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Mary Jane Freeman

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Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven, Franz Schubert: musical dialogue and the C-minor series.

No investigation of the C-minor dialogue among composers can be complete without the astonishing C-minor sonata by Franz Schubert, whose birthday we recognized on January 31. Schubert, a native of Vienna, was 15 years Beethoven’s junior, although he died just one year after Beethoven at the age of 31. In fact, he was one of the pallbearers at Beethoven’s funeral. His C-minor sonata, D958, is often performed together with Beethoven’s 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80 also in C minor, with which it has obvious affinities.  Notes by Margaret Scialdone.

Beethoven’s variations are performed by Sookkyung Cho: 

and Schubert’s sonata by Sergey Kuznetsov: 


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven and the C-minor dialogue.

We return to Beethoven with two of his best-known sonatas in C-minor: the Pathétique and the Opus 111. Listen for the development of the theme that Bach put forward in his Musical Offering!

Sonata Pathétique (1st movement) played by Dubravka Tomsic:

Opus 111 (1st movement) played by Alfred Brendel:


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven, Mozart, Bach: A Musical Dialogue.

We continue the investigation of the C-minor dialogue with Bach’s Ricercar à 6 and Mozart’s sonata K.457. When the elderly J.S. Bach visited his son who was court musician for Frederick II, the king presented the elder Bach with a difficult theme, and challenged him to improvise a three-part and then a six-part fugue. Bach created the 3-part fugue on the spot, but declined the 6-part pending further study. Two months later, Bach sent the king the two-volume “Musical Offering” in which the theme is subjected to every possible permutation in the form of ten  different canons, two ricercars, and a trio sonata! 
After studying the Musical Offering, Mozart composed his C-minor sonata and later the Fantasy (which we heard yesterday) in which he demonstrated the principles used in composing the sonata. 
In the next days, we’ll see how this theme was developed by Beethoven and Schubert. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]

We hear the Ricercar a 6 played by Daniel Martyn Lewis.

The Mozart sonata is performed here by Micah McLaurin.


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven, Mozart, Bach: A musical dialogue.

Any discussion of musical masters in dialogue must acknowledge the towering figure of Johann Sebastian Bach. The C-minor series we are about to explore had as its genesis Bach’s  Musical Offering  – a set of pieces based on a theme proposed to him in 1747 by Frederick II, King of Prussia. Today we will hear the three-voice “Ricercar” from Bach’s Musical Offering, followed by Mozart’s Fantasy K.475, composed as a prelude to his Sonata K.457 (we will visit the Sonata tomorrow). [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]

Here, Bach’s “Ricercar à 3” is beautifully performed by Ji-Hyang Gwak:

And now listen to Mozart’s treatment of the theme in the Fantasy K.475, performed here by Mitsuko Uchida:

Those who are interested can find an in-depth analysis of Mozart’s compositional breakthrough in this article by John Sigerson of the Schiller Institute: https://archive.schillerinstitute.com/fid_97-01/984_sub_moral_appen_PDFs/chapter-5.PDF


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Mozart, Beethoven: A musical dialogue.

Notes by Margaret Scialdone. Beethoven ‘s use of  thematic material from Mozart was not limited to opera. Note the development of the opening theme of Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto, K491, in Beethoven’s C-minor Piano Concerto, Opus 37. (We’ll be looking more at the C-minor key in the coming days.)

First, Mozart’s piano concerto #24, played by Rudolf Buchbinder with the Vienna Philharmonic:

Compare to Beethoven’s third piano concerto, played here by Seong-Jin Cho with the WDR Symphony Orchestra:


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Mozart, Beethoven: A musical dialogue

Notes by Margaret Scialdone, In 1798, Beethoven turned again to Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute”, this time composing twelve variations on Papageno’s aria, “Ein Madchen oder Weibchen” in which the ridiculous bird-catcher expresses his desperation for a mate. The translation of the words to the Ein Madchen oder Weibchen are:


A maiden or a little wife Is what Papageno wants! Oh, such a sweet dove Would be bliss for me.
Then I’d eat and drink with relish, Then I’d feel like a prince, Enjoy life in my wisdom, And be as if in Elysium.
Ah, can I find no-one among the lovely girls who likes me? Let just one come to my aid, Or I’ll truly die of grief.
If none will offer me love, Then the fire must consume me! But just one kiss, And I’ll be better again.

Mozart’s “Ein Madchen” (performer unidentified)

Beethoven’s’ 12 variations, performed by Mstislav Rostropovich, Vasso Devetzi.


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Mozart, Beethoven dialogue continued

Mozart, Beethoven dialogue continued

Notes by Margaret Scialdone. We continue the Mozart-Beethoven dialogue with Beethoven’s 7 Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe Fühlen” (‘A man who can feel love must have a good heart’), the beautiful duet sung by Pamina and Papageno in the first act of “The Magic Flute”.  Mozart’s opera employs fantastical characters and imagery to bring across the powerful message of the power of love over evil. In the duet, Pamina comforts the ridiculous bird-man Papageno, who is lamenting his lack of a soulmate. Beethoven’s variations,  composed 10 years after Mozart’s untimely death, treat Mozart’s theme with great charm and wit, developing a full palate of emotional expression.

The duet is sung here by Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Allen.

Beethoven’s variations are performed here by Miklós Perényi and András Schiff.


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Mozart-Beethoven, a musical dialogue

Mozart – Beethoven a musical dialogue over time.

Notes by Margaret Scialdone. Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni, the story of a dissolute lecher who is finally dragged to Hell, provided a rich source of material for Beethoven. In the opening scene, Don Giovanni kills the Commendatore, who has rushed to avenge the rape of his daughter, Donna Anna. The dying Commendatore, Don Giovanni, and his servant Leporello sing a trio which closes with the famous theme from Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata at the moment of the Commendatore’s death.

Below we have three demonstrations: first, a five-minute video by Daniel Barenboim in which he demonstrates the connection; second, the relevant portion of the opera (from a 1954 performance conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler); and third,  the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata (Opus 14 number 2) played by Claudio Arrau.


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Mozart’s birthday; Beethoven’s regard for him

Mozart’s birthday; Beethoven’s regard for him.

Notes by Margaret Scialdone. ~ As January 27th is the 265th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,  we’ll step away from the sonatas for a few days and allow Beethoven to pay homage to his great predecessor. The teenaged Beethoven first went to Vienna in 1787, and it’s believed that he met with Mozart who agreed to take him on as a pupil. However, Beethoven immediately received news that his mother was critically ill, so he returned to Bonn after five days. When he finally came back to Vienna in 1792, Mozart had already died, at the age of 35. Beethoven then took up lessons from Haydn, which were unsatisfactory because Haydn was busy with concert tours, so he ended up studying counterpoint with Albrechtsburger and composition with Saliieri.

Beethoven had obviously studied every note Mozart had ever written, and his sketchbooks and compositions are full of Mozartean references. However, we’ll concentrate right now on one of Beethoven’s favorite genres – variations – composed on themes from Mozart’s operas.
In “The Marriage of Figaro”, the Figaro, who’s about to get married, learns that the count whom he serves intends to exercise the “Lord’s right” – to sleep with the bride on her wedding night. Furious, he announces in the aria “Se vuol ballare” his determination to thwart the Count’s plan.

Here you will find Mozart’s aria is sung by Erwin Schrott, and Beethoven’s variations, WoO 40, are performed by Jiyoung Park and Hue-am Park.


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Piano Sonata No. 27

Notes by Margaret Scialdone

Both of the Opus 27 sonatas are titled “Sonata quasi una Fantasia” (‘like a fantasy’). The first is frequently neglected in favor of its famous sibling, the so-called “Moonlight”, but everyone who has ever played it loves it. It was dedicated to his student Princess Josephine von Liechtenstein, whose husband maintained an orchestra and sponsored concerts in his palace.

This beautiful performance of Opus 27 no. 1 is by the Croatian pianist Aljoša Jurinić:


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