Paul Greenberg

The impulse behind the music may be derivative, a term now used dismissively. But there is derivative and there is derivative. The difference depends on what a work of art is derived from, and how well. Derive a work from something fine, and it, too, may be fine, even a new and elegant edition of fine. Originality is much overrated in art as in politics, continuation underestimated. As this piece reminds.

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Darius Milhaud is next, a composer who wasn't afraid of melody, or even of being popular. He deserves to be. Tonight it's his "Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano. Op. 157b," which isn't anywhere as formidable as its title. Like its overture, it's vif et gai, lively and gay. The way Paris once was.

What a pity nothing can be described as gay any more without a momentary pause, a hesitant moment of self-consciousness. It was a useful, even irreplaceable word, gay. Now it's not the same. The new definition of the word has overwhelmed, distorted, obscured the old. I hate it when that happens; the language has been impoverished, a gap created where there was charm.

Dangerous practice, pinning words on music. But this music remains ... gay. In the original, much-missed sense. Street scenes in Paris unfold in the mind. Women in scarves with string bags. Greengrocers' shops and flower stalls late in the afternoon as everyone hurries home. All is seen as if from high in a bus on its way into town from Orly airport in the mid-1950s, just arrived, when everything is still fresh.

Somewhere an accordion is playing and Maurice Chevalier, eternal boulevardier, is strolling down the Champs Elysee in a straw boater, whistling a tune and forever twirling his cane....

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Now it's time for what most of us came for. Schubert's "String Quartet in C Major," which is not just a musical but a spiritual masterpiece. Written just before his death, it would wait long afterward to win a just admiration. Now it has come into its towering own.

Words just get in the way now. Things are no longer as they were. On the cellist's features there is written every impulse of this powerful, profound music. The cellist, transported, transports us. Schubert lives. In the music, in us. Nothing great is ever lost.

Thank you, Quapaw Quartet. Well played. We go home exhilarated. Maybe a little exhausted, too, but elevated. The after-concert coffee is sweet, foamy, rich, delicious. But it cannot match the music. Nothing could.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.