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Category: in search of God/dess

32 Variations in C# Minor, WoO.80 – Beethoven

variations-in-violet-and-grey-market-place.jpg!Large.jpg

Variations in Violet and Grey – Market Place (1885) 

               James McNeill Whistler

                          ___________

strolling through my virtual musical park 
today, in, indeed, the very merry month 
of May, I was taken by surprise by, nearly 
tripped over, in fact, a Beethoven work
written in the very year, 1806, of the 
“Razumovsky”s

I’d overlooked it cause it is without an 
opus number, is listed, therefore, as 
WoO.80and is, consequently, easily 
lost in the wealth of Beethoven’s 
more prominently identified pieces,
but it is utterly miraculous, I think, 
and entirely indispensable 

I’d said something about it in an earlier
text, back when I was somewhat more 
of a nerd, it would appear, perhaps even 
a little inscrutable, though it’s 
nevertheless, I think, not uninformative, 
you might want to check it out, despite 
its platform difficulties

the 32 Variations in C# Minor are shorter,
at an average of 11 minutes, than Chopin’s
“Minute Waltz”relatively, a variation every 
half minute, where Chopin’s nevertheless
magical invention takes twice that to 
complete its proposition

but in this brief span of time, this more 
or less 11 minutes, Beethoven takes 
you to the moon and back

a few things I could add to my earlier
evaluation, could even be reiterating, 
Beethoven in his variations explores a 
musical idea, turns it in every which
direction, not much different from what 
he does in the individual movements of 
his string quartets, his trios, his 
symphonies, concertos and sonatas, 
with their essential themes, motives, 
they’re all – if you’ll permit an idea I got
from Paganini’s “Caprices” – cadenzas,
individual musings inspirationally 
extrapolated, which, be they for 
technical brilliance, or for a yearning 
for more spiritual legacy, set the 
stage for a promise of forthcoming 
excellence 

this dichotomy will define the 
essential bifurcated paths of the 
musical industry, during, incidentally, 
the very Industrial Revolution, their 
mutual history, confrontation, for the 
centuries to follow, which is to say, 
their balance between form and 
function, style versus substance, 
Glenn Gould versus Liberace, say,
or Chopin, Liszt 

before this, it’d been the more 
sedate, less assertive evenings at 
the Esterházys, to give you some 
perspective, mass markets were 
about to come up, not least in the 
matter of entertainment

Beethoven was, as it were, already  
putting on a show


R ! chard

psst: these alternate “Variations” put you in  
          the driver’s seat, a pilot explains the
          procedures, it’s completely absorbing, 
          insightful, listen

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String Quartet, Opus 59, no 3 – Beethoven

view-from-the-small-warmbrunn-sturmhaube.jpg!Large

    “View from the Small Warmbrunn Sturmhaube (1811) 

           Caspar David Friedrich

                  _____________

                                               for Joselyn

because I hadn’t been that enthralled with 
Beethoven’s Middle Period string quartets,
when Joselyn called and asked me what I 
was up to, I answered, a hiatus, honey, I’m 
experiencing a hiatus

I’d heard the first movement of Beethoven’s
Opus 59, no 3, the last Razumovsky, and had
been less than impressed, the next movement 
could, if she could entice me, wait 

well, she said, get your hiatus right down
here, let’s have a game of Scrabble, she 
lives in the building a few floors down

she beat me, as she always does, often 
trounces me, but it is a distraction from 
my other more philosophical, intellectual, 
pursuits, however much it might inform
them

the Opus 59, no 3, is not, for me, 
especially convincing, as are none of the 
string quartets until the 14th, but they are 
historically significant, having changed 
the very course of music since, they’re 
worth, consequently, a visit

you’ll note that you don’t sit back to listen
to Beethoven, you sit up, this is not 
entertainment, it is a proclamation, 
Beethoven arrests your attention, doesn’t 
court it, this is not, in the new era, chamber
music, as we call it still, it is music for the 
stage, an audience, see Paganini for more  
proof, if you need it, of that

Beethoven takes a trinket and explores it,
a motive, if you will, applies volume to it,
changes of pace, changes of tonality, 
eccentric rhythms, to eventually lose one
in a world of, if not confusion, 
enchantment, usually, with a few deft 
musical turns, enchantment, a somnolent
adagio, for instance, becomes a profoundly
seductive tune, for an however brief moment 

later, he will utterly, and constantly, inspire, 
during his, indeed oracular, Late Period

but other miracles will transpire before that, 
of which I’ll, assuredly, keep you posted


R ! chard

String Quartet Opus 59, no 1 – Beethoven

blue-moby-dick(1).jpg!Large

     “Blue (Moby Dick) (1943) 

            Jackson Pollock

                  _________

                                                            for Gail

my story is nearly incredible, as Herman
Melville would say around his Moby-Dick,
but there you have it, today, I levitated

I’d been leery about broaching the
“Razumovsky” Quartets, their never having
been my favourites, for being both too 
groundbreaking, and not enough, strident
passages with insufficient philosophical 
exploration, and opted all but instinctively   
for the more probing stuff, Beethoven’s  
later transcendental revelations

but how could I talk about string quartets,
I reasoned, the actual focus of my, however, 
apparently peripheral, subject, here, without
tackling, and decidedly, the very best example
of Beethoven’s Middle Period, his Opus 59

there are three works in the “Razumovsky”s,
but after a veritable epiphanyI chose 
the First

my housekeeper had arrived, Proust’s
Françoise, in my poetic imagination, 
a lady who knows my most intimate 
secrets, but tends merely, and 
respectfully, and dutifully, indeed 
blessedly, but to her mission, though 
I entrust her, by extension, I guess,
with aspects, even unconsciously,  
of my very soul

I’d delighted in the second movement
of Beethoven’s 7th String Quartet, the
Allegretto vivace e sempre scherzando“,
was even singing along, told her I’d get 
the notes right next time, even did a
second turn that she thought better
than the first 

then I realized, after a break, for 
refreshments, that the adagio was about 
to come up, the Adagio molto e mesto“, 
not to mention its unanticipated attacca 

o my god/dess, I cried, you’re not going
to be ready for this, though I remembered 
nothing of this particular, however 
miraculous, eventually, movement

she remained throughout composed, 
continued diligently her purposes, 
while I, progressively, levitated, left, 
I tell you, the sofa, transcended

wow, I kept exclaiming, as I held on, 
however enthralled, to my seat, Gail,
I screeched, I’m not even touching 
the sofa

she kept on, imperturbably, steadily, 
and conscientiously passing the 
vacuum, while I up and soared


the last glorious movement, the 
“Allegro”, carried me comfortably 
to a satisfying conclusion, 
enough 
to settle me down enough to touch
the ground in order to pay her
 
which she, ever as graciously and 
discreetly as Françoise might’ve
done, acknowledged

I’ll send you the transcript of my
impressionsI said to her, you’ll 
want to listen, you’ll love it 

listen, you’ll love it


R ! chard

“Caprices” for Solo Violin – Paganini

musical-f-te-1747.jpg!Large

    “Musical Fête (1747) 

           Giovanni Paolo Panini

                        ____________

though by now you must be assuming 
that Beethoven had been defining the
entire early Romantic Period all by 
himself, 1803, let’s say, to, say, 1810, 
when Schubert, 13 by then, started 
kicking in, however immaturely, with 
his D1 – D1, note, not D960, over a 
thousand compositions later, a work 
imbued, so early, not unexpectedly,  
with the irrepressible spirit of Mozart, 
and therefore, by thenincidentally, 
audibly outdated – but you would be, 
we would  be, overlooking the extraordinary  
influence of a maverick, a relic of the  
earlier Italian domination of the arts, 
from the Renaissance, at least, on – 
Paganini – the wizard of the 
violin, who’d sold his soul, like Faust,  
to the devil, it was susurrated, for his
extraordinary gift
 
Bach had not only changed the course 
of musical history, in the early 18th
Century, but shanghaied the very 
language of art as oracular expression,
and substituted music as the voice that 
spoke for the people, music will define 
henceforth, for a time, the period
 
there is the Italian Baroque, of course,
utterly masterful paintings, sublime
even, see abovebut it has been 
supplanted in our 21st-Century 
popular imagination by the Baroque 
of the German nations, their music, 
Bach’s, transcendental then, though 
ever so intricate, descriptions of his 
particular epoch 

this dominance will migrate to Paris, 
eventually, and back to art, painting, 
after over a hundred tumultuous, 
and impermeable, years, with the 
Impressionists, in the late 19th 
Century

meanwhile, Paganini will get in the 
way, 1780 – 1840, an exact, more or 
less, contemporary of Beethoven, 
1770 – 1827, and show off what 
Romantics can do, unleashed, 
before a newly enfranchised, and 
thrilled, as you will surely be, 
audience  

watch, be dazzled


R ! chard

psst: the Caprices are essentially
          cadenzas, the improvised solo
          sections in concertos, where 
          instrumentalists get to show 
          off their stuff, and riff, however
          exponentially, on their subject

          Paganini, makes an art form 
          of that, as do others, whom 
          I’ll bring up, trust me, later

          stay tuned

 

Beethoven / Schubert piano trios

newborn-baby-on-hands.jpg!Large.jpg

     Newborn Baby on Hands (1927) 

             Otto Dix

             _________

once I learned to read music, which  
is to say, to pay attention when I was 
listening – the line of the melody, its
development, the counter melody,
its development, the recapitulation,
of either, or both, the changes in 
volume, tonality, the changes in 
pace, rhythm – the grammar of 
composition began to make itself
evident, felt, like the work of verbs, 
nouns, adjectives in sentences

the particularities of the composer 
then, much like the colours on a 
painter’s palette, made themselves 
manifest, the trick is there are no 
words in either of these arts, one  
must understand them with the
senses

two stories

I’d had an aneurysm, my sister 
was there each day to hold my 
hand, as I lay silently, patiently, 
recovering, any noise was 
painful, even excruciating

years later, all I could do, she said, 
was hold your hand

all you could do, I retorted, 
utterly confounded, there was 
everything in your hand, your 
love, your prayers, your attention
and devotion, all of those things,
I said, are what kept me alive

later, extrapolated that that must 
be how a newborn baby understands,  
through the senses, like we do music 
and paintings 

another

when many years later I was 
volunteering at the local palliative 
care unit, I was asked to sit with 
a mother whose family would 
meanwhile take their lunch
together, the mother, incoherent 
and distraught, was all ajitter
in her bed

I sat by her, put a hand on her 
arm, gently, and began to chant 
a mantra I’d recently taken up in 
meditation, something repetitive 
and calming

little by little her tremors slowed,
stopped, and then she began to
sing, to mumble, to murmur, to 
intonerow, row, row your boat, 
over and over again, in a 
corroborating rhythm
acknowledging, mystically, 
magically, our transcendent 
connection

here’s some Beethoven

here’s some Schubert

try to tell them apart


R ! chard

“Mother with Children” – Gustav Klimt

mother-with-children.jpg!Large     
     “Mother with Children (c.1909 – 1910)

             Gustav Klimt

                 _______

Gustav Klimt has long been one of 
my very favourite painters, a large 
reproduction of a detail of his 
masterpiece, Music“, hangs even 
on one of my walls

how much is that Klimt in the 
window, I’d asked the merchant 
when I saw it from the street in 
his shop’s display

later, I invited people over, to see
my Klimt, I’ve got a very large 
Klimt, I’d say – this is before 
anyone even knew of him, I was, 
I’ll admit, a bad boy

around all that, I’ve had the good 
fortune to see many of his works
during the several times I’ve been 
to Vienna, where most of his 
wonders reside, where they grace  
that immortal city, the great hall of
the Kunsthistorisches Museum,
the Art History Museum in English, 
for instance, the Beethoven Frieze 
at the Vienna Secession Building 
and, of course, at Belvedere, the 
summer palace, where among 
other paintings of his, you can 
still see the iconic The Kiss
their national treasure

but the painting above, part of a 
private, apparently, collection, is 
utterly new to me, and therefore 
striking,

note how stark the background is
here, above, compared to Klimt’s 
usually more ornamented 
constructions, how the subject is
starkly the gentleness, the 
intimation of peace, even serenity,
in the rosy cheeks of not only the 
children, but of also the mother,
the slumber and surrendermidst 
the imprecations of the 
surrounding, and portentous,
darkness, note the paradoxical, 
genetically determined even, trust 
and love, in the consonant colours, 
cherry blossoms blooming in all 
three sleeping faces, despite the 
threatening miasma of encroaching 
and engulfing primordial earth

Shostakovich also said something 
like that in his 15th String Quartet
a fundamental harmony develops, 
despite even strident distortions, 
disturbances, in otherwise 
unbearable situations, to provide 
some solace, redemption
 
listen, I urge you, if you dare

compare the crook in the mother’s 
neck, above, a nearly Baroque angle, 
to the same docile, though resilient,
bent in Klimt‘s lover in The Kiss 
for his provocative, maybe even 
enlightening, perspective on 
women


happy Mother’s Day, mothers, for all 
your invaluable attention


R ! chard

Mozart / Haydn piano sonatas

Portrait_of_Princess_Friederike_Luise_of_Prussia_(1714-1784),_Margravine_of_Brandenburg.jpg

    Princess Friederike Luise of Prussia (1714-1784), Margravine of Brandenburg

              ____________

if you had trouble distinguishing your
Schubert from your Beethoven, you’ll
probably have trouble as well telling
your Mozart from your Haydn, though
you won’t find it difficult, if you listen,  
to tell the earlier two from the latter

both the Haydn here, and the Mozart,
were written in 1789, the year of the 
French Revolution, something akin 
to our 9/11, the world changed from
one moment to the next 

the first two were still doing parties,
which is to say, salon music, stuff 
for elites, you can hear it, frivolities,
with, however magical, elaborations
– Liberace, I thought – nothing ever 
as confessional as the two later 
composers, who, with the new 
fervour around individual opinion, 
in the wake of questions even about 
the validity of God, would create the 
very Romantic Era 

Mozart and Haydn explore songs,
ditties, Beethoven and Schubert 
investigate very fundamental 
musical constructions, they’re 
down to the very essence of 
tonal possibilities, something 
that happened to the pictorial 
arts in the 1950’s, as artists 
probed the cerebral implications 
of colour, see for instance, 
Rothko

their probe itself becomes more 
powerful than their apparent 
subject, the tune, though the 
melody proves to be, ever, the 
cement that keeps the meditation 
together

what it says, what they say, is
that confronting our destiny, 
we remain the only arbiter, its
outcome will be as beautiful 
as we make it, for better or for 
worse, the creation of 
something beautiful, a work 
that can be so beautiful, much
like a life, seems to be a reply 
that can somewhat, at least, 
existentially satisfy a sense 
of purpose 

what, otherwise

  
R ! chard

psst: Mozart’s piano sonata was written 
          for Princess Friederike Luise of
          Prussia, pictured above 

what’s up in Frankfurt – Piano Sonata in F minor, “Appassionata” – Beethoven

the-conversation-of-napoleon-and-francois-ii-1808.jpg!Large

  “The conversation of Napoleon and Francois II (1808) 

        Pierre-Paul Prud’hon

________

it’s 1804, Beethoven has entered his
Middle Period, left the more formal 
constraints of the Classical Period, 
Mozart and Haydn, behind, though
perhaps not essentially, the 
structure remains, hardwiredbut 
its spirit is entirely different, 
revolutionarily different, thanks to
Napoleon

and Beethoven is as opinionated 
as the revolutionaries, boisterous,
adamant, peremptory even, he is 
Zeus, and not undeservedly, at 
the top of Olympus’ musical 
mountain, where, incidentally, 
he still prevails, harmony’s very 
Homer

by his Opus 57, the Appassionata” 
– a name not of his own invention, 
but, however discriminately, ascribed 
later – he isn’t as metaphysical as 
Schubert is in that later poet’s D960
Beethoven is still writing descriptive 
texts, torrid novels, however 
masterfully illustrated, more than 
the philosophical stuff he’ll later 
undertake, even topping, when that
takes place, Schubert’s, ever, 
nevertheless, transcendental D960
if you can believe it

but Schubert remained a stripling, 
Beethoven, his elder, was given the 
grace to probe longer his humanity,
however might it have been equally 
cruelly benighted, and to stretch his 
speculative reach into previously 
unimagined dimensions, beyond 
the limited temporal scope of the 
surely shriven since Schubert 

all of whose wonders have defied 
the harsh indignities of time, and 
continue still to profoundly and
indelibly reverberate

listen, marvel


R ! chard

what’s up in Amsterdam – Piano Sonata in B flat major, D.960 – Franz Schubert

the-doll-1934-5.jpg!Large

      “The Doll / Die Puppe (1934) 

                 Hans Bellmer

                     ________

should you be concerned about telling 
your Schubert from your Beethoven,
don’t fret, I myself, though considered 
by some in this area to be omniscient, 
however manifestly, as you’ll note here, 
erroneouslyupon watching a film last 
night – the splendid Ex Machina”,  
about a robot in the form of Alicia
Vikanderviscerally commanding in 
neon blue, which is to say, incandescent, 
with stainless steel and wires for body 
parts – arms, legs, stomach – as part of 
her more human, and curvaceous, 
attributes – face, chest, and pelvis – who 
fears she might be disassembled when 
her purpose is served, and a new, and 
better robot might not only take her 
place, but also her very physical and 
metaphysical components, and concocts 
to save her life, if that’s what you’d call it, 
however convincing, sophisticated, might 
be her replication – confused the Schubert
sonata that filtered through the score for 
one of Beethoven’s, though can you 
blame me, when the sci-fi tale had been 
so otherwise gripping 

the D960, Schubert’s 23rd and last piano 
sonata, was written in 1828, shortly before 
he died, it is extraordinary, and entirely 
worthy of being compared to Beethoven,
of being held, indeed, in equal 
consideration

but you be the judge 

you’ll note again Schubert’s reserve, his 
courtesy, he is philosophical, rather than 
combative, his reply to Fate is acquiescent, 
though never subordinate, his response to 
the challenge of Life is to display the 
colours, sounds, and other, however 
humble, ephemeral, perhaps even
inconsequential, attributes of his existence, 
with the grace of a very flower, whose 
essence we still, today, have not ceased
to acknowledge, and to profoundly admire 

this is our only answer, he states, our 
ever so resplendent, however individual, 
humanity, which it is our very salvation 
to recount, to relate 

Beethoven would surely have agreed,  
and applauded

listen


R ! chard

 

a Beethoven / Schubert piano recital

charlotte-rothsch-baroness-anselm-de-rothschild-1828.jpg!Large

 “Charlotte Rothsch, Baroness Anselm De Rothschild (1828) 

       Ary Scheffer

           _______

since Beethoven wrote nothing of any 
great consequence for four-hand piano,
I thought at first I’d head towards another 
kind of pairing, but upon listening to the 
complete recital here of the two Jussen 
brothers, where Beethoven’s “Variations 
on a Theme by Count von Waldstein”, 
1792, a trifle, and his later “Waldstein” 
Sonata, 1804, for piano solo, an infinitely 
more accomplished work of his Middle 
Period, both dedicated to the same good 
friend and patronbookend a flurry of  
enchanting Schubert compositions, 
the contrast between the two composers, 
if not starkly evident, is at least 
discernable if you listen with some 
degree of attention

the difference is in the tone, the intention, 
Beethoven is brash, assertive, Schubert 
remains ever respectful, even often 
courtly

you’ll note that after the fall of Napoleon, 
the monarchy was restored in France, 
therefore throughout the whole of 
Europe, which had resumed its more 
genteel pretensions, as had, for instance,  
even Chopin himself, you’ll remember, in 
very Paris, where he’d relocated from 
Poland because of its political unrest

I’ve often said that a distinct characteristic 
of Beethoven is that he writes against the 
beat, rather than stressing the first note 
of the air he is developing, he accentuates 
the second, or third, the next still, or the 
very last

don’t go, I wish you’d stay here, he, for 
example, beseeches, if you transpose 
his notes in the last movement of the 
Waldsteinthe one after the lugubrious 
adagio, into words, don’t go, he strikes, 
I wish you’d stay, don’t go, I wish you’d 
stay here, don’t go, wish you’d stay, 
wish you’d stay, wish you’d stay,
accent each time on the stay 

in Schubert’s Fantasie for four-hand 
piano, written a generation later, in 1828, 
and admittedly powerfully influenced by 
Beethoven, though no more derivatively 
than Mozart would’ve been of Haydn, try, 
I hear a bird sing, I hear it sing, I hear it 
sing, it sounds so lovely, to the lovely 
melody at its very beginning, one 
composer is peremptory, the other is 
more subservient, confessional

this is what I mean by intention, and the 
difference between these two towering 
geniuses, who shaped together the 
music of their era, however might they 
have been otherwise total strangers

they are both musical giants upon 
whose shoulders our Western culture  
still stands, and swoons, before such 
an utterly transcendent legacy

listen


R ! chard