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Category: Beethoven

String Quintet in C major, D. 956 – Franz Schubert

the-sistine-madonna-1513.jpg!Large

   “The Sistine Madonna (1513)
 
          Raphael


          __________ 

 

if you listen to only one piece of music  
this week, make it this one, Schubert’s 
a monument of Western culture, it’d be
like missing the Venus de Milo when 
you’re at the Louvre, or the Sistine 
Madonna of Dresden’s Zwinger 
the church of Saint Agnes Outside the 
Walls, transformative experiences

quartets, I couldn’t not next introduce
their very gold standard 
 
written in 1828, it was composed at 
the very height of the Romantic 
Period, just a little ahead of Chopin,
1810 – 1849, his other significant 
counterpart, apart from the ageing
Beethoven, 1770 – 1827, who still 
towered above all, despite his 
demise, and was universally 
admired 
 
but had Schubert lived longer than 
his 31 years, I suspect he might’ve 
been Beethoven’s equal, Schubert 
died even earlier than Mozart did, 
at 35, but of something that wasn’t
spoken of until much later, which 
is why we haven’t heard about the 
loss of this other musical giant
quite as grievously as we have 
about his somewhat more senior 
counterpart
 
but listen
 
it’s even hard to tell him apart from 
Beethoven, the passion, the urgency, 
the drama, even composing against 
the beat, a signature trait in 
Beethoven, like Alfred Hitchcock 
showing up in his own movies, or
Woody Allen, always introducing a 
work of art
 
a few things
 
though the frame is immaculately 
Classical, tonality, tempo, and 
recapitulation are not at all 
unobserved, the mood has changed 
from courteous, deferential, and 
respectful, to urgent, confessional, 
and private, the walls are there, but 
the furniture has changed, thanks 
of course here to Beethoven
 
and to the times
 
was writing her Sonnets from the 
Let me count the ways. – right about 
thenunfettered love poems to her 
beloved husband, Robertthe equally 
famous poet, who was remaining 
nevertheless, in his own work, more 
emotionally punctilious
 
I noted as well that the tempo in the 
second movement, one of the most 
beautiful adagios eversurely, 
lurches into an intemperate rebellion,
a second rhythm, up against the earlier 
mournful resignation of the poignant 
lament – note, in passing, that its 
stress of the dominant note is on the 
last beat not the first, like a weight 
that becomes, at every inching 
forward, intolerable, very path to a 
personal Calvary – before returning 
to that very fateful, though luminous, 
initial, stricken dirge

the next movement, the scherzo, does 
the reverse, fast, then slow, then fast 
again, to give the work in its entirety
eight rather than the four traditional 
tempi
 
the piece now has episodes, rather 
than merely a clockwork display,
drama has replaced the dance
entirely as the subtext for music
 
Schubert died two weeks after its
publication, for your info, I think 
his soul had been talking
 
 
R ! chard

psst: there’s a magical film I associate 
          with this music, The Company 
          of Strangers“, a Canadian 
          production, about several elderly
          ladies who get stuck in the 
          wilderness after their tour bus  
          breaks down in the middle of 
          nowhere
 
          you’ll never forget it

 

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String Quintets – Mozart / Beethoven

3889-2014-2

 
           Claude Monet
 
               ________
 
 
concerned about presenting Beethoven’s 
Opus 59, the next significant string quartets 
of the early 19th Century, too early – 
Beethoven had, incidentally, at that point no 
rivals – I preferred to establish his credentials, 
rather than to enter his next phase, equivalent 
to the move from representational art to 
Impressionism in painting, a sea change,  
people would’ve balked at the very concept   
of an alternative vision, and indeed they 
were confused
 
this sea change, I should point out, challenged 
the very notions of what not only art should be, 
but also music, and literature, indeed very life 
perspectives, philosophies
 
therefore the Romantic Period, when 
expressions of personal epiphanies began 
to crowd the new democratic environment 
after the French Revolution, 1789, all of 
which would lead to, eventually, our own 
allegiance to, at least in the West, the 
concept of human rights
 
music was already, in other wordstalking,
and with Beethoven, indeed vociferously 
 
 
still adheres to Classical conditions, 
but bursts through them emotionally
 
written only 14 years earlier, one of six
of his
 
you won’t find them, perhaps, on the 
surface, to be very different, wouldn’t 
be able to even tell them apart in a
blind pinch 
 
but juxtaposing, as I always urge, 
sharpens one’s aesthetic pencil, ask
yourself, in this case, according to 
your senses, which of the compositions 
is earlier, you’ll find your senses have 
already told you
 
everything flows from that initial 
answer, when you ask yourself why  
you think that
 
 
I’d asked my mom at Belvedere, 
Vienna, whose painting hung across 
the hall we’d just entered
 
she demurred, of course, considering 
herself not up to the challenge, despite 
several visits together we’d had among 
a wonder of other European art galleries
 
I insisted
 
she tossed off, okay, Renoir, an easy 
answer, though it turned out to be a 
Degas, or the reverse, or whatever 
 
but upon reaching the painting, of 
course, Degas, she said, knowing full 
well it was himhaving lacked only the 
pluck and the confidence 
 
who’s that, I asked, turning to another
master
 
Monet, she replied, confidently
 
and was, as I’d anticipated she would 
becorrect, she can now tell her 
Rembrandtfrom her Courbets, her
Canalettos from her Vermeers also
 
we know of a lot more than we 
think we do
 
 
R ! chard

String Quartet in A Major, Opus 18, no 5 – Beethoven

adagio-1899.jpg!Large

      Adagio (1899) 
 
         Tom Roberts
 
            ________
 
 
                               for especially Kathy, who, 
                                   according to a mutual friend, 
                                       needs our prayers
 
                               please be generous 
 
 
from his Opus 18, among which there
are six, according to the Classical 
tradition, is still steeped in Classical
conditions, tonality, tempo, and 
reiteration, but is revolutionary for 
its brashness, its personal 
manifestation – hey, it says, I’m the 
Pied Piper, I’m not hiding in the 
courtly shadows any longer, my 
stage is now the concert hall, no 
more the aristocratic, however 
stately, chamber music, which has 
ceded, until now, to propriety and 
deference rather than, in a word,
genius, I’m Beethoven, Beethoven 
says, watch me
 
he doesn’t disappoint
 
written in 1801, is a very early work of
Beethoven, it’s nearly easy to confuse
him here with Haydn, with whom he’d,
incidentally, earlier studied
 
the era is still extricating itself from the 
Classical model, the Classical imperatives 
are there, tempo, tonality, and repetition 
remain rigid elements of musical 
construction in the 5th, they are nearly 
obsessive, though each movement 
imprints itself, by constant reiteration, 
on our minds, much like pop music
 
but I miss an adagio, the moral ground,
I think, of a piece of music, the place 
where your heart really takes over and 
begins to incorporate the work‘s 
humanity, I ascribe this unfortunate 
omission to Beethoven’s youthful 
exuberance, he would’ve been around 
30, and setting out, with verve and 
ambition, and he would be performing 
before general now, rather than 
aristocratic, audiences, he had a show 
to put on, not just background chamber 
music  
 
note that the second movement is a 
minuet, a sure sign of the Classical
Period, extinct in only a few further
years
 
note that the third movement, the 
andante cantabile, a leisurely walking 
pace, stepped up, rather than down, 
to a veritable clippety-clop in some 
instances, is a set of variations, to, 
incidentally, settle its theme into 
one’s very consciousness, I’ve been 
humming these movements for the 
past several days, not at all 
unprofitably
 
note also that you’ll probably soon 
be humming, too, this infectious
compositionin all its iterations, 
they are utterly captivating, after, 

still, even over two hundred years

enjoy 


R ! chard 

psst: thanks Collin, for Kathy

Cello Sonata no 2 in G minor, opus 5 – Beethoven

egg-on-plate-with-knife-fork-and-spoon-1964.jpg!Large

   Egg on Plate with Knife, Fork, and Spoon (1964) 

           Alex Hay

              ____

after my somewhat prolonged side trip 
into Bach country, though it is a land
of many more wonders, I’ll get back 
on track, more or less, here, with 
Beethoven’s Second Cello Sonata
the other half of his Opus 5

till then, the cello had served as 
accompaniment, essentially, for other 
more discursive, higher pitched, less 
sonorous, less stentorious  
instruments

but Beethoven puts the cello back 
into the hottest seat in the house, right 
next to the ubiquitous piano, a 
requirement in any instance following 
the neglect of the cello during the 
intervening Classical Period, despite 
Bach’s earlier luminous illustration of 
its incandescent potential

the Opus 5, no 2 starts, audaciously, 
with an adagio, not always a wise 
choice, as you’ve heard me repeat 
here before, it can be unentertaining

but Beethoven gives his adagio tension
by introducing breaks often, which,
rather than stultify, creates momentum,
therefore a narrative, a story to follow

the rhythm is no longer adjusted to 
dance essentially, such a spin as is
heard in the second and third 
movements, for instance, would 
surely sweep one off one’s feet

but the art is in the dance that 
Beethoven allows and creates between 
the piano and the cello, the first the 
filigree on the arm of the more grounded, 
more entrenched latter, the crystal, the 
silverware that adorn, symbolically, an 
however majestic oak table, the creamy
Hollandaise that makes an egg, however 
elemental, irresistible, the literary turns 
that might transform mere prose into, 
verily, poetry, icing on a cake, in a word,  
to complement, in stunning and equal 
cooperation, the inextricable 
counterpart

there is even a moral lesson transmitted
here

Beethoven can often be long-winded, 
I’ve found, but there’s always, always,
at the end of the road something 
entirely worth the extra minute, the 
even several extra minutes 

enjoy 


R ! chard

Cello Concerto no 2 in D major – Haydn

a-cello-1921.jpg!Large

         A Cello (1921)

        Louis Marcoussis

             ___________

between Bach’s transcendent Suites for
Cello and Beethoven’s reinvention of that 
instrument, two only cello works occupy
the last half of that century, both by
Haydn

his Second, however, Concerto, written 
several years later than his First, 1783, 
indeed nearly twenty years later, seems 
to me less accomplished, though ever, 
nevertheless, unimpeachably, and 
impressively, Haydn 

the first movement is long, long works 
only until you start thinking it’s long

the initial melody in the adagio, the 
second movement, struck me as artificial, 
saccharine, though Haydn weaves magic, 
not unexpectedly, still, and  
continuously, around it in its 
development, his elaboration of it

and the pace of the third movement, 
following the second, is disconcerting 
rather than surprising, rather than, 
were it effective, delightful

Mozart wrote a Cello Concerto too, 
apparently, but, if so, it is lost

otherwise we’re on to the next historical
epoch, Beethoven’s, after this inauspicious 
turn at this generation for the cello, lost 
for a while among the more assertive 
instruments of that prim, and proper,
Classical Era


R ! chard

Cello Suite no 5 in C minor – J.S. Bach

the-cellist.jpg!Large

        The Cellist (c.1917) 

              Max Weber

                 ______

what struck me immediately upon hearing
the bow’s very first strokes on the violin in 
this Fifth Cello Suite of Bach was that the 
mood was not only brashly Romantic, but 
quite specifically Russian Romantic, right 
up there with Dostoyevskyand Fiddler 
on the Roof, dark brooding colours at 
first, followed by long plaintive musical 
phrases, you can even hear the sound of 
the steppes, I thought, stretching out into 
the endless distance, this performance,  
surmised, is not, other than 
compositionally, Baroque, not to mention 
not even German 

yet as played by Mischa Maisky, it’s one 
of the best versions of the Fifth I’ve ever 
heard, and if it works, who’s to complain

but more context – Bach never gave not 
only textural indications, but not even 
tempos to his pieces, apart from the 
very dance terms that identify the 
movements, so what, therefore, is the 
specific pace, you’ll ask, of a courante, 
for instance, you tell me, I’ll reply

in other words, the modular terms were 
significantly looser in the early 18th 
Century than later, when metronome 
markings would begin to demand more
accurate replication of the artist’s 
explicit specifications – Beethoven 
especially made sure of that, by 
requiring accurate renderings of his   
mood or pace indications, largo,  
allegro, andante, for instance, still less  
strict than the stipulation later for exact 
musical beats per minute – trying to 
keep pace with a prerecorded tape, for 
example, as in again the industrially 
driven, which is to say emotionally 
indifferent, context of the seismic 
Different Trains“, masterpiece of a 
more technically conditioned era

I don’t think that Bach would at all have
been disappointed that the heirs of his 
fervent, though more genteelcreations 
might’ve morphed into something 
profound for other groups, be they 
national, or of a class, or of even a 
generation, of people, which is to say 
that these works have superseded 
their merely regional intent, and have 
reached beyond space and time, the 
very purview of music, to speak a 
common and cooperative, indeed a
binding, language

I said to my mom the other day that if
we all sang together, we could save
the world


R ! chard

psst: Maisky’s encore,, incidentally, is from  
          the Bourrée” of Bach’s Third Cello  
          Suitenote this contrastingmore  
          courtly – more refinement, more 
      reserve – rendition, you can even 
          hear, not to mention see, in this
          particular instance, not Russian 
          steppes, but European trees on 
          their baronial estates, if you lend  
          an attentive ear

Cello Suite no 3, in C major – Bach

narcissus(1)-1.jpg!Large.jpg

        “Narcissus (c.1599)

                Caravaggio

                     ______

what struck me about this most extraordinary
performance of Bach’s Third Cello Suite was 
nothing to do with the Suite itself, but with 
the work of the camera, right out of 
Caravaggio, I thought, a bona fide Baroque
artist also, what could the cameraman have 
known

stark contrasts, an absolute focus on the 
subject without much set decoration, no
consideration for extraneous, though 
perhaps effective, decorative elements 
to cloud the pictorial issue 

this is not at all Bach, incidentally, who 
relies on accompaniment, feeder notes, 
to shed light on the essential melody, 
often even nearly indistinguishable 
from the main statement 

both are considered Baroque, Bach,
Caravaggio, but I won’t be getting into 
it right nowit’s a long, and tortuous 
story

otherwise note, indeed, in Bach, the 
reiteration of clusters of music, forward 
propulsions, with incremental tonal 
variations, moving the melody forward, 
something lost during the later, more 
frivolous, Classical Period, but recovered 
eventually, two generations down, by 
Beethoven, kind of like children resemble 
their grandparents much more than they 
do their actual folks

eventually that becomes Minimalism, see,
for instance, Steve, Different Trains“, 
Reich


R ! chard

to spring

primavera-1478(1).jpg!Large.jpg

     Primavera” / “Spring (1478) 

              Sandro Botticelli

                   _________

according to long tradition, the 21st of March
has been the first day of spring, but yesterday,
the 20th, two people in separate encounters,
told me that spring had started that very day,
throwing my entrenched supposition out the 
window, for better or for worse

regardless, spring has now, surely decidedly, 
sprung

here’s Beethoven celebrating it, though the 
title, Spring“, was probably not his, others 
mostly gave his works their nicknames, for 
their own, usually associative, reasons – his
“Moonlight” Sonata also, for instance – but  
that’s been ever enough for me, it’s the 
music that ultimately matters, I think

the “Spring” Sonata, opus 24 then is for 
violin and piano, his 5th such, written in 1801, 
it is an early piece, full still of the verve we’ve 
heard here already in his Opus 5, no 1 for Cello
and Piano, with his musical phrases flying 
right through the bar lines and off the very
page

Kyung Wha Chung plays the violin, she 
remains after all these years my very 
favourite violinist 

enjoy

and have the greatest of springs, 
whenever you might want to start it


R ! chard

French Suite no 3 in B minor – Bach

dance-of-the-majos-at-the-banks-of-manzanares-1777.jpg!Large.jpg

   “Dance of the Majos at the Banks of Manzanares (1777)

           Francisco Goya

                _________

upon reading up somewhat on the different
Bach Suites, I’ve provisionally concluded
that the earlier English Suites, 1715 to 1720,
were a modification of the established form 
of the suite, which would not have included 
a prelude, which isn’t, indeed, a dance

the Cello Suites follow, ahem, suit

but by the French Suites, 1722 to 1725, Bach 
is eschewing – Gesundheit – the prelude, but 
inserting, however, an air in his Fourth – an  
air is not either a dance – and mixing up  
their order in the later Suites, a minuet, for 
instance, in the last one of them, his Sixth,  
coming up after the gigue, which sports even
also a polonaise, where in his Fifth, Bach adds  
a loure, I ask you, a slow French gigue, to his  
bristling concoction

the terms French and English, incidentally, 
were added only after Bach’s demise, for 
diverse and uncorroborated reasons, so 
that these titles probably don’t mean much 
to a contemporary audience, who can’t tell, 
anyway, our gavottes from our bourrées

the music of Bach is like that of no other 
composer, he owns essentially the Baroque
Period, having, in fact, wrenched the Era 
from the painters, who’d established it in 
art to such a degree that it defined its
earlier historical phase

with Bach, the torch is handed over to 
music, from then on until the 
Impressionists, the period is defined 
by composers, both Classical, then 
Romantic, with some poets holding 
some sway 

the technique that dominates the music 
of Bach is that of counterpoint, where 
a tune is repeated in the harmonization
a few beats from its first iteration, 
vocally, we call that singing in canon

his music is introspective, as though 
the player were privately meditating,
it has the playfulness of Mozart, but
Mozart is expressive, not interior,
therefore nowhere near as spiritual,
Beethoven will return with a 
profundity that matches Bach’s, but 
with much more Sturm und Drang, 
tempestuous moral struggle, much  
less resignation, ouch, watch

listening to Bach for me is like getting 
on a train, and just letting the rhythm
of the wheels sustain me, as I watch,
indeed introspectively, the surrounding 
countryside, stopping at the musical 
journey’s several halts, its intervals, 
until its final destination, which 
despite, or even because of, taking 
sometimes hours, is nevertheless  
endlessly satisfying, and never  
ever less than, however improbably, 
inspiring

here’s Bach’s Third French Suite
you’ll note it includes an idiosyncratic 
“trio”, not strictly a recognized dance
either – leave it to the saucy French, I   
say, to consider interpolating a trio


R ! chard

English Suite No 3 in G Minor – Bach

suite-fibonacci-2003.jpg

   “Suite Fibonacci (2003) 

           Charles Bezie

               ________

 
before I say much more about his Cello
Suites, let me point out that Bach has
some French Suites, some English 
Suites, on top of similarly structured 
Partitas and Toccatas, the French have 
their tout de suites, and hotels have, 
nowadays, their so named luxury 
apartments 

musical suites are sets of dance pieces, 
by the early 18th Century much stylized, 
with an introductory prélude, an allemande, 
followed by a courante, which is to say, folk 
dances, the first German, the next French, 
then a sarabande, Spanish, followed by a 
couple of galanteries, court dances, 
minuets, gavottes, bourrées, then a final 
English gigue

all of the markings are in French, which
leads me to believe that all of these 
dances must’ve originated at the court 
of Louis XlVth, the Sun King, 1638 to 
1715

but the suggestion is that Europe was 
becoming an integrated community
all of these dances were eclipsed by
the Classical Period, of Haydn and 
Mozart, apart from the minuet, which 
more or less defined, nevertheless, 
that new era

the minuet will die out by the time of
Beethoven, you’ll note, to be replaced
by the waltz, which had been 
considered much too racy until 
transformed by Chopin into a work 
of ethereal art

the Strausses, father and son, gave it,
only a little later, celebratory potency,
but that’s another story


here’s Bach’s English Suite, the 3rd
for context, the French ones are a 
little too salty, as it were, they do not 
quite conform to prescribed suite 
notionshowever might their 
propositions have been, ahem, 
sweet 

meanwhile, enjoy this one


R ! chard