And the pride of the litter: Beethoven's Razumovsky quartets, by the Budapest String Quartet. I knew just about nothing of Razumovsky or quartets and not very much about Beethoven except that the linkage suited my vanity, like wearing a Yankees sweatshirt. But I took to the quartets, especially the third, number nine in C major, Opus 59 No. 3. I listened to it often enough that I could hum or whistle my way through pretty well the whole thing. I even got to hear the Budapest along about that time, although I don't remember them playing the quartets.
I'm not sure why I'm telling you all this, except (a) I heard numbers eight and nine again this afternoon, presented by the Alexander String Quartet at UC Davis; and (b) to savor the irony that without any conception of what I was doing, I pretty much started at the top. That is: I suppose you can match the Rasumovsky quartets, but it is hard to imagine anything in the whole corpus that exceeds them in originality and raw power. Life, in short, does not get any better than this.
Do I regret starting at the top? Do I think I should have held off, or been restrained, until I was more able to appreciate the grandeur of it all. Nah. Those were actually rather lonely times for me; I was working in a
Years later, I had to drag my 11-yer-old to a performance of Handel's Messiah at Wigmore Hall in London. He agreed to go if he could take his book (I think it was an Isaac Asimow). I said sure, fine. So he sat absorbed (occasionally whacking his heels on the underside of his chair) while some of the best Handel I ever heard wafted over our heads. At the interval he lifted his hed for a moment and said "this is pretty good music." You better believe it, kid.
Afterthought: it must have been that same summer--the summer I bought the records-- that I saw my first--and, I think, still the best in my experience--performance of King Lear. Antioch Shakespeare Festival, with the late, great Ellis Rabb (he must have been 27) playing the King.