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Category: Beethoven

the essential Romantic violin concertos

the-violin-1916.jpg!Large

   “The Violin (1916) 

        Juan Gris

            _____

if I was able to bring up a list of 
ten top Romantic piano concertos  
throughout the 19th Century earlier
can number of violin concertos 
only three essential ones, with,
however, two other significant 
such compositions, which remain, 
for one reason or another, 
peripheral, secondary  

more about which later

but the exalted three are situated
conveniently, the first, at the very 
beginning of the Romantic Era, 
Beethoven’s magisterial, even 
extraordinary, Opus 61 in D major
1806, and close doubly with the
two others, Tchaikovsky’s
resplendent workwords cannot 
do it justice, and Brahms’ no less
transcendental one, at its very end, 
1878, none are negligible, it’d be 
like missing the Eiffel Tower while 
in Paris, skipping the pyramids 
along the Nilethey are part of our 
cultural consciousness, it would 
be an utter shame to pass them 
by, they are our glory, our 
magnificent heritage

it should be noted that the 
concerto, be it for violin, piano, 
cello, what have you, a soloist 
in concert with an array of 
instruments, is the perfect allegory 
for the Romantic Era, an individual 
in contention with a community, 
under the influence of a conductor, 
a mayor, a mentor, a polity, the
individuality afforded by the 
proclamation of human rights in 
the aftermath of the French 
Revolution, and its social 
consequences, musically 
manifested

the match might be fraught, 
should be, though with 
compromise, considerate 
accommodation, fruitful, 
hopefully even transcendental, 
if not at least entertaining, 
cooperation, music seems to 
infer eventual concord, 
congress, harmony, a way out 
of, even dire, distress, or at 
least point the way toward it

concertos die out, incidentally, in 
the 20th Century, you don’t hear 
of very many, if any at all, after 
Rachmaninoff, they are gone,
much like later, in the 1950s, the 
waltz, forever, with the wind

may they rest in peace


R ! chard

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Piano Concertos 2, 3, 4 – Beethoven

the-liberty-leading-the-people-1830.jpg!Large

     “Liberty Leading the People (1830) 

             Eugène Delacroix

                    _________

                               for everyone, with great gratitude, 
                                  who reads me, I mean only to 
                                     bring poetry, which is to say,
                                        light

though I’d considered leaving the 
Romantic Piano Concertos behind
to explore other areas of the period
in this survey, it seemed unfair,  
indeed remiss of me, not to include 
the three among my top ten that I 
haven’t yet highlighted, Beethoven’s 
2nd, 3rdand 4th Piano Concertos
Opuses 1937and 58 respectively,
after all, these are where the spirit 
of the age, the Zeitgeist, was 
constructed, like a building, with 
walls, windows, a hearth, all of 
which would become church, 
then a Church, and by the time of 
Brahms, a very Romantic Cathedral 

the foundation had already been laid 
by Mozart with his 27, but music had 
not yet become anything other than 
an entertainment by then, or 
alternatively, an accessory to 
ceremonial pomp and circumstance, 
see Handel and England for this, or 
liturgical stuffsee, among many 
others here, Bach

but with the turn towards 
independence of thought as the 
Enlightenment progressed, cultural 
power devolved from the prelates, 
and their reverent representations, 
to the nobles, who wanted their own 
art, music, which is to say, something 
secular, therefore the Classical 
Period, 1750 – 1800, in round figures

then in the middle of all that, 1789, 
the French Revolution happened, 
and the field was ripe for prophets, 
anyone with a message of hope, 
and a metaphysical direction, midst 
all the existential disarray – the Age
of Reason had set the way, 
theoretically, for the possibility of a 
world without God, something, or 
Something, was needed to replace 
the The Trinity, the Father, the Son, 
and the Holy Ghost, Who had been 
seeing Their supremacy contested 
since already the Reformation 

Beethoven turned out to be just
our man, don’t take my, but history‘s 
authentification of it, see the very
Romantic Period for corroboration

in a word, Beethoven established 
Faith, a Vision, not to mention the 
appropriate tools to instal this new 
perspective, a sound, however
inherited, musical structure – his 
Piano Concertos TwoThreeand 
Four, for instance, are paramount 
amongst a host of others of his  
transcendental revelations

briefly, the initial voice, I am here, in 
the first movement, is declamatory, 
even imperious, but ever 
compositionally solid, and proven, 
tempo, tonality, recapitulation, the 
materials haven’t changed from the 
earlier Classical epoch, just the 
design, the interior, the 
metaphysical conception

his construction is masterfully
direct, the line of music is 
throughout ever clear and concise, 
despite flights ofoften, ethereal, 
even magical, speculation, you 
don’t feel the music in your body 
as you would in a dance, as in the 
earlier eraof minuets, but follow 
it, rather, with your intellect, you,
nearly irresistibly, read it

but the adagio, the slow movement, 
the middle one Classically, is always, 
for me, the clincher, the movement 
that delivers the incontrovertible 
humanity that gave power to the 
Romantic poet, who touched you 
where you live 

Beethoven says life is difficult, and
eventually, at the end of his Early, 
Middle and Late Periods, life may 
even have no meaning
 
but should there be someone, he 
says, who is listening, Someone – 
though implicit is that one may be 
speaking to merely the wind – this 
is what I can do, this is who I am
 
and while I am here, however 
briefly, am not insignificant, I 
can be worthy, even glorious, 
even beautiful, I am no less 
consequential, thus, nor  
precious, than a flower

for better, of course, or for worse


R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 2, opus 83 – Brahms

1024px-Notre_Dame_de_Chartres.jpg

      Chartres Cathedral

          _____________

if Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto is, to my 
mind, the last one of the Romantic Period,  
Beethoven’s First is, accordingly, the first
 
I thought it, therefore, instructive to pair 
them 

Beethoven, impelled by ideological 
speculations, built not only a variation
on what had come before, music as 
entertainment, a reason to dance, but
gave it a greater, which is to say, 
philosophical, dimension

by extending the reach of the cadence
beyond the usual metered rhythm, 
sending the melodic statement 
beyond an otherwise constricting bar 
line, Beethoven turned a lilt into a 
sentence, a ditty into a paragraph   

Shakespeare does the same thing to
poetry, for instance, with iambic 
pentameter devoid of rhyme

         “But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
          It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
          Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
          Who is already sick and pale with grief,
          That thou her maid art far more fair than she”

                                  “Romeo and Juliet”, 2, 2, 2-6

and with this newfound oratory, 
peremptory, insistent, imbued, 
however, with utterly convincing 
honesty, unfettered emotion, 
which is to say, humanity, 
Beethoven establishes the 
sensibility of a very era, listen

that era, up to, eventually, Brahms
elaborates on that ethos, adding 
texture and enhanced authority 
to the original concept, setting 
the moral agenda for that, and 
other generations, to follow 

Brahms is more ponderous, mighty,
a cathedral instead of a church, a
commandment instead of an 
aspirational, merely, thrust, he 
adds even a fourth movement to 
an already magnificent structure, 
an extra steeple to towering 
edifice, a subliminally received 
reference to Beethoven‘s already 
inspiredbut tripartite only,  
architecture   

see Chartres for a comparable
ecclesiastical counterpart


R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 1 in D minor, opus 15 – Brahms

the-wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog.jpg!Large

    “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog (1818)

         Caspar David Friedrich

                  _____________

if Beethoven built the Church, along 
with Goethe maybe, of Romanticism, 
and be assured Romanticism is an 
ideology, a moral outlook, a 
motivational perspective, much like 
the economy is nowadays, 
supplanting any more humanistic 
imperatives, Brahms put up one of its 
Cathedrals, just listen, the First Piano
Concerto is a monument, as mighty 
as the Cologne Cathedral musically,
right next to Bonn, incidentally,  
Brahms‘ birthplace

with the disintegration of the 
supremacy of the Catholic deity 
at the onset of the Protestant 
Reformation, Luther, Calvin
Henry Vlll and all that, bolstered
by new discoveries in scientific
speculation, that the earth wasn’t 
flat, for instance, that it revolved 
around the sun rather than the 
other way around, contradictory, 
though convincing, voices began 
to abound, excite question  

in the 18th Century, the Age of 
Reason, the Christian Deity fell,
never effectively to be put back 
together again, see for Its final
sundering, Nietzsche

in France, after the Revolution
the Church was officially removed 
from political consideration, 
countermanding its centuries of 
morally heinous depredations, 
the United States had already at 
its own Revolution separated it 
from State  

Romanticism was an answer to 
a world wherein there might not 
be a God, a world with, however,  
a spiritual dimension, to respond 
to the clockwork universe 
envisioned by the earlier epoch,
the Enlightenmenta world where 
everything could be categorized,
analyzed, predicted

Romanticism called for the 
inclusion of inspiration in the mix,
there are more things in heaven 
and earth, Horatio, than are 
dreamt of in your philosophy, 
as Shakespeare would, for 
instance, have it – “Hamlet”,
1.5.167-8 
 
poets became prophets thereby, 
if they could manage it, very 
oracles, the world was blessed 
with, at that very moment, 
Beethoven, far outstripping the 
likes of, later, for example, Billy
Graham, or other such, however
galvanizing, proselytizers, 
whose messages would’ve been 
too, to my mind,  literal

for music cannot lie, obfuscate, 
prevaricate, music cannot be 
fake  

and then there was Schubert
and Chopin, TolstoyDickens
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Roberther husband, 
TchaikovskyCaspar David
Friedrich, the Johann Strausses,  
ByronShelley, Keats, whose 
artworks, all, are as profoundly 
in our blood, our cultural system,
as, if not more so than, our 
present information about the 
details of our Christian myths, 
despite superfluity of them 
even, throughout the long 
indeed Middle Ages, and right 
up to, and including, the still 
fervent then Renaissancefor 
better or for worse still, for us

what Romanticism did, and 
specifically through the work 
of these seminal artists, was 
give each of us a chance, 
show us how to come 
through trial and tribulation,
what a faith does, any faith

it said, here, this is my dilemma, 
and this is how I deal with it

for me, Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata is, soundly, the 
epitome of that, but listen to 
Brahms put a stamp on it
with undaunted authority

we might be ultimately of no 
consequence in an indifferent 
universe, they say, but, hey, 
this is what we can do, and 
do gloriously, while we are 
at it

Woody Allen picks up the 
purpose in our own recent 
20th Century, following in 
the earnest footsteps of his 
Existential mentor, the much 
too dour, think, Ingmar 
Bergman  

but that’s another story
entirely 


meanwhile, listen

also watch, the conductor here
complete delight, is right out 
of Alice in Wonderland“, 
promise you’ll love it


R ! chard 

Piano Concerto no 3 in E-flat major, opus 75 – Tchaikovsky

so050050

        gargoyle at Cologne Cathedral

                    ______________

if I’m including Tchaikovsky’s Third
and last, Piano Concerto in my survey, 
it’s not because of its excellence, it is, 
indeed, severely flawed, but because 
am a completist – if I’m visiting the 
Cologne Cathedral, ergo, for instance, 
I’ll make my way to the very top, 
however treacherous might be the 
stairs, the gargoyles being worth it, 
not to mention the view  

first of all, it’s incomplete, Tchaikovsky
died before finishing it, you can’t blame 
him for that, though he was, curiously, 
complicit in his own demise, but I don’t 
believe this composition and his death 
are that intimately interrelated

it has only one movement, but has 
nevertheless been termed a concerto 
on the, debatably unsound, strength 
of its intention

briefly, and this is my opinion, the
movement has no lyrical moment, 
no melting melody to float you out
of the recital hall as you exit
nothing to hum, nor to whistle as 
you wistfully wend your way back 
home, nothing to remember but 
flash, braggadocio, bombast, 
expert fingers strutting their 
dazzling, even, stuff, style over 
substance, I venture, won’t be
enough to whisk you into the 
following centuries

Chopin, the other towering Romantic 
figure standing between the spiritual 
bookends of Beethoven and Brahms, 
wrote two piano concertos, of which 
his Second suffers from, essentially,  
not being his First, however mighty 
his Second herefor instance, 
proves to be in this utterly convincing 
performance, watch, wow

Beethoven, in other words, wrote the
book, two works, Tchaikovsky’s First
and Chopin’s First, tower above his 
in the public imagination during the 
ensuing High Romantic Periodafter 
which Brahms closes the door on the 
era with his two powerful masterpieces 
for piano and orchestra 

of which more later

there are other piano concertos 
along the way, but Beethoven’s 
five, Tchaikovsky’s and Chopin’s 
one each, and Brahms two are 
the basics – but let me add, upon 
further consideration, and for a
a perfect ten options, Liszt, his 
own, of two, First Piano Concerto –
what you need to consider yourself 
comfortably aware of the essentials 
of music in the 19th Century, the 
culture’s predominant voice then, 
until art, painting, took over as the 
Zeitgeist‘s most expressive medium
with Impressionism

of which more later

R ! chard

Piano Concerto no 1, opus 23 – Tchaikovsky

the-birth-of-venus-1485(1).jpg!Large

    “The Birth of Venus” (1485) 

          Sandro Botticelli

              ___________

if there’s a piano concerto that dominates
the 19th Century, it’s Tchaikovsky’s First
Piano Concerto, not even Beethoven’s
Fifth, to my mind, matches its celebrity,
one thinks Romantic Period, one thinks
this iconic masterpiece

Tchaikovsky had the advantage of 
absorbing not only Beethoven by this
point in history, but also Chopin, the
narrative power of the former, with 
the mesmerizing textures of the latter,
what could go wrong but insufficient 
genius 

of which Tchaikovsky manifestly had 
more than plenty, enough to verily 
stop your breath  

many towering performers have 
challenged this concerto‘s peaks, 
some even historically, you’ve 
heard them, I won’t reiterate

but listen to what Yuja Wang does with
this challenge, and you tell me if she 
doesn’t conquer its tribulations
despite, or abetted by, her 
controversial dress 

she is a vixen, manifestly, at least in, 
admittedly, her attire, but should a 
vixen play as brilliantly, what does 
one have to counter her provocative 
presentation but her innate femininity, 
her, too often castigated, female pulse, 
something the world could do with 
lot more of

Venuswith all her allure, was goddess 
for centuries before women were 
obliterated from the dominant Christian 
pantheon, the Father, the Son, the Holy, 
I ask you, Ghost, with no equal female 
foundational representative 

Yuja Wangmodern day Venus abetted 
by her evident attendant muses, the
symbolic, hereorchestra, see  above 
could play nude, as far as I’m concerned,  
she’d still be transcendent, and I’m not
even heterosexual 

girlfriend, I say, however proper, modest, 
blushing, get a grip

not to mention that Tchaikovsky is also, 
in this outing, once again, astounding

listen


R ! chard

“Grand Piano Sonata” in G major, opus 37 – Tchaikovsky

blossoming-almond-branch-in-a-glass-with-a-book-1888(1).jpg!Large.jpg

  “Blossoming Almond Branch in a Glass with a Book (1888)

       Vincent van Gogh

             __________

if Tchaikovsky’s 2nd Piano Sonata hasn’t
remained in the canon, if it isn’t one of 
the pieces you’ve heard if only through
the grapevine, it’s, I suspect, cause it’s 
essentially not an advance on other more 
prescient works in the form, other more 
oracular compositions

Beethoven had paved the way for the 
Romantic Period, nearly invented it,
established incontrovertibly the 
dimensions of the sonata, notably its 
purpose, its structure, Schubert had, 
however belatedly, confirmed it, with 
works equal to his, and even, here 
and there, superior, listen

but having reached the summit of 
what a sonata could say, the form 
little by little withered in its several
Romantic permutations, Tchaikovsky
here, for example, and became mere
elaborations upon a waning theme 
rather than exciting, and revelatory, 
productions 

the sonata would survive, but  
transformed by another era, 
Impressionism, Tchaikovsky would
as well, of course, but not through 
his sonatas

his Second, however, is not not 
worth a listen, would you pass, 
for instance, on a less celebrated
perhaps, van Goghsee above

Tchaikovsky’s, therefore, Second

 
R ! chard

Piano Sonata in C# minor, opus 80 – Tchaikovsky

the-sonata-1.jpg!Large

The Sonata 

              Childe Hassam

                     ___________

                            for Sarah and Rachel, the daughters
                              of the son of a dear cousin, after a 
                                belated lunch recently, two young 
                                  girls14, 16, in bloom, as Proust 
                                    would say, who speak not only 
                                      music, but French and English,
                                        fluently, I checked – perhaps   
                                          even German, their Oma  
                                            lives with them – they also  
                                              play the flute, the piano,    
                                                and sing, what could be
                                                  I ask you, more beautiful,  
                                                   two young girls ibloom, 
                                                     indeed in very blossom   
                                        
                               or am I being too French
 
the form of the sonata had been established 
decisively during the Classical Period, out 
of the rudiments of Bach’s own such pieces
Mozart and Haydn had given the concept its 
final shape, its structure, three or four 
contrasting movements, by definition all 
entertainments

Beethoven kicked the entertainment part 
right out of the ball park, made his show 
into a veritable transcendental meditation, 
rather than to merely applaud, audiences 
gasped, were meant to be awed, as I still 
ever am by his musical speculations

but by definition as well, a sonata is a 
piece for a single instrument, therefore
inherently introspective, whether the 
player has an audience or not, soloists, 
note, play easily on their own

even an accompanied sonata, as violin
sonatas often are, for instance, or this 
one for two pianos, would lose the 
intimacy of a solo piece, for having 
someone playing, however compatibly, 
over one’s shoulder  

in other words, a piano sonata is, by
definition, a monologue, a soliloquy,
where notes tell the story that words 
would intimately, even confessionally,
in poetry, convey

the emotions that are elicited from 
a piece are as real as they would 
be from any literary alternative, 
except that they’re quickened, like 
aromas, through the senses, rather 
than through divisiveby definition 
confrontational, logic

rosemary reminds me always, for 
instance, of one of my departed 
aunts, like the taste of a madeleine 
dipped in tea opened the door for 
Proust to an entire earlier epoch, 
the seed, the subject, of his 
disquisition on Time, À la 
recherche du temps perdu“, An 
Exploration into Elapsed Time“, 
my own translation, none of the 
published proffered titles   
having rendered the subtlety  
of the shimmering original
  
rosemary, in other words, speaks,
if even only to me

listen to Tchaikovsky’s First Piano
Sonata, in C# minor, opus 80, one
of only two of his, what do you 
hear, think, feel


R ! chard

First Symphony, “Winter Dreams”, opus 13 – Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky_6.jpeg

 Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1866)

            ______

                               for Elizabeth, who said she’d  
                                “be all ears once it happens“, 
                                     this first of my Tchaikovskys
                                               
the example of Beethoven was 
a hard act to follow, no one 
nearby, which is to say, in the
vicinity of Vienna, which had 
ruled the musical world for 
more than half a century, from 
Mozart to late Beethoven, 
would be able to match his 
eminence, not even the, 
however mighty, Brahms 

but in the East a star was born, in
1840, of extraordinary dimensions,
to tower above the High Romantic 
period, which shone with, were it 
not for its distance from the 
European central galaxy,  
comparable brightness  

Beethoven had written for every
instrument, every combination 
of instruments, every voice, 
every combination of voices, 
no other composer had, nor 
has since, done that but the 
incandescent Tchaikovsky
who’d ever ‘a’ thunk it

symphonies, concertos, string
quartets, sonatas, variations, 
ballets, operas, liturgical 
pieces, there wasn’t anything 
he didn’t touch, and transform 
into magic

here‘s an early work, his Opus 13
only, in order to get chronological 
perspective, and, as I pursue this 
compelling trajectory, a sense of  
his musical evolution, his First
Symphony, “Winter Dreams”*

listen for troikas flying across 
the steppes, hear the bells tingle 
from their fleeting carriages, be 
swept away by the exhilarating 
majesty


R ! chard

Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra,
      Joshua dos Santos, conductor

Shakespeare = Beethoven, or the reverse

john-philip-kemble-as-hamlet-1801.jpg!Large.jpg

    “John Philip Kemble as Hamlet (1801)

           Thomas Lawrence

                ___________

if I’m to compare Beethoven’s 32nd
Piano Sonata, his opus 111, with 
anything else you might be familiar
with, it would be Shakespeare’s 
epochal contemplation, To be, or
not to be“, both are, first, and 
briefly, soliloquies, one performer
alone is on stage, both are 
implicitly meditations, that will 
augur, inspire, note, a new age 

let me propound, for a moment, on 
the Shakespeare, an introspective 
piece set on resolving an existential 
dilemma, To be, or not to be, that is 
the question, it is pungent, forceful, 
arresting, if only even rhythmically,
so much so that many still 
pronounce the first line of that 
trenchant aria with verily stentorian  
conviction, without realizing that the
several concluding movements are 
abysmally dire, indeed they 
investigate, with improbably literate 
fervour, a life and death situation  

    Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them

should one, after contemplation, 
bear the onslaught of life’s most 
unacceptable tribulations, or, 
most efficiently, cut all of it off

     … To die – he says – to sleep,
     No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
     The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
     That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
     Devoutly to be wished 

I’ve often been there

      ... To die, to sleep;
      To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:

the rub, which is to say, the problem,
what’s up once you’ve done yourself 
in  

      For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
      When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
      Must give us pause

indeed, there’s the respect, the angle, 
the conundrum one must consider

      that makes calamity of so long life 

one ‘s stuck between the devil and the 
deep blue sea

       For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
       Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
       
the demeaning disrespect a proud man ‘s 
made to suffer

       The pangs of dispriz’d love, the law’s delay,
       The insolence of office, and the spurns 
       That patient merit of the unworthy takes

which is to say, life’s multifarious, and
beleaguering struggles

        When he himself might his quietus make 
        With a bare bodkin?

quietus, silence, extermination 
bodkin, a knife

        … Who would fardels bear, 

fardels, hardships

       To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
       But that the dread of something after death,
       The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
       No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
       And makes us rather bear those ills we have 
       Than fly to others we know not of?

we keep on grunting, in fear that 
what comes after could be worse

a man considering his own demise,
his quietus, at the time of Shakespeare 
would’ve been, only a generation earlier,
an heretic, one deserving of unforgiving,
and gruesome, censure, Hamlet was,
not incidentally, however
prince, a  
role model, though evidently controversial

but the Reformation had occurred, 
a loosening of categorical strictures

in France, Descartes had, in his quest 
for the true God, concluded, Cogito,
ergo sum, I think, therefore I am,
eclipsing the Catholic God as the 
final arbiter, personal metaphysical
options were up for grabs, out in 
the open, though yet not entirely 
secular

which would happen, out loud,  in 
the Age of Reason, when God, as 
we knew Him, lost His, by now 
scattered, authority, among 
Lutherans, for instance, Calvinists, 
Anglicans, and proliferation of 
sprouting others, not to mention, 
still, the stalwart, ever, Roman 
Catholics 

the Romantic Period needed a new 
ethic, a personal evaluation of one’s
metaphysical position, Beethoven, 
in a word, or in his 32nd Piano
Sonata rather, delivers, a piece no 
less intense than Shakespeare’s 
profound interrogation

briefly, there are two movements
heremerely, which demand your 
attention, it isn’t music that one 
listens to with just one ear, this 
is Jesus on the Mount of Olives
Gethsemane, not much different 
from Shakespeare’s existential 
soliloquy

war, peace, rebellion, resignation,
black, white, fast, slow, explosive,
extended, man, woman, yin, 
indeed, yang, short, long, 
irascible, submissive, all 
paradoxical dichotomies, all 
eventuallymanifestly, 
transcendent, all a subjugation, 
private prayer, eventually, 
however fraught, however 
nevertheless archetypal,
two movements that still 
haven’t exhausted their 
philosophical potential for 
being assuaging, inspirational 


R ! chard