at 08:56 PM · Thanks for the replies - some helpful advice :)

I'm still surprised about people thinking DaTM might be the easier of the two!

My logic was as follows:

* Dvorak's writing is thicker and the relationship between the parts is less obvious - hence, more chance of losing your place

* However, it's also more melodic, and melodic writing (even higher on the instrument) is often easier to play - particularly as some of the figures in the 1st violin part of DaTM are pretty tricky

* American is also significantly shorter than DaTM

* The fact it's more melodic and less intense also makes it easier to interpret (and, arguably, listen to!)

Totally accept the point about hacking through things for fun being different to preparing them for actual performance. I also suppose I might be putting too much weight on the technical challenges 1st violin part rather than challenges of ensemble...

September 3, 2016 at 09:27 PM · Chris,

For Dvorak, your cellist is going to have to transpose Dvorak's treble clef... Warning in advance!

Between DaTM and Dvorak and which one is easier: it totally depends on the skill level of your group and your goals. If your group has problems just *getting through* a piece, then parts of Dvorak will be harder than Schubert (rhythms, notes). If your group can get through it but your goal is to refine the piece so that it sounds really good, then DaTM is much harder.

Also, DaTM requires more stamina from the listener because it's so long. And Schubert in general can be very exposed. I think unless DaTM is really well-done, Dvorak is more fun to listen to as an audience member.

September 3, 2016 at 11:44 PM · The ACMP (American Chamber Music Players) has a website with the Dvorak (trouble clef) cello notation changed to tenor clef for many works: http://www.acmp.net/dvorak/

In my experience, the thing about the American Quartet is that when you have heard and played it enough, you know how to fit in even when you slip up so - PRACTICE and listen - and mind your ps and fs.

September 4, 2016 at 01:40 AM · - pratice with strict rhythm.... don't get lulled into any rubato until you can play it strictly in rhythm.

- focus on dynamics - over-exaggerate them. They will sound semi-convincing.

- Beware of the louder=faster and softer=slower fallicy.

- take time to practice intonation as a group - note by agonizing note - slowly.

- listen to recordings until you can sing the OTHER parts while reading your own.

Break a leg!

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