This is the website for Looking for the “Harp” Quartet: An Investigation into Musical Beauty by Markand Thakar. It offers audio realizations of the musical examples, as well as the chapter 8 examples too broad for the print edition.
THE BOOK is a philosophical tour through the experience of musical beauty: what it is, and how the composer, performer, and listener all contribute. It explores – with insight, patience, and humor – profound issues at the essence of our experience. A hypothetical student performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat Major, known as the “Harp,” serves as a point of departure and a recurring theme for these explorations. For the layperson, the core of the book is the five dialogues between Icarus, an inquiring student intensely concerned with fulfilling his highest potential as a musician, and Daedalus, a curmudeonly, iconoclastic teacher who guides his search. Three technical articles, geared to the music professional and academic, treat the issues in greater depth.
Musical beauty results from experienced sound, consequently the book depends heavily on listening to the musical examples throughout. The audio realizations of the examples are snippets illustrative of the path only; there is no full performance among them that can lead to the experience of ultimate beauty. These audio realizations were produced by The Fauxharmonic Orchestra, mostly of sampled piano sounds. This is both for clarity and to lend a sense of reality to the dialogues – often passionate, sometimes heated – that take place around a teaching-studio piano.
MARKAND THAKAR is music director of the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra a member of the graduate conducting faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, and a former assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. He is also author of Counterpoint: Fundamentals of Music Making (Yale University Press; 1990), and On the Principles and Practice of Conducting (University of Rochester Press, 2016).
Music Theory Online
(journal of the Society for Music Theory)
“a valuable contribution to the literature, particularly for…the consideration of a work’s large-scale structure as it relates to performance…Thakar’s ideas are valuable, his exposition of them is clear…this book would be useful as the main text in an upper-level or graduate seminar, or as a component of a survey of analytical techniques or aesthetics.”
Midwest Book Review
“A 225-page tour de force, Looking for the ‘Harp’ Quartet: An Investigation into Musical Beauty by Markand Thakar addresses the musical experience of beauty in terms of what comprises it…Of particular note are the three insightful essays that comprise the second half of the book…Looking for the ‘Harp’ Quartet is an exercise in academic excellence and a seminal contribution for personal, professional, and academic classical music studies.”
Kile Smith, composer and Curator of the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music
“I can’t recommend highly enough Markand Thakar’s book. I’m about 2/3rds through it, and am overwhelmed by the breadth and geniality of his knowledge. It is painstaking and delightful at the same time. Daedalus (a gruff music professor) leads occasional-know-it-all Icarus on a journey to discover where beauty lives in music, using Beethoven’s string quartet. It’s the book I’d want to write. If I was smart, that is. I keep saying things to myself while Daedalus is talking, and then Icarus says exactly the same thing. Then Daedalus demolishes it, and points in another direction. Every once in a while Daedalus agrees with what I just said to myself, and… O frabjous day!
“What a jaunt this is. It is rare for schooling to be this blissful.”
Berkshire Review, an international journal for the arts (berkshirereview.net)
“Immensely stimulating and rewarding…I feel a significant debt to [Markand Thakar] in the way his book helped me to clarify my criteria in critical work, and the book should prove invaluable for musicians and educated listeners alike. If you don’t read music or have some rudiments of musical theory, it’s probably not for you. Otherwise you should buy a copy and read it twice, not necessarily in rapid succession, and keep it around for the time you may want to reach for it again.”
Choice (American Library Association)
Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
“Thakar (Peabody Conservatory, Johns Hopkins) has written a thoughtful inquiry into the nature of beauty and the aesthetic experience….Thakar’s study will serve not only those interested in exploring the “transcendent” aesthetic experience, but also those who labor to embody their art through performance. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professional.”
Philosophy of Music Education Review
“…although there is a place in music education for some attention to what lies outside or on the fringes of the mainstream of western art-music, initiation into and enlargement in understanding of the mainstream ought to be our major mission….I have found [Markand Thakar’s book] to be an edifying and elegant contribution to that endeavor.”
Scott Burnham, Princeton University, author of Beethoven Hero
“Markand Thakar’s playful Socratic-like dialogue acts out a performer’s odyssey toward the ideal performance, toward making one particular strand of Western classical music all that it can be.”
Edward Green, composer, Manhattan School of Music
“Painlessly and with great clarity, Markand Thakar introduces profound concepts of musical aesthetics, including of the phenomenology of time and patterns of energy. The great thing is, the book isn’t ‘abstract’ one bit; it’s all tied to the question of how to have a 1st-rate musical performance (hence the focus on the ‘Harp’ quartet).”