Piece of the month

Each month we ask a musician to share a piece they love and tell us why

Carmel Smickersgill
Alban Berg Quartett
Carmel Smickersgill

What piece have you chosen?

Ludwig van Beethoven – String Quartet No. 16, Op. 135

Why is it special for you?

I joke about listening to Beethoven quartets rather than spending the money on an actual therapist. The punchline being, it works. This short quartet supposedly had “Muß es sein?” (Must it be?), answered with “Es muß sein!” (It must be!) in the manuscript. I think many of us have been faced with situations in the past few months that are difficult, to put it extremely mildly. Sometimes you need to listen to something old to gain bit of perspective. Beethoven was there asking the same question of patience and acceptance centuries ago, which in our current situation, I can’t have been alone in asking myself whenever something gets pulled from under you. However, in this quartet, he puts it more gracefully than I have done here.

Must it be? it must be.

What should we listen out for?

There is a short pair of phrases in the first movement which are speculated to have been the composer putting this question into a melodic phrase. The first, rising as if copying the intonation of someone asking a question, the second, an answer that resolves fairly abruptly. There is also a bit at the beginning of the fourth movement which sounds a bit like it could have inspired Shotakovich’s 8th String Quartet. (it’s 18 mins into the youtube link if you want to skip ahead)

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Carmel Smickersgill headshot

Carmel Smickersgill

Carmel works in a variety of mediums, predominantly writing for theatre, concert hall and playing with the band Bunny Hoova. As one of the nominees for Apple Music’s Rising Star Ivor Novello Award, she is currently under the mentorship of Anna Meredith. Carmel has previously been commissioned by Liverpool Philharmonic Ensemble 10/10, Laura Bowler, Galvanise Ensemble and Fretwork, Dada Fest and Video Jam among others. She has also been collaborating with the Creative Collective at Leeds College of Music as part of Making Music and Sound and Music’s Adopt a Composer scheme.

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