Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

Recommended Posts

I've just had another interesting experience with the music festival I perform with, usually every summer.  Last year, they started a winter late-Beethoven annual event, a late quartet and a late sonata.  This year, op. 109 paired with op. 132.

Hyampom, California is in Trinity County, mountainous and green with rivers and lakes.  Their mountain range is rightly called the Trinity Alps.  The co-founder of our festival has a small idyllic farm set just above a river plain.  She raises chickens and ducks and rabbits and pigs and grows all her own vegetables.  It's very impressive for someone whose training is in violin and physics and did not grow up a farmer. 

There is no cell phone service in Hyampom, and there is no internet in the farmhouse.  When I'm there in the summer, I sleep out under the stars on the plain.  I practice in the root cellar. Our concerts are in community centers, churches, and auditoriums for audiences who are offered the opportunity to attend for free, but fund the series every year (for the last 6 years) by their donations.  All my previous experience was performing in large cities or outside of the country where I expected a different culture.  I did not expect to find a ravenous, sophisticated audience in rural America, but they are there, and they have eaten up everything we've served to them.  This last summer it was Bartok's String Quartet No. 3.  They loved it!  Now we're thinking about a Stravinsky/Schoenberg/Ravel program to see how far we can take it.

Beethoven's String Quartet op. 132 is astonishing.  The viola part is so challenging and so fun.  The quartet is in an arch form, ABCBA.  And though it is supposedly in a-minor, you spend most of the piece in other related major keys.  The first and last movements are serious and profound, the first is a decimation, the last a summation and proclamation.  The second movement is waltzy and folksy.  The trio surrounds a viola solo with the two violins emulating bagpipes off in the distance.  The fourth movement leads directly into the fifth, and is the strangest.  It is in two parts, first, the quartet emulates a march performed by an inconsistent village band, then before the march is even finished, the first violin interrupts, playing a soprano delivering an agitated recitative.

The third movement's extraordinary power (and length) is probably the reason that Beethoven introduces the last movement with the somewhat lighter march and recit.  It is titled Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart.  A Holy Song of Thanksgiving from a Convalescent to the Deity in the Lydian mode.  Beethoven had been deathly ill, and upon recovering, his reaction was to write, perhaps, the greatest slow movement in the quartet literature.  Like the quartet itself, this central movement is in five sections.  I would call them A1-B-A2-B-A3.  The A sections are gradually more rhythmically challenging chorales based on the same theme.  The B sections are titled Neue Kraft fühlend "feeling new strength" and are a sprightly Andante in comparison to the chorales' Molto Adagio.  Beethoven's use of the Lydian in the chorales is in contrast with D-major in the B sections.  One instills a feeling of awe, the other, joy.

In any case, the music was a pleasure and an honor to perform.  You know what they say about Beethoven:  Believe the hype.

In the winter, Hyampom is quite different.  It's still beautiful, but cold and wet, snowy and slushy; ample motivation to stay indoors and rehearse.  There were times in our rehearsals when the rain turned into snow that it was impossible not to meditate on the terror of Beethoven's silence.  And yet, he persevered.  When he said he was composing music for another age, I have no doubt that he meant mine.  Though I often enjoy music, it is seldom that it infects my heart.  This was as close to an ecstatic experience as I've had in a while.

In rehearsals, our cellist kept talking about the balance between making it happen and letting it happen to us.  Beethoven gives quite a bit of information in the score; the music is quite good if you just follow his instructions.  On the other hand, this is music that the performers should be feeling.  And it's so intense!  There are few moments of fortissimo, however he often uses piano, più piano, and pianissimo.  Control and bravery are both required.

After our third concert, before our fourth, we went to an old professor of mine for a coaching.  Paul Hersh was just as I'd remembered him, brilliant and kind, overflowing with apropos quotes sourced from modern and classical poetry and literature.  We only had a bit of time before he had a rehearsal, but he gave us several good ideas about how to achieve a more effective performance.  Though he is still employed by my alma mater, he made reference, several times, to the "conservatory scam".  It's hard to disagree with him.  The deification and ossification of style and technique, the astronomical cost, the lack of job training for the modern musician-entrepreneur...  The best thing that can be said about music school is that it is a great location for driven musicians to associate with one another.  I am thankful that I was advised to attend a university for my undergraduate degree.

Anyway, I am home now.  Our final concert was a collaboration in San Francisco between our organization, The Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival, and GroupMuse (perhaps the beginning of a new model for the performing arts economy?  It deserves its own thread).  It was remarkable how much less focused the audience was in San Francisco.  Beethoven's energy was palpable in the smaller towns and villages.  In the city, they are overwhelmed with stimuli.  They have difficulty finding the stamina for Beethoven's alternating moments of stasis and focus.  Back home in Gainesville, I sit with my dogs at my feet, a load of laundry is washing and I'm about to go practice a bit before lunch and teaching.  I won't be back to Hyampom until July, but my Beethoven infection will hold me over until then.

 

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 1/13/2017 at 8:17 PM, Will L said:

Hyampom is a new one on me.  Seems close to my old haunts in Eureka.  I may try to get up there some time.

Hyampom is not too far from Eureka (if the roads are open).  In fact, my favorite concert from this tour was in Eureka.  We had an enthusiastic crowd of about 60 at the Morris Graves Museum.  Just big enough for big energy and intimate enough that everyone had an amazing seat.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

Stephen,

I think you'd really enjoy Edward Dusinberre's Beethoven for a Later Age --especially if you've been lucky enough to follow the Takacs String Quartet's journey through the Beethoven cycle over the last 24 years (Dusinberre joined them in 1993, which is when I first saw Takacs, filling in last minute for the Cleveland SQ). Of course, now they have the magnificent Geraldine Walther on viola. They come round Vancouver once a year, and late Beethoven has become their specialty. Transcendental.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 01/02/2017 at 0:14 AM, Zeissica said:

Thanks for that! Both Op. 132 and 131 are sublime, epic pieces of music. I have yet to play either, but I'm working towards the opportunity. 

And 130, too, of course. Plus the two cornerpieces 135 and 127.

Today I listened to the 1995 recording by the Petersen Quartett (with the much lamented Friedemann Weigle on viola, a great part in 132) and other than many recorded quartets they manage to give the A minor an irresistable drive.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wonder who interested and influenced Beethoven's music because I cannot say his work sounds similar to any of his predecessors. His violin concerto is so different and unlike any of Vivaldi, Telemann, Bach, Scarlatti, and so forth prior to him. I can hear a lot of similarity between Mozart and Hayden but Beethoven seems to just branch off in his own direction and style.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hmm.

What about if you compare music written from the same time period?  Mozart sounds like Haydn because he lived entirely within his lifetime.

And early Beethoven sounds like late Haydn, doesn't he?  Haydn's Op. 103 (1803) sounds to me like Haydn had gotten his hands on Beethoven's Op. 18 (1799).

Late Beethoven is a miracle though.  I suspect that trapping the genius inside his own head allowed his obsessive ideas freer rein than they would've had otherwise.  It's hard to have musical influences when you can't listen to music.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
10 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

There's a woman named Elaine Fine who has an interesting music blog.

http://musicalassumptions.blogspot.com/

 

 

Yeah... Elaine and Marshall (now deceased) are the children of Burton Fine, principal viola of the BSO from way back.

As far as I know, unrelated to me.  But I get asked a lot.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 5 months later...

After more than half a year now since you brought it to my attention, I keep coming back to this piece and I never seem to tire of it.  Occasionally I play the 3rd movement (and attempt the others) along with the Quartetto Italiano recording and it is a form of meditation for me, not to mention an exercise in intonation and articulation, dynamics and long bows. In fact, I just finished playing it once again.

Your post single-handedly changed my whole perception of Beethoven and made me aware of what is perhaps my favourite piece of music. Thank you so much. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You're welcome.  Thank you.

Hopefully this year's late Beethoven experience (op. 130 maybe with the original ending, we haven't decided yet) will be just as good.  Hyampom was beautiful this summer.  I played Barber String Quartet (which also has a monumental middle movement) and Schubert's Quartettsatz (along with some other non-SQ stuff).  

A few weeks ago I started listening to the Große Fuge (the original ending of op. 130)---at the moment, it's opaque.  I'm not sure if I'll figure it out before getting inside of it.  Beethoven saw into the future to write op. 132.  To write op. 133 it seems he took all future knowledge and crammed it into itself, like a black hole---nothing escapes, incomprehensibly dense, dangerous and powerful, and, perhaps, a portal to another dimension.

Stravinsky said it best, "contemporary forever."

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Grosse Fuge does fit as an ending for the quartet, there are harmonic and motivic foreshadowings earlier in the quartet.  The Rondo ending also works but, to me, the roaring of the fugue is what I want to hear.  I had the good fortune to attend a week-long workshop devoted to studying and playing that quartet, including the GF.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There are a lot of people who regard the C sharp minor, op 131 quartet as the ultimate Beethoven late quartet. It's an incredibly hard piece to play, right from the start with that ethereal fuge.

And don't forget the four movement Eflat quartet op. 127, with the stunning variation slow movement!

Many people see the late quartets as nothing but deep soulful utterances, particulalrly in the case of the A minor. However, you can look at them in another way, too, taking a hint from the Diabelli Variations. There is a lot of parody in these works, Beethoven twisting forms to see what happens. Even the 130 cavatina is, in a way, a parody of a bel canto aria..

Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Herman West said:

There are a lot of people who regard the C sharp minor, op 131 quartet as the ultimate Beethoven late quartet. It's an incredibly hard piece to play, right from the start with that ethereal fuge.

And don't forget the four movement Eflat quartet op. 127, with the stunning variation slow movement!

Many people see the late quartets as nothing but deep soulful utterances, particulalrly in the case of the A minor. However, you can look at them in another way, too, taking a hint from the Diabelli Variations. There is a lot of parody in these works, Beethoven twisting forms to see what happens. Even the 130 cavatina is, in a way, a parody of a bel canto aria..

The fugue seems to give me a feeling like I'm listening to Schnittke in some spots... That might sound weird, but it's true. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.


×
×
  • Create New...