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Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 12

Beethoven’s Sense of Humor Part 2: “To beat, or not to beat.”
Notes By Fred Haight

In part 1 of Beethoven’s humor, we wrote about “Rage of a Lost Penny”. Today, we talk about the humor in Beethoven’s 8th symphony.

Johann Nepomuk Maelzel tried his hand at Artificial Intelligence about two centuries ago. It did not work out so well for him. In 1821, he brought an automaton chess player called “the Turk” to the United States and toured widely with it, claiming to have invented it and that the “automaton” had the intelligence to regulate its moves. This fraud was later exposed by Edgar Allan Poe in an essay. It turned out that his automatic chess player contained a man hidden inside it (picture below). The machine was in fact invented by Wolfgang von Kempelen and bamboozled the public for decades before being discovered.

Maelzel also claimed to have invented the metronome. Actually, he did not invent that either.

In 1813, Maelzel encouraged Beethoven to compose what could possibly be his worst piece, “Wellington’s Victory”, which celebrates Wellington’s military victory over Napoleon. Maelzel laid out all of the parameters and special effects to make it sound like a battle, including quotes of “Rule Britannia.” Performances featured interludes by Maelzel’s automaton trumpeter and his Panharmonikon, an automatic orchestra.

Despite the composition’s commercial success, Beethoven ended up suing Maelzel when he tried to pass the work off as his own. Beethoven described him as “a rude, churlish man, entirely devoid of education or cultivation.”

Listen to this canon that maked fun of Maelzel and his metronome.

These days, scholars who love to spoil all the fun, claim that the canon was actually written by Beethoven’s aide-de-camp, Anton Schindler, and passed off as praise for Maelzel by Beethoven. That does not quite make sense. Here are the words of the canon:

Ta ta ta, dear Maelzel

ta ta ta, live well, very well

ta ta ta, you Banner of Time

ta ta ta, you great metronome.

ta ta ta ta ta ta.

Faint praise indeed. Besides, Schindler was very critical of taking Beethoven’s metronome markings literally, because he personally had experienced Beethoven change his mind about what tempo his works should be taken at. Beethoven alleged comment to Schindler: “No more metronome! Anyone who can feel the music right does not need it; and for anyone who can’t, nothing is of any use; he runs away with the whole orchestra anyway.”

Now to Beethoven’s 8th symphony. The second movement resembles this canon. The same scholars argue that the symphony came before Maelzel patented his metronome, so it could not be a parody of it.

Give us a break! In the symphony, Beethoven is clearly making fun of a too strict tempo. But we ask you, the audience to listen and tell us what you think!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 11

Beethoven and Tragedy: The Coriolan Overture
Notes By Fred Haight

We have already talked about Beethoven’s sense of the heroic; and the power and optimism expressed in his Third Symphony, his only opera Fidelio, and the Egmont Overture.

However, an important part of trying to create a positive outcome for society, involves the study of tragedy. This does not refer to the way in which people use the term today, such as a natural disaster, but what happens when the flaws in both a leader and a society result in failure, or worse, betrayal?

Heinrich Joseph von Collin wrote his play, Coriolan, in 1804, the year that Napoleon crowned himself as Emporer. That same year, Beethoven scratched out the dedication of his Third Symphony to Bonaparte, lamenting that now Napoleon would become just another tyrant, and trample on the rights of men. That same year, Schiller premiered his last play, Wilhelm Tell, celebrating the ancient triumph of ordinary Swiss people over the threat of subjugation by the Hapsburg Empire.

In the next year, 1805, the French army occupied Vienna, and many of the city’s leaders left. Von Collin was an opponent of the French occupation, but also seems to have served as some sort of diplomatic liaison. In 1807, Coriolan was performed with a prelude composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. Von Collin was a classicist, familiar not only with Shakespeare, but with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Von Collin’s play is a Germanic rewrite of the ancient story of Gaius Marcius Corialanus, which Shakespeare also wrote about, in his play Coriolanus. We will use Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, supplemented by the historical writings of Livy and Plutarch, to give a brief account of this tragedy of a flawed military leader and a flawed Roman Republic.

Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was promoted to General after showing great personal courage in defeating the Volscians at the city of Corioli, and was given the honorary name Coriolanus. He made an effort to seek higher political office, but had a deep flaw, in that he DESPISED the ordinary people—the plebeians. That was not just Coriolanus. There was a severe overall divide in the Roman Empire between the plebeians and the patricians. He had to win their approval to be promoted, but he absolutely refused to obey the standard ritual of showing them his war wounds. Worse, he was a speculator, who hoarded grain even while the people starved. He insulted the people, calling them “crows pecking at eagles”. As a result, Coriolanus, the war hero, was exiled from Rome. His wounded ego was so enraged that he went to his old enemies, The Volscians, and offered to lead their army in an attack on Rome. They marched together. The Romans were so freaked out that as Coriolanus and the Volscians approached, they sent Coriolanus’ mother (who had far too much influence on him), and his wife and children to talk him out of it. He relented. Thus, he became seen as a traitor by both the Romans AND the Volscians, who were at the gates of Rome. In Shakespeare’s play, he was murdered. In the Collin, he committed suicide.

If you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you see the same problem within the Roman Republic: a huge rift between the people and those in power—the plebeians and the patricians. The patricians had no respect for the plebeians, and the plebeians were fickle, having had no sense of loyalty to the patricians. In 1804, this history would be resonating in people’s minds, as the French Revolution descended into barbarism, with the “sans culottes” decapitating the aristocracy in droves, and as a great general, who promised to liberate the people, became a tyrant.

This performance of the Coriolan Overture is conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler, recorded in 1943, as Germany and the world experienced an even worse tragedy.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 10

Beethoven’s Sense of Humor
by Fred Haight

No-one is quite sure what the story is behind Rage Over a Lost Penny. But Beethoven seems to be making fun of those who obsess over the trivial. Listen and tell us what you think!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 9

Happy Veterans Day! – Beethoven – 5 Military Marches
Notes by Margaret Scialdone

Although not known as a composer of military band music, Beethoven composed a number of military marches, usually commissioned for special occasions.

In honor of Veterans’ Day, we present five of Beethoven’s marches for military band, dating from 1787 to 1816.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 8

The Third Symphony’s Finale: Creativity, and Heroic Humor
Notes by Fred Haight

Beethoven / Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 44 “Eroica”: 4th mvt (Furtwängler)

In two recent episodes of Daily Doses of Beethoven, we examined the monumental first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”, which addresses the idea of a hero—a world-historic figure. We also heard his epic second movement, a Funeral March, expressing the loss felt at the demise of such a Heroic. How did Beethoven combine such seemingly irreconcilable opposites, to bring about a satisfactory conclusion to his “Eroica” symphony?

Today we present the amazing fourth movement. The great French poet, Francois Rabelais, expressed it best when he said “laughter is appropriate to man”. Heroism always involves creativity, and thus laughter and joy!

After a brief fanfare, we hear a simple, yet playful theme, in 2/4 time, played pizzicato, with long rests between the notes.

Eb /Bb /Bb /Eb /Eb /D /Eb /E /F /D /Eb /A /Bb (repeat).

Bb Bb Bb/ /Bb /A /G /A /A /Bb /Bb /Eb (repeat)

At first hearing, the audience must have been asking themselves if Beethoven was being serious. Such a trivial theme to end such a titanic work? The theme however, came from the Finale of Beethoven’s only ballet, “The Creatures of Prometheus”. In ancient Greek drama, Prometheus was a God, a Titan, who defied the head God, Zeus, by giving the gifts of fire—the gift of knowledge of science and art to man. Beethoven would never have treated such a concept in a trivial manner. He lived for it.

Sometimes though, Beethoven would put a theme forward as an hypothesis. The proof of that hypothesis lie not in itself, but in its contrapuntal development. He developed this theme in three different works, The Finale of “The Creatures of Prometheus”, his Variations and Fugue for Piano in E♭ major, Op. 35—so called the “Eroica Variations”, and this symphony. It starts out simple, but grows.

However, if you compare the opening of the symphonic movement to the Finale of the ballet, you might be hard pressed to find the resemblance. That’s because Beethoven does not quote the main theme, but the underlying, and scarcely heard bass line—the foundation—as his source.

This symphonic movement is a “Theme and Variations”. We have heard two such movements in this series, the “Variations on God Save the King” on April 7th, and the slow movement of his Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 1 No. 3, on March 31st (look back on those posts to see where we gave the times of each variation.)

If you wish to hear Beethoven’s tremendous progress over a few short years, simply make the comparison. The earlier works are inventive, but relatively linear by comparison. The Finale of the Third Symphony is easy to follow as a set of variations for a short time (though the melody as presented in earlier versions does not enter until 2:12). At 3:09 it suddenly becomes a fugue! Try following in a linear way now!

From here on, Beethoven overturns the form, while remaining true to it. Reason, not form, must lead, if you desire to follow him. Reason alone, will allow you to understand what he is doing.

We have omitted discussing the short third movement of this great work. We leave it to your genius, to figure our where it fits.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 7

The Funeral March of the Third Symphony “Eroica”
Notes by Fred Haight

Previously, we presented the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “The Eroica” (Heroic). Today, we present the second movement, “The Funeral March”. What does a funeral march have to do with the joyous celebration of creativity and courage that we heard in the first movement?

One might see the introduction of a funeral march as “killing the Vibe,” and might see the sudden switch back to joy in the third movement, as undermining the seriousness of the second movement.

We again turn to Friedrich Schiller for guidance. In his “Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man”, Schiller wrote that the purpose of art is to educate our emotions so that we are able to pass from joy to sorrow, and back to joy, without losing a beat, because our intellects and emotions becomes developed in such ways that they are integrated. We remain the same person in both joy and sorrow; because we have thought through these matters and developed an inner strength, depth, and sense of self, that “looks on tempests, and is never shaken.”

Beethoven’s deep grief in this movement, mirrors his profound joy in the first. This movement invokes something greater than personal loss: Perhaps the grieving of an entire society over the loss of a universal leader; the changing of the course of history itself when no-one arises to fill their shoes. The cases of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Indira Gandhi, Socrates, and Beethoven himself, are but a few that come to mind.

At 5:00, the performance invokes a happy memory of that unique individual’s life, and of what they gave to humanity that lives on after them. At 8:12, we hear a fugal section that summons the crisis posed for the whole of society by the hole left, from the death of an unique person. That hole can come, not just at the moment of death, but at the moment of sell-out, like Napoleon.

There is a lot of life in this Funeral March. Rather than going on, we invite you share your own personal relation with Beethoven, and tell us what you hear.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No.6

Beethoven and the Heroic Part 4: The Egmont Overture
Notes by Fred Haight

Part 4: The Egmont Overture

The cause of human liberty and freedom led political discussion around the late 18th-early 19th century, and the poets Goethe and Schiller collaborated to tell the story of Switzerland’s fight for freedom. In his play Wilhelm Tell, Schiller updated the “Rutli Oath” (taken in the year 1291), in a manner that echoed the U.S. Declaration of Independence, written almost 500 years later:

“No, there is a limit to the tyrant’s power, when the oppressed can find no justice, when the burden grows unbearable-he reaches with hopeful courage up unto the heavens and seizes hither his eternal rights, which hang above, inalienable and indestructible as the stars themselves.

It is no accident that Schiller’s played was staged, with Goethe directing, in 1804, the same year as Napoleon crowned himself emperor.

Both men also wrote about the 16th century fight for the independence of the Netherlands from Spain: Schiller in his “Don Carlos” and “History of the Revolt of the Netherlands”; and Goethe, in his play “Egmont”.

If you wish to see the level of brutality presented by the Spanish Inquisition in the Netherlands, examine Pieter Breughel’s 1562 painting, “The Triumph of Death”. (Painting below).

Count Egmont was a Dutch nobleman who sided both with his people and King Phillip of Spain. His peer, the much wiser William the Silent, fled Brussels, and warned him of potential betrayal by Spain’s treacherous Duke of Alba. Egmont foolishly accepted a dinner invitation to discuss his grievances with Alba. He was arrested at that dinner, and soon executed, along with 1,000 others in 1568.

Though Alba was seeking to dominate through a reign of terror, it backfired on him. “Sometimes a long train of usurpations and abuses, leads people to think that they have no recourse, but to throw off such government.”

Though not immediate, the execution of Egmont contributed to a popular uprising. Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture to Goethe’s play, condenses the long historical process into one optimistic moment of change. Listen to this recording, and you will hear the representation of the public executions, beginning at 6:42, with the execution of Egmont coming at 7:02. After a moment of quiet sorrow and reflection, something begins to swell up, out of the silence. Beethoven’s magnificent ending displays the spirit of the people, rising up against tyranny.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 5

Notes by Margaret Scialdone

Beethoven: Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel

Legend has it that during a rehearsal of one of his quartets, a violinist complained that the music was incomprehensible – to which Beethoven replied, “Oh, it is not for you, but for a later age”.

The beautiful “Abendlied unterm gestirnten Himmel” (Evening Song under a Starry Sky), speaks of a soul yearning to break free of the limits of space and time. It’s beautifully sung by Peter Schreier, accompanied by András Schiff.

Wenn die Sonne niedersinket,
Und der Tag zur Ruh sich neigt,
Luna freundlich leise winket,
Und die Nacht herniedersteigt

Wenn die Sterne prächtig schimmern,
Tausend Sonnenstrahlen flimmern:
Fühlt die Seele sich so groß,
Windet sich vom Staube los.

Schaut so gern nach jenen Sternen,
Wie zurück ins Vaterland,
Hin nach jenen lichten Fernen,
Und vergißt der Erde Tand;

Will nur ringen, will nur streben,
Ihre Hülle zu entschweben:
Erde ist ihr eng und klein,
Auf den Sternen möcht sie sein.

Ob der Erde Stürme toben,
Falsches Glück den Bösen lohnt
Hoffend blicket sie nach oben,
Wo der Sternenrichter thront.

Keine Furcht kann sie mehr quälen,
Keine Macht kann ihr befehlen;
Mit verklärtem Angesicht,
Schwingt sie sich zum Himmelslicht.

Eine leise Ahnung schauert
Mich aus jenen Welten an;
Lange nicht mehr dauert
Meine Erdenpilgerbahn,

Bald hab ich das Ziel errungen,
Bald zu euch mich aufgeschwungen,
Ernte bald an Gottes Thron
Meiner Leiden schönen Lohn.

English Translation

When the Sun sinks downward
And the day inclines toward rest,
Luna, friendly, gently beckons,
And Night climbs downward.

When the stars shimmer magnificently,
A thousand sunbeams flicker:
Then the soul feels itself so great,
Pulls itself upward, out of the dust.

It loves so much to look toward those stars,
As if looking toward its homeland,
Out toward those distant bright things,
And forgets the world’s foibles;

It wants only to struggle, to strive,
To rise up above its mortal shell:
For it, the Earth is too confined, too small;
On the stars is where it wants to be.

Though storms rage on Earth,
False fortune rewarding evil,
It reaches up, filled with hope,
Where the starry judge has His throne.

No fear will then torment it,
No power can then command it;
Its visage transfigured,
It swings itself up to the heavenly light.

A quiet premonition sends me shivers
From those distant worlds;
It won’t be long before
My earthly pilgrimage comes to an end.

Soon I will have reached the goal,
Soon swung myself up to you,
And, on God’s throne, I’ll reap
My sufferings’ beautiful reward.

(translation by John Sigerson)

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy- No.4

Beethoven and the Heroic Part 3: Leonore’s Aria: A study in finding one’s courage.
Notes by Fred Haight

Leonore’s Aria

An aria in opera, is like a soliloquy in a play. The actor shares his or her struggle with their innermost self, directly with you, the audience.

Leonore gains great courage in this aria. To comprehend that though, we must return to an earlier installment, where we quoted Schiller’s, “On the Pathetic”:

“It is not art, to become master of feelings, which only lightly and fleetingly sweep the surface of the soul; but to retain one’s mental freedom in a storm, which arouses all of sensuous nature, thereto belongs a capacity of resisting that is, above all natural power, infinitely sublime.”

If Leonore were not upset, something would be wrong. The warden of the prison, Pizarro, not knowing who she is, has just told her of his intention to murder her husband Florestan. She lacks any means to oppose him. In the first section of her Aria, she displays great anger and rage. There is no melody, and little rhythm. At 1:09 in this recording, the image of a rainbow begins to introduce a calming influence, and a degree of self control.

“You monster! Where will you go?
What have you planned in cruel fury?
The call of pity, the voice of mankind,
Will nothing move your tiger’s wrath?
Though ire and anger
surge like ocean’s waves
in your heart,
A rainbow still shines on my path,
Which brightly rests on somber clouds:
It looks so calmly, peacefully at me,
Of happier days reminding me
And soothes thus my troubled heart.”

Upon contemplating the idea of a rainbow, she begins to regain her composure.

The second section of her aria, is a beautiful, slow song of hope, and inner peace, starting at 2:15

“Come hope, let not the last bright star
Be obscured in my anguish!
Light up my goal, however far,
Through love I shall still reach it.”

In the third, fast section, starting at 5:11, she finds her resolve, and becomes determined to act, on behalf of not just her husband, but on behalf of justice!

“I follow my inner calling,
I shall not waver
I derive strength
From faithfulness and love.
Oh you, for whom I bore so much,
If I could penetrate
Where malice has imprisoned you
And bring to you sweet comfort!
I follow my inner calling,
I shall not waver,
I derive strength,
From faithfulness and love.”

This is an amazing transformation, and gives us a comprehensible notion of finding one’s courage, rather than a static image of a fixed courage.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No. 3

Beethoven and the Heroic ; Part 2: Leonore
Notes by Fred Haight

Part 2: Leonore

No-one ever portrayed a woman more heroically then Beethoven. His only opera, Fidelio, is about a woman named Leonore, who courageously disguises herself as a boy, goes into prison, risking her life, in order to rescue her husband, Florestan, who is a political prisoner. The opera was inspired by the real-life story of Adrienne LaFayette, who went into an Austrian prison, to free her husband, The Marquis de LaFayette, a hero of the American Revolution.

An Overture condenses the highlights of the entire opera into a few minutes. Beethoven was so concerned to capture her quality correctly, that he composed three different versions of a Leonore Overture to get it right. We offer here, Leonore 3, in our opinion, the best of the three.

Beethoven’s enthusiasm led to a very long overture, and he ended up composing a fourth, shorter one called the Fidelio Overture. Leonore 3 is so great though, that in the early 20th century, composer/opera conductor Gustav Mahler started using it to introduce the third act of the opera. That practice became standard.

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