Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON
LECTURE ONE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d__In2PQS60
LECTURE TWO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Al7O2puvdDA

ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

FURTHER REFLECTIONS OF AN AMATEUR VIOLIST

Now that I am again playing the viola after a hiatus of almost six years, old feelings are flooding back.  Despite my academic accomplishments, which are after all not nothing, I stand in awe of even journeyman professional musicians, and for the members of the great string quartets -- the Juilliard, the Guarneri, the Emerson, the Boromeo -- I have something approaching reverence.

For mediocre amateurs like myself, the most important thing, as I have observed on this blog before, is not making a beautiful sound or even playing in tune, nice as those accomplishments are, but simply counting.  This is especially important for a violist, who is quite often consigned to playing what is best described as filler.   I am now working on two Mozart viola quintets as the second violist with an amateur quartet that has consented to have me play with them several times.  Now, even in a Mozart viola quintet -- and Mozart loved the viola -- the second viola part is mostly pretty boring.  There are a number of eight measure rests and lots of measures filled with repeated eighth notes -- sewing machine music, as it is sometimes called.  But being Mozart, Mozart tosses in some really tricky bits, which I pray I will not screw up when it comes time to join the quartet.  In the Adagio of K516, for example, there are some passages in which the second viola is playing syncopated sixteenth notes and even syncopated thirty-second notes.  I find it almost impossible to practice those passages in the absence of the rest of the musicians.  I mean, who can hear syncopated sixteenth notes in his head?

There is a great old story about Albert Einstein -- perhaps apocryphal -- who was apparently a mediocre amateur violinist.  According to the story, he was playing quartets one evening at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and managed to get totally lost.  One of his fellow musicians said, in exasperation, "Albert, Albert, count!  One, two, three four!  Count, Albert!"  This to the greatest mathematical physicist who has ever lived.

Tomorrow evening, I play K516.  Keep your fingers crossed.

4 comments:

Marinus Ferreira said...

"I mean, who can hear syncopated sixteenth notes in his head?"

You've obviously never been a percussionist, for whom this is a skill so indispensable it's hard to imagine one without it.

While it's kind of you to use my full name in your blog posts, it's unnecessary. I'm the same Marinus as who earlier commented on issues like the prisoner's dilemma, Ricardo's economics, and some other things as well.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

You are absolutely right that I have never been a percussionist and would be very bad at it.

I am afraid I am showing my age by using your full name, as we have never been formally introduced. My old professor, C. I. Lewis, used to formally introduce each person in a seminar to each other person on the theory that until that had been done, they could not have a conversation! Nowadays, young people seem to go by first names only, as though they were "John o' the woods" or whatever. Sigh, I may be getting too old for this.

Seth said...

The Einstein story sounds a bit like an urban legend: too good to be true. But fun regardless, and it *could* have happened!

I have a personal story of a somewhat opposite nature. As a mathematician, I spent a year in the amazing environment of Cambridge, MA mathematics and lucked into playing chamber music semi-regularly with a few very distinguished senior mathematicians. It occurred to me that here I was working with some of the best mathematicians in the world on terms of perfect equality ... as a musician!

Many years later, I still play the piano a lot, but don't pretend to do mathematics anymore. ;)

T Gent said...

"C. I. Lewis used to formally introduce each person in a seminar to each other person on the theory that until that had been done, they could not have a conversation!"

LOVE this! Good luck with the quintet. I'm sure you'll do just fine.