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Tag: The Classical Period

tempo in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no 32, Opus 111


      Charleston Couple 





                                     for Lajla, who wondered 

                                        where I’ve been these past 

                                             few weeks



if music is a communication, as I firmly  

believe it is, even listing it as one of my 

languages on all of my formal   

applications, it should have, much as 

in any other communication, a set of  

rules, a structure, a grammar, which  

indeed it does  


where the mood of a verb, for instance,

in English, indicative, I am, conditional, 

if I were, subjunctive, that I be, infinitive,

to be, or, indeed, again infinitive, not to 

be, that is, indicative once more, the 



whether ’tis, indicative, nobler in the 

mind to suffer, infinitive, the slings 

and arrows of outrageous fortune, 

or to take, infinitive, arms against a 

sea of troubles, and by opposing, 

participle, end, infinitive, them – but 

you get my drift, in music we have 

tempo, adagio, andante, allegro, 

presto, among others, to set, 

indeed, the mood 


as chamber music, an entertainment 

for aristocrats, moved from the dance 

rhythms of their salons during the 

Classical Period to the more diverse 

beats, the more varied and evocative 

tempi, especially with Beethoven, 

into the Romantic Era, music began 

to speak, evoke rather than lilt 


listen to Beethoven’s 32nd Piano

Sonata, for example, his Opus 111

in two contrasting movements, 

one fast, nearly even frenetic, the 

other slow, resigned, subdued, 

introspective, the first, angry, 

chaotic, frustrated, a burst of 

fulgurating intensity, resolving, 

in the second, into quiescence, 

submission, calm, if ultimately 

miraculous incandescence, one 

the antithesis of the other


Beethoven juxtaposes fury, 

tranquility, loud, soft, short, long 

– the serene adagio is twice 

length of the boisterous allegro 

– and by extension, war, peace, 

man, woman, strong, weak, hope,

despair, yin, in other words, yang, 

indissoluble dichotomies, a 

veritable musical existential 

philosophical tract, Beethoven’s 

treatise on existence


you can’t dance to it, though, 

don’t ask him


but you can thoroughly enjoy,

be inspired



R ! chard

Piano Concertos 2, 3, 4 – Beethoven


     “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,

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

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


   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  

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 

there is even a moral lesson transmitted

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 


R ! chard

Cello Suite no 3, in C major – Bach


        “Narcissus (c.1599)



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 

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 

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“, 

R ! chard

String Quartet no 35 in D minor, Op 42 – Haydn


                         “Joseph Haydn (ca. 1791) 

                              Ludwig Guttenbrunn



                                             for, especially, Collin

Haydn’s Opus 42 was written in 1785,
he would’ve been 53, which might 
explain his return to a less 
ideologically driven music than his 
earlier more vociferous compositions, 
one gets more conservative, nearly by 
definition, as one gets older

there is no vehemence in this quartet,
it is meant to merely delight listeners, 
lords and ladies looking to be 
impressed, there is no call to arms
here, there’s even a minuet

the final movement, the presto, might
seem urgent, but is rather, I think,  
engaging than peremptory, more 
entertaining than adamant

there’s only one string quartet in the 
Opus 42, usually there are six in 
Haydn’s opuses, or opera, the piece 
is also terse, a wonderland of 
extraordinary music within the span 
of, however improbably, just 13 

Haydn seems to be giving us his idea 
of the string quartet, a nearly Platonic
proposition, in a nutshell

Plato thought that there was an ideal 
string quartet somewhere up there in
an ordering space, a mystical 
system of specifically representative 
entities, determining the accuracy of
definitions, religions presently 
struggle with that, the inflexibility of 
their intractable propositions, Haydn 
was giving us something to think 
about, a string quartet to define the 
very ages

note the recurrence of the original 
theme always with all of its 

note the rhythmic consistency, 
though the several movements are
decidedly, and effectively, divided 
according to their strict tempos

note that all, though here and there
a strident note may appear, the 
tonality, the key, the modality, is  

this will change

but for now we have the very essence 
of the Classical Period

and it’s hot 

R ! chard

psst: to a friend who’s become impressed 
          by my choice, incidental of course, 
          of cellists, I would suggest it has  
          more to doperhaps, with its sonority,  
          the low thrum of their instrument, it 
          can really unsettle one’s kundalini,   
          the sleeping serpent at the base of 
          the spine, and not so much the   
          individual cellist, maybe

String Quartet no 8 in E Major, op 2, no 2 – Joseph Haydn


      “The Music Lesson (c.1769) 

           Jean-Honoré Fragonard


Haydn’s String Quartet no 8 in E Major, 
op 2, no 2 is not an iconic work, but 
representative of what the period had 
on offer, which wasn’t at all shabby, 
however more entertaining than in 
any way inspirational, seismic, that’ll 
come later, Haydn was nevertheless 
not only composing delightful pieces, 
but setting the stage for an era, the 
Classical Period, along, of course, 
with Mozart 

the form is not quite settled yet for
the string quartet, with again five 
movements here mirroring each 
other across again a central adagio,
twice the length, incidentally, of the 
other sections, againthough not at 
all unpleasantly, which ought to tell 
you something

the call and response aspect of the 
music, like a verse and refrain, are 
manifest, and grounding, everywhere,
you know where you stand, or sit, be
it the allegros, the minuets, or the 
adagios, the tunes return and 
reassure like clockwork 

dance forms, you’ll note, still remain
in the titles, a vestige of the earlier
period’s suites, this will alter, with
headings turning to tempo markings
exclusively, a move towards the 
transcendental rather than the 
frivolities of gavottes, or minuets

transposition, meanwhile, of the
Opus 2, no 2 has beguiled me, the 
first violin has been replaced here 
with a guitar, same string quartet, 
but with an exquisite alteration

the guitar can only pluck, not glide
across a note, something akin to the 
harpsichord before the fortepiano, 
it makes for a completely different, 
though profoundly remembered, 

and delivered a particular zing to  
the strings of my heart


R ! chard

Paganini’s First Violin Concerto – Akiko Suwanai‏

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - "Niccolo Paganini" (c.1819)

Niccolo Paganini (c.1819)

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres


for Apollo, who alerted me to my error

having egregiously misspelled “Akiko”
in my recent commentaries about Ms
Suwanai, since, however, corrected, I
can only heap upon her greater praise
now for again an immaculate
performance of, this time, Paganini’s
First Violin Concerto
, itself an event,
as atonement

not only does she play this thrilling
with precision and
consummate artistry, this is the
performance with which she wins
the Tchaikovsky Competition, the
one Van Cliburn had secured so
illustriously back in the late Fifties,
at the height of Soviet Communism,
she in 1990, moments only after its
fall, a full, now, 25 years ago

it astounds me that such a talent
would’ve taken so long to reach my
ears, which have been attuned to
Classical music and its
peregrinations for as long as I can

then again there was no ticker tape
parade for Ms Suwanai when she
, the world has changed,
it seems such excellence is no longer
so universally paraded, not even
much advertised

the Paganini Violin Concerto was
composed around 1818, late
Beethoven, early Chopin, Paganini
defines for the violin the Romantic
Period, what Chopin did for the piano,
Beethoven had given them the push

if you can get past your astonishment
you’ll note that the foundation of the
is Classical, tight tempi, tonality,
no discordant notes, and repetition
always of the themes, still the triple
pillars of our understanding of music,
its Trinity, despite some strong forays
into their deconstructions, see, for
instance, the haunting George Crumb

what Paganini adds to Classicism is
personality, Romanticism, same as
Beethoven did, and at about the
same time

aristocratic formality was giving way
to the voices of the crowd, some highly
articulate, representative, formidable,
as the shackles of servitude fell with
the French Revolution and human
rights became central, and