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Tag: Napoleon

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

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

Symphony no 7 in C major, opus 60, the “Leningrad”- Dmitri Shostakovich

leningrad-in-blockade-sketch-on-the-theme-of-leningrad-symphony-of-d-d-shostakovich-1943.jpg!Large.jpg

Leningrad in blockade. Sketch on the theme of 
         “Leningrad Symphony” of D. D. Shostakovich. 
                                                                (c.1943) 

     Mstislav Dobuzhinsky

             __________

though I’ve been through the Seventh 
three times already, consecutively, it
doesn’t reach, for me, the heights the 
Fifth did, its first movement is
manifestly imperious, nearly even 
overwhelming, certainly unforgettable, 
I’ve been humming the ostinato in my 
sleep

but the following movements seem to 
me – not being Russian, nor having as
intimately incorporated their culture, 
where rhythms and history are 
inextricably intertwined – muddled 
about the reconstruction of its 
shattered world, melodies might be
lovely but are lost in a blur of musical
directions, there isn’t enough repetition 
of musical motifs to find solid ground, 
angry statements follow lyrical adagios
too often to get our bearings on what 
might be going on 

the first movement, however, remains a 
triumph, note the debt owed to Ravel’s 
Bolero in the rousing ostinato, the 
part where the same musical phrase 
obstinately repeats its peremptory and 
ever more vociferous mantra, its 
headlong incantation, an interesting 
blend in either symphonic work of the 
sinuous, the seductive, the beguiling,
turning into the overtly martial, all to 
do with pulse 

the Symphony no 7, the “Leningrad”,
was first presented in that very city 
during its siege by the Germans
which lasted from 1941 to 1944, 
however unbelievably, Shostakovich, 
already giant, was expected to deliver 
masterpiece by both the people and 
by the regime, imagine Bono doing a
concert for Syria 

Shostakovich doesn’t disappoint

players were culled from what remained 
of instrumentalists among the survivors
of both Stalin’s criminal purges and of 
the German siege itself left in the city, 
those who hadn’t survived the famine
there, Valery Gergiev, an exalted 
Russian conductor, describes them as
walking skeletonsmeagre from 
starvation, we’ve seen these before at 
Auschwitz

the world heard, and was moved, 
imperialism in any form was being 
vociferously condemned, going back 
to Napoleon even and his own failed 
invasion, if not also to Hannibal 
crossing the Alps, Caesar, his 
Rubicon

much of this symphony is about cultural 
resistance, the survival of a proud and 
resilient seed, any proud and resilient 
seed, hence its international standing

see Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for 
comparable fanfare, flourish, and 
circumstance, the only other work of
any such historical political importance
and, appreciably, still unsurpassed,

except for, maybe, Roger Waters
channeling Pink Floyd at the Berlin 
Wall, along with, not incidentally
thereagain Beethoven 


R ! chard

psst: the other great composer of the 
          20th Century, Messiaen, also 
          composed a commemoration of
          an awful moment in our history,
          the Holocaust, his Quartet for 
          the End of Time“, played originally
          in his very concentration camp by 
          similarly “walking skeletons”, does   
          for me everything Shostakovich’s 
          Seventh didn’t 

         

Schubert – Piano Sonata D959‏

to my utter surprise when I checked I’d never
but only once in the many months I haven’t
been able to shut up since I started spouting
my bristling endorsements, like a very rushing
river gushing with the overflowing bounty of
an inveterate spring, mentioned Schubert, an
incandescent voice from surely heaven

it was about his String Quartet in C major, the
D956, not surprisingly, it is utterly enchanting,
D for Otto Erich Deutsch still, incidentally

here’s an alternate version of it, an utterly
inspired one

but if I’ve reintroduced Schubert it’s specifically
this time to compare him with Beethoven, they’re
easily confounded, I even did it once myself, to
my crushing embarrassment, in erudite and
unflinching company, oof, I cringe to even
remember it

the D959, moments only after the 956 of course,
has all the idioms of a Beethoven, and exercises
them as expertly, the beat, however, is always
on, unlike Beethoven, whose beat is always off,
contrary, rebellious, against the prevailing
order

though this variance might seem slight, one
senses already in the younger and later
Schubert a return to form, elegance, and civility,
the First Empire had indeed taken hold during
the transformation of Napoleon from hero of
the Revolution to a different incarnation of
Emperor, Chopin as well would be beholden
to later similarly reinstated French courts

so seemingly trivial an alteration speaks
volumes when one attentively listens, one
must do this with one’s heart

such a return to aristocratic principles is not
uncommon, incidentally, we seem, indeed, to
thirst for dynasties, if you’ll note the return of
late, of the Bushes, the Clintons, and most
recently the Canadian Trudeaux

Putin is another, though arguably somewhat
less democratic, version of that principle

Beethoven is off the beat then, Schubert on, you
won’t find much else that’s different upon first
listening, you’ll note only that their music is very
much the same, rigorous beat, tonal, essentially,
harmonics, and the return eventually of the
melodies, Classical imperatives, but with the
distinction of the new Romantic,
transformational however, sensibilities

Schubert might’ve even outpaced Beethoven
had he survived, I think, but he didn’t, he died
much too young, at the most tender age of
only 31, younger even than the more
celebrated Mozart, famous for succumbing
prematurely at the still early age of 36

may they rest, may they all rest, Schubert,
Mozart, and the somewhat longer-lived
Beethoven, still early deceased at 56, in
eternal peace, for they have brought us
but wonders

Richard

psst: here’s a movie to go with the earlier
Schubert
, The Company of Strangers“,
the very best film Canada has ever had
to offer, bar none, a gaggle of old women
are stranded in the Laurentians after their
tour bus breaks down, Schubert would’ve
loved it

and been honoured