In Christian theology, the best example of this perfection of relationships is the Holy Trinity. In the ancient formulation, God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in one unity. It is a model for an ongoing process by which distinctions of persons remain within the divine fullness. The 99 names of God in Islam and the trimurti in Hinduism also point to a unity which we humans apprehend in multiple terms.
The quaternity of the string quartet consists of two like instruments, the violins, paired with two different instruments, the viola and cello, like two apples, a grapefruit and a melon.
Of course the instruments require players, and that’s when the thrill ensues. Beginning at least with Franz Joseph Haydn, who is sometimes called the father of the string quartet, amateurs like Albert Einstein and countess others, plus professionals and their audiences, have found fascination in the interplay of the four parts.
The conversation the four instruments have with each other recalls theologian Henry Nelson Wieman’s way of speaking of God as “creative interchange.” Without a conductor, the players of a great ensemble must create a performance by their interchange, listening to one another with extraordinary reverence if the whole is to be perfected. Theologian Paul Tillich wrestles with the polarity of “individuation and participation,” both of which are required for abundant living. The quartet demonstrates how that works, the participation of each individual creating the single edifice of sound.
One of the world’s great quartets, Takacs, comes to Kansas City’s Folly Theater on Sept. 28, thanks to the Friends of Chamber Music. Two much-loved pieces, the “Rosamunde” by Franz Schubert and the “American” quartets by Antonin Dvorak, are on the program.
Takacs will also perform the spiritually searing String Quartet No. 2 by Benjamin Britten. A pianist as well as a composer, he wrote it after a tour performing for survivors of German concentration camps. As the third movement begins, the forlorn tone asks whether exsiccated human relationships can be redeemed. The existence of the ensemble is an answer.
Vern Barnet does interfaith work in Kansas City. Reach him at email@example.com.
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