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  • Speak the Music: Robert Mann and the Mysteries of Chamber Music Directed by Allan Miller
  • Beth Fleming
Speak the Music: Robert Mann and the Mysteries of Chamber Music. DVD. Directed by Allan Miller. [New York]: First Run Features, 2013. FRF915786D. $24.95.

Ninety-three years of wisdom and passion for the unique wonders of performing and teaching chamber music are elegantly interwoven into this made for television documentary on the life and work of Robert Mann, a legendary figure in the world of professionally performed chamber music. Robert Mann was born in 1920 and vignettes of his young life that he relates through the course of this enlightening documentary are aptly illustrated by family photographs of him as he grew up.

Robert Mann was the founding first violinist of the renowned Julliard String Quartet and worked with the group for 52 consecutive years, from 1946 to 1997. The documentary makes it blatantly clear that chamber music is much more than just a job to this man, it was and remains his undying passion. Though the skillful filming of Robert Mann going about his daily activities in his ninety third year of life, combined with rare footage from Julliard String Quartet performances of the past and image stills from Mann’s past that help tell the story of his early years, Oscar-winning director Allan Miller provides a deeply personal, beautifully intimate view of this Titan of the chamber music world.

Miller takes us into Mann’s life by interviewing people Mann has taught over the years and each one of these students grew to become some of classical music’s greatest performers. Additionally the film also reveals some of Mann’s remarkable coaching sessions with young string quartets, and the profound influence Robert Mann has had as an instructor is powerfully presented. Mann’s family speaks about what it was like to be raised in a musical, artistic family. Robert Mann’s son Nicholas is a professional violinist and violist and there are some sublime musical moments in the documentary when he and his father play duets and later perform in a couple of chamber ensembles together. In this family-centered segment we also find that Robert Mann composes excellent music, often meant to highlight dramatic story telling by his creative wife.

Ultimately this film joyously celebrates that Robert Mann has been a powerful influence in the world of classical music for over seventy years. He encouraged the [End Page 143] Julliard String Quartet to be one of the first professional quartets to specialize in the music of Bartok and later they regularly programmed the music of contemporary composers alongside the works of the early masters. Through Miller’s seamless interwoven tapestry of visual resources and the glorious soundtrack of live and rare recorded musical footage of the Julliard String Quartet, it is easy to see why Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe dubbed Robert Mann “one of the country’s most admired and deeply loved musicians.”

Beth Fleming
Oklahoma City University


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pp. 143-144
Launched on MUSE
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