Program Notes

Program Notes

There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

In these challenging times, when our stability and peace are threatened on a seemingly daily basis, it can be difficult to know where to turn for solace and meaning-making. In an effort to provide a moment of respite, this year’s MusicIC explores the nonduality of all things and the cyclical quality of life in three programs that journey through Lightness, Darkness, and Transcendence.

Whether it is the optimism of new beginnings in Haydn’s Sunrise Quartet; the bleak despair and grief over the inevitability of endings in Mendelssohn’s stormy Op. 80; or the ability to reach higher to overcome adversity and hope again in the gnarls of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Beethoven’s ethereal Op 132, perhaps we can find comfort in the creative outpourings of these great artists who, like all of us, strive for connection. Maybe it is this recognition of our common humanity, above all else, that what will ultimately save us.

-Tricia Park, Artistic Director

 


Wednesday, June 21, 2017 

7:30 p.m. Trinity Church, 320 E College St, Iowa City, IA 52240

Program I: LIGHTNESS

In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.

~ Francis Bacon

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)
String Quartet No. 63 in B flat major, Op. 76, No. 4

I. Allegro con spirito
II. Adagio
III. Menuetto. Allegro
V. Finale. Allegro, ma non troppo

Franz Joseph Haydn is considered the “Father of the String Quartet” and with good reason: during his career, Haydn composed some 68 string quartets which amounts to nearly 2,000 minutes of music. To give some modern context to the extent of his productivity, his string quartets alone fill close to 30 CDs, outstripping the number of studio albums by the Beatles and Michael Jackson combined. For much of his career, Haydn was a court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family at their remote estate in Hungary.  Until the later part of his life, this isolation kept him from access to other musicians and the potential influence of musical trends. A lesser composer might have found this stifling and while there is indeed epistolary evidence that Haydn, like other musicians under the Esterhazys’ employ, did find life there tedious, he also used the inaccessibility to his advantage, stating that the estate’s seclusion “forced [him] to become original.” In addition, Haydn was a shrewd entrepreneur and by multiple accounts, quite the “shark,” so that when it came to his business dealings, despite his nearly lifelong isolation, much of his music was circulated widely throughout Europe and for much of his career he was the most celebrated composer on the continent. He was also a friend and mentor of Mozart and a teacher of Beethoven.

In 1797, Haydn published his last set of six string quartets – his Op. 76 – just one year before a young Beethoven would begin composing string quartets. These works represent Haydn at the height of his final phase and were written during a period of true international success, published in the wake of several highly successful concert tours of London. Haydn was so well-known at this point in his career that three of his string quartets were affectionately nicknamed by an adoring public, much in the way that a modern pop star’s name becomes synonymous with a track or album. (Think Beyonce and “Lemonade,” as one recent example.)

This last set of six quartets are also historically significant as they represent a veritable “passing of the torch” between his works and those of Mozart onto the innovations that would come with the quartets of Beethoven.

Haydn’s Op. 76 No. 4 is known as the “Sunrise” quartet and this evocative titling owes its imagery to the sound painting that occurs in the opening line of the first movement. Here, the three lower voices sustain a lush, harmonic carpet upon which the first violin will tread, playing an exquisitely limpid melody that slowly traces the arc of the rising sun.  After a couple of tentative but sumptuous attempts, the first theme erupts in earnest, depicting the sunny music in all its full morning glory. The cello has an opportunity to play the theme, this time upside down, followed by a dazzling second theme. The development is taut, introducing a moment of mystery as the first theme enters in a minor key, passing like a transitory cloud covering, but soon we are back in the sunshine, the recapitulation bringing us home with a wink and a smile. The second movement begins as a solemn hymn, marked by a branching out into ever more remote harmonic key areas, giving this movement a tonal elasticity as well as a delicately lacy texture in the first violin.

The third movement, a menuetto and trio, is full of humor and clever call and response between the four voices, sometimes in pairs and sometimes in dialogue, one on one. The rhythmic idiosyncrasies lend themselves to inventive timings that gives the music a delightful sense of “catch me if you can,” as the three lower voices remain on high alert to the whims of the first violin. The middle section, a French musette, is rustic and transports the listener from the beer garden to the countryside with its pastoral tune and drone. The finale is an English folk song, simple and fresh but, in typical Haydnesque fashion, the tune twists and turns in many unexpected variations, leading up to a boisterous coda where the final variation accelerates at breakneck speed, bringing the joyful movement to an exhilarating and satisfying end.

Osvaldo Golijov (b. 1960)
Tenebrae (2002)

Osvaldo Golijov was born in La Plata, Argentina, some thirty miles from Buenos Aires, the son of a piano teacher mother and a physician father. He grew up in a richly diverse artistic environment and from childhood onwards, was exposed to classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the nuevo tango of Astor Piazzolla. He moved to Jerusalem in 1983 and then to the United States in 1986 where he did his doctoral studies with George Crumb. His many awards include two Grammy awards, a Guggenheim fellowship and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.  Golijov originally composed Tenebrae in 2002 for soprano, clarinet and string quartet for the Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, where it was premiered in June 2002. The following year he arranged the work for string quartet on a commission in honor of 50th anniversary season of the Friends of Chamber Music, Denver; the Kronos Quartet premiered that version in Denver on Oct. 15, 2003.

The term Tenebrae or “darkness” refers to the Roman Catholic services that occur during the Holy Week leading up to Easter. During this most solemn period of the Christian year, fifteen candles are lit to represent the final moments of Christ’s life and are extinguished one at a time after the singing of Psalms. The services end in tenebris. The most important musical parts of Tenebrae are the Biblical lessons for Matins, taken from the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Each verse begins with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet and ends with the words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, turn to the Lord your God.” As early as the 15th century, composers set the lessons, often with florid melismas for the beginning Hebrew letters, to create a kind of musical illuminated text. One of the most famous examples is the Leçons de Ténèbres of François Couperin and Marc-Antoine Charpentier.


Notes from the composer:
“I wrote Tenebrae as a consequence of witnessing two contrasting realities in a short period of time in September 2000. I was in Israel at the start of the new wave of violence that is still continuing today, and a week later I took my son to the new planetarium in New York, where we could see the Earth as a beautiful blue dot in space. I wanted to write a piece that could be listened to from different perspectives. That is, if one chooses to listen to it “from afar”, the music would probably offer a “beautiful” surface but, from a metaphorically closer distance, one could hear that, beneath that surface, the music is full of pain. I lifted some of the haunting melismas from Couperin’s Troisieme Leçon de Tenebrae, using them as sources for loops, and wrote new interludes between them, always within a pulsating, vibrating, aerial texture. The compositional challenge was to write music that would sound as an orbiting spaceship that never touches ground. After finishing the composition, I realized that “Tenebrae” could be heard as the slow, quiet reading of an illuminated medieval manuscript in which the appearances of the voice singing the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet (from Yod to Nun, as in Couperin) signal the beginning of new chapters, leading to the ending section, built around a single, repeated word: Jerusalem.”

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
String Quartet in B flat major Op.18, No.6

I. Allegro con brio
II. Adagio ma non troppo
III. Scherzo: Allegro
IV. La Malinconia: Adagio – Allegretto quasi allegro

In 1792, shortly before his 22nd birthday, Beethoven arrived in Vienna determined to make a name for himself as an artist. Most composers consider the string quartet the ultimate challenge, the form lending itself to an incredible transparency of expression and technical command that is daunting; it is exposing in a multitude of ways. For this reason and because of the long shadow cast by the masterful string quartets of Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven took his time producing his first quartets, easing into them by writing out in longhand several Haydn and Mozart quartets as a crash course in learning how to craft this particularly delicate and demanding form. Beethoven began writing his first set of six quartet – his Op. 18 – in 1798 and dedicated them to Prince Joseph Lobkowitz, Vienna’s foremost patron of the arts in the early 19th century. Upon publication of the set in 1801 he told a friend that he had “only just learned to write quartets properly.”

The Op. 18 No. 6 String Quartet is eccentrically brilliant, demonstrating Beethoven’s indebtedness to both Haydn and Mozart while boldly breaking with traditions to make his mark in his own voice. The first movement is brash, beginning with a motive that nods at a traditional opera buffa but whose tautness and speed is uniquely Beethovenian. He develops this cellular melodic material with remarkable economy, giving this movement an exhilarating athleticism. To contrast, the second movement is a gorgeously simple and folksy theme that becomes increasingly more ornate, taking momentary side streets into mysterious moodiness. What follows is one of Beethoven’s most remarkable scherzos whose startling rhythmic asymmetries and brevity foreshadow the trios of two of his late quartets, his Opp. 130 and 135, especially in the wild and galloping virtuosity of the first violin solo.

In the finale, Beethoven takes a sharp turn, and in a moment of rare programmatic indication, writes a subtitle to the movement, calling it “La Malinconia” or melancholy. This title is further enhanced by the following instructions which, translated from the original Italian, tell the performers that “this piece is to be played with the greatest delicacy”. This indication refers to the the four voices in the introductory Adagio who,  together as a chorale, continually strive and move into increasingly alien harmonic key centers, searching for something, and ever thwarted, cry out in violent outbursts of frustration. At its most intense climax, the introduction gives way to, of all things, a German country dance. And while it might be easy to dismiss the introduction as some strange, stand alone compositional experiment, this depressive, melancholy returns, interrupting the seemingly joyful interlude with a look back into the darkness. The juxtaposition of these disparate sections gives the dance music an air of mania, a kind of mad circling around and away from sadness or an attempt to beat back desolation as the piece come to a frantically accelerated close.

It is well known that Beethoven struggled with deafness and eventually lost his hearing entirely. But it is important to note that he began to suffer from hearing loss at a heartbreakingly young age, when he was in his twenties. In fact, his hearing began to fail him when he was finally experiencing some hard won fame and when he was writing these early period string quartets. Certainly, Beethoven rankled at the social mores of 19th century Viennese society and insisted on making his mark as an independent man and artist. When he felt insulted by the condescending behavior of a noble patron, Beethoven was quoted as saying: “There are many princes and noblemen. There is only one Beethoven.”

However, Beethoven also longed for inclusion and community, and grappled with a deep sense of shame at his impending deafness. He had an alcoholic father who ultimately abandoned his family, forcing Beethoven to go to court to obtain a legal order by which half of his father’s salary would be sent directly to him for support of the family. His relationship with his brothers was contentious and in 1802, close to the time of the publication of these Op. 18 string quartets, he wrote a letter to his brothers wherein he confides his deep despair about his deafness as well as his intense will to overcome his physical and emotional ailments so that he would come to realize his full artistic potential. This letter, called the Heilgenstadt Testament, was never sent and was discovered only after Beethoven’s death, hidden amongst his private papers. This document allows us a unique look into the deeply private and vulnerable inner thoughts of a great man who was often misunderstood and misrepresented:

For my brothers Carl and [Johann] Beethoven

O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me, you do not know the secret causes of my seeming, from childhood my heart and mind were disposed to the gentle feelings of good will, I was even ever eager to accomplish great deeds, but reflect now that for six years I have been a hopeless case, aggravated by senseless physicians, cheated year after year in the hope of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible), born with an ardent and lively temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was compelled early to isolate myself, to live in loneliness, when I at times tried to forget all this, O how harshly was I repulsed by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing, and yet it was impossible for me to say to men speak louder, shout, for I am deaf. Ah, how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed – O I cannot do it, therefore forgive me when you see me draw back when I would gladly mingle with you, my misfortune is doubly painful because it must lead to my being misunderstood, for me there can be no recreations in society of my fellows, refined intercourse, mutual exchange of thought, only just as little as the greatest needs command disposition, although I sometimes ran counter to it yielding to my inclination for society, but what a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life – only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence – truly wretched, an excitable body which a sudden change can throw from the best into the worst state – Patience – it is said that I must now choose for my guide, I have done so, I hope my determination will remain firm to endure until it please the inexorable parcae to break the thread, perhaps I shall get better, perhaps not, I am prepared. Forced already in my 28th year to become a philosopher, O it is not easy, less easy for the artist than for anyone else – Divine One thou lookest into my inmost soul, thou knowest it, thou knowest that love of man and desire to do good live therein. O men, when some day you read these words, reflect that you did me wrong and let the unfortunate one comfort himself and find one of his kind who despite all obstacles of nature yet did all that was in his power to be accepted among worthy artists and men. You my brothers Carl and [Johann] as soon as I am dead if Dr. Schmid is still alive ask him in my name to describe my malady and attach this document to the history of my illness so that so far as possible at least the world may become reconciled with me after my death. At the same time I declare you two to be the heirs to my small fortune (if so it can be called), divide it fairly, bear with and help each other, what injury you have done me you know was long ago forgiven. To you brother Carl I give special thanks for the attachment you have displayed towards me of late. It is my wish that your lives be better and freer from care than I have had, recommend virtue to your children, it alone can give happiness, not money, I speak from experience, it was virtue that upheld me in misery, to it next to my art I owe the fact that I did not end my life with suicide. – Farewell and love each other – I thank all my friends, particularly Prince Lichnowsky and Professor Schmid – I desire that the instruments from Prince L. be preserved by one of you but let no quarrel result from this, so soon as they can serve you better purpose sell them, how glad will I be if I can still be helpful to you in my grave – with joy I hasten towards death – if it comes before I shall have had an opportunity to show all my artistic capacities it will still come too early for me despite my hard fate and I shall probably wish it had come later – but even then I am satisfied, will it not free me from my state of endless suffering? Come when thou will I shall meet thee bravely. – Farewell and do not wholly forget me when I am dead, I deserve this of you in having often in life thought of you how to make you happy, be so –

Heiligenstadt
October 6,1802 Ludwig van Beethoven
For my brothers Carl and [Johann] to be read and executed after my death.
Addendum
Heiligenstadt, October 10, 1802,

thus do I take my farewell of thee – and indeed sadly – yes that beloved hope – which I brought with me when I came here to be cured at least in a degree – I must wholly abandon, as the leaves of autumn fall and are withered so hope has been blighted, almost as I came – I go away – even the high courage – which often inspired me in the beautiful days of summer – has disappeared – O Providence – grant me at least but one day of pure joy – it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart – O when – O when, O Divine One – shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men – Never? no – O that would be too hard.


Thursday, June 22, 2017 

7:30 p.m. Trinity Church, 320 E College St, Iowa City, IA 52240

Program II: DARKNESS

To send light into the darkness of men’s hearts – such is the duty of the artist.
~ Robert Schumann

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Quartettsatz in C minor, D 703

Like Mozart who died just shy of his 36th birthday and Mendelssohn who died at age 38, Schubert is among the composers whose lives were cut tragically short, passing as he did at age 31. But he was extremely prolific during his short life, writing more than 500 compositions. Also like Mozart, Schubert seemed to have been a  musical conduit, channelling works that came to him fully formed, with very little need for revision. Although he is primarily known for his lieder, Schubert wrote many string quartets and his Quartettsatz was meant to be the first movement of a string quartet that was never completed, like his Unfinished Symphony.

Very few of Schubert’s compositions were published during his lifetime and so his music remained unknown and unheard for decades. In the case of his Quartettsatz, the original manuscript came to be in the possession of Johannes Brahms who also edited the score that was finally published in 1870. For a number of years, it was believed that the Quartettsatz was a earlier work but it is dated December 1820, just eight years before his death, making it a mature work. This compact and dense movement begins with a trembling, agitated theme which leads into a tuneful, lyrical theme. But the music never fully loosens, maintaining its undercurrent of unrest throughout, ending with dramatic terseness.

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80

I. Allegro vivace assai
II. Allegro assai
III. Adagio
IV. Finale: Allegro molto

Until recently, it was thought that the greatest tragedy of Mendelssohn’s life was the death of his sister Fanny and it has been a long held belief that he wrote his last String Quartet in F minor, Op 80 as an outpouring of grief and shock upon her sudden death. An exceptionally talented composer and musician herself – her father actually believed her talent to be greater than that of her brother, Felix – Fanny succumbed to a stroke, a family inheritance that also claimed her father and grandfather. Indeed, the timing of the piece, completed four months after her passing and only two months before Mendelssohn’s own death, also of a stroke, does point convincingly in this direction, as well as the uncharacteristically dark and tormented expression of the piece. So much of Mendelssohn’s music is perpetually sunny and history has conspired to draw Mendelssohn’s life as a mostly happy one. Born into a wealthy family, young Felix was a child prodigy and enjoyed all the benefits of high birth. In addition to his tremendous musical gifts, Mendelssohn was also an accomplished painter and writer; married Celine Jeanrenaud, an exceptional beauty; and had five children.

However, new scholarship has surfaced in recent years that indicate that Fanny’s death may not have been the only catalyst for Mendelssohn’s early death at the age of 38. In 1896, Otto Goldschmidt, the husband of the great soprano and Mendelssohn’s muse, Jenny Lind, allegedly placed in the archive of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation an affidavit in which he declares that he’d destroyed a letter that would have been profoundly damaging to the reputations of his wife and Mendelssohn. In 2013, it was confirmed in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association that “The Committee of the Mendelssohn Scholarship Foundation possesses material indicating that Mendelssohn wrote passionate love letters to Jenny Lind entreating her to join him in an adulterous relationship and threatening suicide as a means of exerting pressure upon her, and that these letters were destroyed on being discovered after her death.” In the letter, dated 1847, Mendelssohn begs Jenny Lind to elope with him to America and threatens suicide if she refused. Several months later, Mendelssohn was dead.

Nicknamed the Swedish Nightingale, Lind first met Mendelssohn in 1844 when she was 24, fresh faced and newly arrived in Europe from her native Sweden. Mendelssohn planned to write an opera for her based on the legend of  Lorelei, the water siren who lured sailors to their deaths with her beautiful singing voice. And he was not the first to be smitten by the great soprano. Hans Christian Andersen fell madly and unrequitedly in love with Lind, and was inspired to write his fairy tale, The Nightingale. Mendelssohn never finished the opera but he did write the soprano solo of Elijah for Lind. By many accounts, their affection for one another was mutual and palpable. Lind mourned his death, writing “[He was] the only person who brought fulfilment to my spirit, and almost as soon as I found him I lost him again.” In 1852, she married Goldschmidt who was a former student of Mendelssohn’s. Together they had a plaque made and placed at his birthplace in Hamburg, which the Nazis tore down in 1936.

In the final years leading up to his death, Mendelssohn was overworked and struggling under tremendous pressure. In high demand as a composer, conductor and director,  he was at the end of his tether when he turned down an opportunity to travel to America to conduct the newly formed Philharmonic Society of New York (now known as the New York Philharmonic). But after some recuperative time in Frankfurt, Mendelssohn returned to a backbreaking schedule of performance and administration. Already overwhelmed, the combination of his sister’s sudden death and the disintegration of a passionate and impossible love affair made him susceptible to what historians believe were a series of small strokes that led to his ultimate fatality.

The English critic Henry Chorley, a friend to Mendelssohn, wrote “I see as I write the smile with which Mendelssohn, whose enjoyment of Mlle. Lind’s talent was unlimited, turned round and looked at me, as if a load of anxiety had been taken off his mind. His attachment to Mademoiselle Lind’s genius as a singer was unbounded, as was his desire for her success”. Mendelssohn himself wrote to a friend about Fanny, his closest friend and confidante since childhood, “she was present at all times, in every piece of music, and in everything that I could experience, good or evil.” Chorley called Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80 “one of the most impassioned outpourings of sadness existing in instrumental music.”

The opening tremolos of the first movement here will call to mind Schubert’s Quartettsatz which begins tonight’s program as they both display a barely contained rage and frustration, a metaphorical boiling over of emotions. Mendelssohn develops the thematic material in the movement through sequences; a repetitive, compulsive rewriting of the theme in different keys which delivers a sense of obsession. Where there would normally be a frivolous scherzo, Mendelssohn writes a furious Allegro assai, full of harmonic and rhythmic ambiguity.

The Adagio is heartrending, an elegiac song of mourning that is by turns grief-stricken and nostalgic. It is a poignant calling out to the beloved and the nearest that Mendelssohn comes to pure bereavement in the piece. In the finale movement, we return to the dramatic expression of the first movement but this time the main theme is not a tune but a syncopated rhythm. The relentless drive of the music propels the listener forward all the way through its breathless coda, giving the listener the impression of a man trying to outrun fate.


Friday, June 23, 2017 

7:30 p.m. The Englert Theatre, 221 E Washington St, Iowa City, IA 52240
Tickets: $15 General Admission + Fees Audience members of all ages welcome/families with children encouraged to attend
Purchase tickets at the Box Office or Online

Program III: TRANSCENDENCE

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

~T.S. Eliot

Beethoven String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132

I. Assai sostenuto – Allegro in A minor
II. Allegro ma non tanto in A major
III. Molto Adagio – Andante – Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart. Molto adagio – Neue Kraft fühlend. Andante – Molto adagio – Andante–Molto adagio. Mit innigster Empfindung in F Lydian
IV. Alla Marcia, assai vivace (attacca)
V. Allegro appassionato – Presto

Tonight’s program features Ludwig van Beethoven’s sublime String Quartet in A minor, Op. 132. The heart of this profound work is its third movement, titled “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart” or a “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode.” Beethoven wrote this deeply personal work towards the end of his life, after a long period of ill health. It is an emotionally spiritual work, full of longing, gratitude, and contemplative attempts to converse with God and the afterlife.

In addition, I have selected excerpts of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets to be presented in juxtapostion with Op. 132 to highlight the many tendrils of inspiration that extend from  Beethoven’s remarkable musical inspiration and to allow for you, the audience, to find meaning and opportunities to be in dialogue with both of these extraordinarily profound works of art.

There is evidence that T.S. Eliot found inspiration in Beethoven’s Op. 132 and that it may have been a catalyst for him to write his Four Quartets. In a letter, Eliot wrote that he had a record of Op. 132 on his gramophone: ‘I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die.’

***

In the spring of 1825, when Beethoven was fifty-four years old, he fell seriously ill with a debilitating gastrointestinal ailment. He remained in bed for a month and wrote to his doctor, “I am not feeling well … I am in great pain.” The doctor ordered Beethoven to make various changes to his diet, warning, “no wine, no coffee, no spices of any kind.” The doctor also recommended that Beethoven move away from city life to where he could find fresh air and “natural milk.”

Beethoven listened to his doctor and moved to the Baden region of Germany in May. Eventually he recovered, but the illness scared him and there were periods during his lengthy recovery that he felt certain he would die.

Throughout his illness, Beethoven worked on a new string quartet, his Op. 132 in A minor, completing it in October of 1825. Clocking in at about forty minutes long, this monumental work unfolds like an epic novel in five movements that are related directly to his illness and recovery. As in his Fifth and Ninth Symphonies, the evolution from darkness to light that takes place in this quartet is, according to Joseph de Marliave, proof of the “habitual state of the mind of the composer: the fight against destiny, the triumph of joy over pain.”

The cello begins the first movement alone with its foreboding opening motif, a string of four searching notes that are full of longing and uncertainty. This appogiatura figure continues throughout the introduction as, one by one, the other instruments enter, creating a layering of sound that is almost unbearable in its tension until it builds to a climactic explosion of virtuosity in the first violin. The music proceeds with a tremendous kinetic, nervous energy that never fully resolves the tension that is inherent in the introduction. Even the happier music herein is never comfortable, always unsettled and unsettling. The movement ends in a furious coda that depicts the internal struggle of a man at odds with life.

The second movement is a dance, a minuet and trio, which should signal a return to normalcy. However, Beethoven, ever the iconoclast, reinvents this archetypal dance movement in a number of significant ways. First, he subverts the expected swinging feeling of three in the minuet by displacing the downbeat, creating an off kilter, lopsided sense of rhythm. He also uses his signature subito or sudden dynamic changes to upend the smoothness of this courtly dance. Also, this dance movement is unnaturally long, delivering a sense of monotonous banality; after the trio section, one can almost see the sweat beading under the powdered wigs and hear the sighs in the court as the nobility sways wearily on the dance floor, wondering when it will all end. One would not be far off to think of this movement as Beethoven thumbing his nose at Viennese society.

The third movement is both emotionally and mathematically the heart of this work. In an unusual moment of programmatic indication, Beethoven gives the movement a subtitle, translated as, a “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode.” The movement unfurls itself in five parts – slow-fast-slow-fast-slow –  that elide one into the other without pause. According to Charles Rosen, the slow music is a resetting of the Gregorian chant Veni Creator, Spiritus. In these slower sections, we hear music that sounds like a human beseeching, yearning for connection with the Divine. Each slow section is another attempt at connection, a gradual ascension into another realm. The faster sections, marked by Beethoven to be played with “Neue Kraft” or a “feeling of new strength” point us towards Beethoven’s recovery from illness as well as the force of his indomitable spirit, even in the face of death. In the last of the three slower hymn-like sections, he indicates that it should be played “”with the most intimate emotions”, bringing the movement to its apotheosis. At about seventeen minutes of music, this single movement is a heart-felt prayer and meditation of gratitude on being alive, for being given another chance.

In his novel, Point Counterpoint, Aldous Huxley gives us this striking description of the third movement of Op. 132:

The bright heaven of Lydian music vibrated on the air…But something new and marvelous had happened, in its Lydian heaven. The speed of the slow melody was doubled; its outlines became clearer and more definite; an inner part began to harp insistently on a throbbing phrase. It was as though heaven had suddenly and impossibly become more heavenly, had passed from achieved perfection into perfection yet deeper and more absolute. The ineffable peace persisted; but it was no longer the peace of convalescence and passivity. It quivered, it was alive, it seemed to grow and intensify itself, it became an active calm, an almost passionate serenity. The miraculous paradox of external life and eternal repose was musically realized…

What can possibly follow so much exaltation?  As Shakespeare does in Hamlet with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Beethoven gives us a moment of much needed comic relief, in the form of a two-minute march, offered as a momentary palate cleaner. The march merges straight into a brief recitative, with a solo line in the first violin that cries out in operatic anguish and tumbles into the fifth movement. Based on a theme Beethoven had intended for his Ninth Symphony, this final movement is a moody dance in ¾ time, stormy and tumultuous, that ends in triumph and brings the entire piece to a close in A major, ending on a note of rambunctious joy.

The beauty and intensity of this piece is ever more moving when we remember that Beethoven had succumbed to full deafness by the time he composed this work. Op. 132 is a true glimpse into the depths of Beethoven’s soul. Ultimately, this piece is about transcendence; it is about choosing hope over despair, joy over fear, and the power of the human spirit.

***

EXCERPTS FROM FOUR QUARTETS BY T.S. ELIOT

READ BEFORE BEETHOVEN MOVEMENT I:

I

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden

And the bird called, in response to
The unheard music hidden in the shrubbery,
And the unseen eyebeam crossed, for the roses
Had the look of flowers that are looked at.
There they were as our guests, accepted and accepting.

Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

– from BURNT NORTON

READ BEFORE BEETHOVEN MOVEMENT II:

I

On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
the association of man and woman

– from EAST COKER

II

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,

Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.

– from BURNT NORTON

 

READ BEFORE BEETHOVEN MOVEMENT III:

IV

After the kingfisher’s wing
Has answered light to light, and is silent, the light is still
At the still point of the turning world.

V

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness

.

Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Will not stay still.

Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,

There rises the hidden laughter
Of children in the foliage

– from BURNT NORTON

V

There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
the world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment

Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment

Love is most nearly itself

When here and now cease to matter.

Old men ought to be explorers

Here or there does not matter

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

…In my end is my beginning.

– from EAST COKER

READ BEFORE BEETHOVEN MOVEMENT IV-V:

V

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-from LITTLE GIDDING

 


Download previous programs

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011