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Category: Beethoven

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

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“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

String Quartet no 16 in F major, opus 135 – Beethoven

portrait-of-alexander-sakharoff-1909.jpg!Large.jpg

    “Portrait of Alexander Sakharoff (1909) 
      
            Alexej von Jawlensky

                 ______________

if you’re wondering, how could a simple 
composer have such influence on an age,
think of the impact the Beatles had on 
the 1960s, essentially defining them, 
moving them from the pop song, I Want 
to Hold Your Hand“, an updated version 
of anything by Elvis Presley, to their 
transformational Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely
Heart’s Club Band“, thirteen arias in 
search of an opera, paving the way for ,
not only concept albums, but for the 
likes of, for instance, the messianic, 
the oracular, Pink Floyd

Beethoven did much the same for the 
early 19th Century

the 16th String Quartet, his last, is,
like the 15th, in segmented pieces,
not the uninterrupted challenge for 
instrumentalists the continuous
14th is, where neither the players 
nor the audience get time to even 
breathe between movements 

but their composition is so riven 
with musical eccentricities, 
conceptual challenges, that they
are not to be dismissed, are even
epochal

the pauses, the interruptions of the 
beat, the irregular, and disconcerting
sometimes, rhythms, the stridency 
of some of the notes, pitched and
peremptory interpolations, despite 
a sensibility that still pays homage 
between the lines to the Classical 
considerations of deference, 
propriety – you can even feel the 
courtier’s hand, at times, extended 
in the dance, with ever such refined
grace, in order to accompany, to 
partner, to gently lead, his lady 

in other words, the 16th is Abbey
Road“, if I’m to continue with my 
Beatle comparison, for neither  
was the equal of their respective 
counterparts, Sgt. Pepper” ,  
Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet
both of which incontrovertibly and 
absolutely, in their time, changed 
everything, were culturally, thus, 
superior, where the others weren’t, 
didn’t, as effectively, as profoundly, 
leave so strong an imprint  

but you choose, all are extraordinary


R ! chard

psst: in order not to not add the nearly 
          irresistible digital blueprints, 
          which is to say, the not only 
          dancing but utterly illuminating 
          computer graphics, here they are,
          divided in the 16th‘s separate
          movements

             1. Allegretto
             2. Vivace
             3. Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo
             4. Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß. Grave, ma non troppo tratto 
                      (Muss es sein?)  –  Allegro (Es muss sein!) – Grave, ma 
                      non troppo tratto – Allegro

String Quartet no 15 in A minor, opus 132 – Beethoven

the-garden-of-earthly-delights-1515-7.jpg!Large

   “The Garden of Earthly Delights (1510 – 1515) 

          Hieronymus Bosch

               ____________

if I’ve been spending a lot of time on
Beethoven, it’s that, apart from 
besides him Napoleon, no one else 
dominates in the public imagination 
the early 19th Century, there is no 
one else of such comparable 
importance 

let me also point out that when 
Nietzsche identified his model for  
the Übermensch, Superman, it was  
not the French General, the French 
Emperor, however formidable, 
however illustrious, he named, but 
Beethoven 

Nietzsche had already understood 
that in the future, a future where the
idea of God had been put into question,
an issue which had begun irreversibly 
with the splintering of the Catholic 
supremacy, when the several 
Protestantisms, Lutheran, Calvinist
Anglican then, presented differing 
opinions of each their vehemently
defended deity, the eventual 
resolution would be inescapably up 
for metaphysical grabs, which set 
philosophers, scientists, poets in 
search of answers, which by 
definition must be as varied as 
there are voices

the outcome was the eventual 
declaration of human rights before
the court of international opinion 
as the ruling moral consideration
above the demands of any one 
faith

Nietzsche‘s pronouncement was that
a powerful opinion could therefore 
sway very populations towards its 
vision, however ultimately 
sometimes dire, Nietzsche was 
therefore blamed for predicting, 
for instance, Hitler, as though 
Nietzsche were himself responsible, 
rather than prescient 

one of his books, indeed, entitled 
Beyond Good and Evil“, illustrates
the breakdown of the traditional, 
which is to say Christian, moral
order, powerful people will take us 
where they want to, for better or 
for worse, he prophesied

therefore, note, the very present

but there is also Beethoven, the 
incandescent prophet, Charles 
Darwin, the biologist, who 
changed the way we understand 
ourselves, Sigmund Freud, who 
pushed that understanding even 
further, Albert Einstein, who gave 
us an alternate picture of the 
universe, John Lennon, who 
called upon us all to Imagine“, 
Princess Diana, who demonstrated 
what it was to be good in a world 
that was losing its compass, each 
shaping by force of personality 
our present age, their future
 
all was not, by their examples, 
lost, in other words, some of our 
leaders would be benevolent, 
verily even inspiring, despite the 
prevalence in their midst, the 
existential threat of, nefarious, 
indeed ruthless, and, too often, 
appalling, despots, a category 
too long to even begin to list

here’s, however, Beethoven doing 
again his stuff to inform the tenor
of his time, his 15th String Quartet
another forceful and foundational 
step towards the world that lay,
before him, ahead, our world, for 
better or for worse


R ! chard

String Quartet no 14 in C-sharp Minor, opus 131 – Beethoven

musician

        “Musician 

              Zaya

                 __

                                           for Ian, who surely 
                                              benefitted from my
                                                   intransigeance


after watching performed the first movement 
of Beethoven’s 14th String Quartet at home 
with a friend, I interrupted the piece and 
instead put on the one I’d found with 
computer graphics

not from the beginning, he said

yes, from the beginning, I retorted, a mere
six or seven minutes which’ll be worth it, I
insisted, and they were

four lines of music, the top one yellow for 
the first violin, red for the second, mauve 
for the viola, and blue for the cello, which 
individually advance according to the 
length of each instrument’s notes, the 
height, meanwhile, of the lines indicate 
pitch, top ones high notes, bottom lines 
low, it’s like watching a blueprint of 
what’s happening, and mesmerizing, a 
musical score in very motion, though 
without, admittedly, the bar lines, nor 
key and time signatures, clefs neither, 
for that matter 

the music meanwhile is transcendent

Beethoven here resolves all the issues
I brought up about his two early Late
Sonatas, grab bags of fine tunes but 
without a centre, cuts on an album, 
rather than the visionary 
pronouncements of the prophet I’ve
come to expect from Beethoven

Beethoven pulls out all the stops 
for his 14th, goes from a fugue in 
the first movement, a form 
reminiscent of Bach, who’d been 
completely obliterated during the 
Classical Period, masterful dance 
rhythms then, peppered 
throughout, referencing, indeed
honouring late 18th Century court
music, a set of variations in the
fourth movementand other 
classifications I won’t touch for 
their being too technical, but 
which all illustrate Beethoven’s 
mastery of every musical 
convention until his time, then 
pushes all of it further still into 
the future with this string quartet, 
supreme among all string quartets, 
his 14th

much later, Pink Floyd would pull 
off a similar stunt, take its own 
generation’s music to comparable 
heights with an equally cultural, 
which is to say historical, impact,
the comparison is, I think,  
noteworthy and instructive

Pink Floyd, incidentally, was also 
a quartet, for even more context

note that throughout, tonality, tempo,
and repetition have been strictly, 
though, admittedly, often 
eccentrically observed, the piece has 
been arresting, even riveting, however, 
for some, disconcertingly sobut 
never not understood, never foreign, 
the music isn’t at all alienating, as 
could besay, Chinese opera for most 
of us, we’re still here in our corner of 
the planet following faithfully in the 
Western musical tradition as it thus 
then evolved

I could say all of the above as well
again, by the way, about Pink Floyd  
in their own, ahem, Time


all of that said, this other version,  
by the Alban Berg Quartet, is the 
performance that you’ll remember,
it is still incomparable, the gold
standard

enjoy


R ! chard

String Quartet no 13 in B-flat major, opus 130 – Beethoven

mona-lisa.jpg!Large

    “Mona Lisa (c.1504) 

           Leonardo da Vinci

                      ___________

not liking Beethoven is not an option, it’s 
like saying you don’t like Shakespeare, 
or the Mona Lisa“, or Paris, there’s too
much there to not not like, you either 
don’t know them, haven’t even a clue, 
or you’ve a very good reason for your
disfavour, which you are expected then
and with great authority, to explicate

which is to say, however, that not liking 
Beethoven, but for valid reasons, is a
sign of a sharpened, rather, intellect, 
something that no one, I suspect, 
would want to eschew – Gesundheit 

in his Late Quartets, Beethoven can be 
demanding, and not especially convincing
sometimes in his musical argument, let me 
stress the word “argument” here, a notably 
Beethovenian consideration, the last 
movement of his 13th String Quartetfor 
instance, his famous Große Fuge“*, has 
him verily in a rage

for me, the same objections apply to the 
13th as those I accused him of in his 12th
String Quartet, display of uncoordinated 
pieces, like food stands at public markets, 
apples, however delicious, oranges, 
however juicy, pomegranates, however 
exotic, varieties of fish, meat, cheeses, 
tempting desserts, but where I come out 
with just the basil that I wanted in the first 
place for being overwhelmed, wondering, 
wow, all that Sturm und Drang, but what
just happened

what do you think 

listen


R ! chard

*  do not not click, this is totally 
    transcendental, you’ll verily  
    learn how to read music 

String Quartet no 12, E-flat major, opus 127 – Ludwig van Beethoven

the-cellist-1909.jpg!Large

    “The Cellist (1909) 

          Amedeo Modigliani

                   _________

if I haven’t spent a lot of time with
Beethoven’s 12th String Quartet
ever, it’s that, despite being 
considered one of his “Late” 
compositions, 1825, the 
supposedly probing ones, it is 
still steeped in Classical 
traditions, rather than the 
introspective impulses of the 
“Hammerklavier”, for instance, 
most movements seem to aim
for entertainment, rather than 
for enlightenment

all movements display dance rhythms,
often 3/4 time, which is to say, three 
quarter notes to the bar – one, two, 
three, one, two, three, one, two, three, 
one, two, three, try counting them as 
you listen, a dance beat, instead of 
the probing philosophical explorations 
of his more profound “Late” pieces, 
the “Hammerklavier”, for instance

neither is the 12th especially cohesive
as a piece on its own, the movements
don’t especially relate to one another,
they’re like cuts on an album, however
satisfactory, even delightful, they’re
units in a display of abilities, the 
difference between Elvis Presley‘s  ,
however transcendent, but disparate,
ballads to, later, Pink Floyd‘s epic
metaphysical orations  


but you’ll want to watch the cellist 
here, whose enthusiasm, eagerness,
ardour are such that you might even 
want to shield your eyes on occasion, 
with splayed, even, fingers – whose 
breadth I’ll leave entirely up to your 
personal discretion – though I could 
notmyself, resist for even a moment 
the uninhibited physical expression 
of 
his thoroughly impassioned 
account 

tune in, if you dare


R ! chard