Balthus and Beethoven’s Late Quartets

Earlier this fall on the occasion of a performance of Michael Torke’s Bright Blue Music, I wrote a little about synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation in one sensory area leads to an involuntary sensory experience in another area. In the case of musicians like Torke, it often shows up as chromesthesia, the association of sounds, or musical pitches, with colors. In Torke’s case, he associates the key of D Major with the color sensation of bright blue.

While I am not a synesthete in any form or fashion, I do experience an often uncanny sensory bond between images and music–bonds that are probably just unconscious, and unnoticed, attachments from an unremembered experience. For example, I cannot view a typical Balthus painting without feeling the texture and tonality of one or more of the Beethoven late string quartets. This becomes somewhat important this weekend (for me, at least) as the KSO’s Chamber Classics Series features the Principal Quartet and a performance of one of Beethoven’s late quartets, the String Quartet in A Minor, op. 132.

Balthasar Klossowski de Rola was a French-born artist of Polish descent (1908-2001) who went by the single name Balthus. My first live encounter with his work came at a 1980 exhibition at the Venice Biennale, an encounter that created a strong impression and, obviously, a strong memory. Somehow, and quite mysteriously, the enjoyable quirkiness of Balthus’ thematic subjects attached itself in my mind to Beethoven, particularly the quartets like the opus 132. Your experience may vary.

'The Week With Four Thursdays' - Balthus

‘The Week With Four Thursdays’ – Balthus

The history of the A Minor quartet bears some mention. Beethoven fell seriously ill with a stomach malady during the winter of 1824-25 while he was working on this quartet. After recovering, he replaced the middle two movements with three others, giving it a five movement structure that reveals a lot of melodic complexity, and a lot of contrasts between energetic rhythms and lyrical passages. The quartet’s first public performance came on November 6, 1825 performed by the Schuppanzigh Quartet in Vienna.

Sunday’s performance by the KSO Principal Quartet will also include Efraín Amaya’s Angelica and Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, Op. 110, the latter being dedicated “in memory of victims of fascism and war.”

The KSO Principal Quartet consists of Gordon Tsai and Edward Pulgar, violins; Kathryn Gawne, viola; and Andy Bryenton, cello.

KSO Principal Quartet


KSO Principal Quartet
Chamber Classics Series
Sunday, November 2, 2:30 p.m. at the Bijou Theatre, 803 S. Gay Street
Tickets start at $15 — Tel 865-291-3310 or