Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Cinematic Duet of 'Quartets' ; Films with Similar Names and Themes Portray the Lives of Musicians

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

A Cinematic Duet of 'Quartets' ; Films with Similar Names and Themes Portray the Lives of Musicians

Article excerpt

Two films with similar names portray the professional and personal lives and music of two quartets of musicians.

If the movie is about music, age, the politics of performance and the peculiar magic of a piece composed for an ensemble of four, it might be "A Late Quartet," which is opening in New York and other cities on Friday.

Or it could be "Quartet," which will begin playing in commercial theaters on Dec. 28.

In a rare confluence, these two new films are about to work their way through remarkably similar themes, as they tell very different stories about the entanglement of musical professionals in a cherished composition. Both are a reminder that music and film at least occasionally meet for more than a few needle drops, a soundtrack album or a Dolby-pumped score.

In "A Late Quartet," directed by Yaron Zilberman, who was also one of its writers, the plot turns around a famous chamber group, now strained by years and personal passions, and its planned performance of Beethoven's Quartet in C sharp minor (Op. 131).

"Quartet," directed by Dustin Hoffman and based on a play and script by Ronald Harwood, tells of the unintended reunion of four aging singers who may or may not revisit their great moment, a performance of "Bella figlia dell'amore," the vocal quartet from Act III of Verdi's "Rigoletto."

Classical music may be a niche interest for moviegoers, but a handful of well-remembered, critically praised films have been built around the subject. For instance, "Shine," in 1996, told the story of the pianist David Helfgott's struggle with both mental illness and Rachmaninoff's intricate Piano Concerto No. 3. The 1984 film version of "Amadeus," based on a play by Peter Shaffer, wound its plot around the composition of Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor.

And "Black Swan," directed by Darren Aronofsky and released in 2010, tells the fictional tale of a ballerina's confrontation with Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake."

Speaking from his home in London last week, Mr. Harwood said "Quartet" was similarly born from its own music.

After watching a documentary, perhaps 20 years ago, about a retirement home for performers in a building that had belonged to Verdi, Mr. Harwood recalled, he wrote a note to himself. "There's a play here. End with the quartet from 'Rigoletto,"' it said.

"Rigoletto," like "Quartet," involves love, betrayal and consequences. But the opera's libretto, Mr. Harwood explained, was "not important" to his reasons for structuring a comic drama around one of its central musical moments.

Instead, the inspiration was nonverbal. "I happen to think it is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for the human voice," he said.

For that initial impulse to become a stage play -- with its plot, subplots and the passions of four principal characters who have aged past almost everything except their love for the music and their history with one another -- took nearly eight years. …

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