Beethoven: Spark of Joy – the lied, “Der Wachtelschlag” (The Quail Song) –
Another fascinating comparison is the various settings of “Der Wachtelschlag” (The Quail Song), based on a widely-known folk song from the 18th century in which the rhythm of the bird’s song constantly reminds the listener to invoke God. Schubert’s setting is the voice of the merry quail, while Beethoven takes the poem far more seriously and from the perspective of the human being who listens to these worshipful injunctions. His storms are more tempestuous, his acclamations of God’s praise grander, and his pleas for God’s aid more urgent. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven: Spark of Joy – HIs Mass in C, God’s Grace Comes to Those Who Act for Posterity
Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, the long-time patron of Franz Josef Haydn, commissioned a new mass setting each year for his wife’s name-day. In 1807, the commission fell to Beethoven, who, in his own words, “treated the text in a manner in which it has rarely been treated”. The great masses of Bach and Mozart are structured somewhat like operas, whereas Beethoven’s mass is powerfully symphonic, with the soloists treated as a unified quartet, inextricably interwoven with the choir. Esterhazy was not pleased, but the next performance, at Prince Lichnowsky’s residence, received a more positive response. After its publication in 1813, one commentator wrote that the mass conveyed “a childlike optimism that in its very purity devoutly trusts in God’s grace, and appeals to him as a father who desires the best for his children and hears their prayers”. On November 18, 2018, the Schiller Institute NYC Chorus performed Beethoven’s Mass in C at the beautiful St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – Piano trio, variations on “Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu” theme
“Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu” (I am Kakadu the tailor) was the name of a popular tune from Wenzel Muller’s opera “Die Schwestern von Prag (The Sisters from Prague). Beethoven composed these variations during his early years in Vienna, then sent them to the publisher after the opera was revived in 1814, with the note, “one of my earlier compositions, though it is not among the reprehensible ones”. Enjoy this delightful performance by the ATOS Trio. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – Lessons from history: act for your nation.
Eleonore Prochaska was the daughter of a Prussian soldier, raised in a military orphanage after the death of her mother. She was one of many German women who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, though most were ejected from the army when it was found out that they were women. In 1813, Prochaska disguised herself and joined the the Lützow Free Corps under the name August Renz, serving first as a drummer, then in the infantry. She was severely wounded in battle and died three weeks later. In death, she was memorialized as a chaste heroine and “Potsdam’s Joan of Arc”. A momument to her memory, “Der Heldenjungfrau zum Gedächtnis”, or “In memory of the maiden-heroine” survives to this day in Potsdam’s Old Cemetery. In 1814, Johann Friedrich Duncker accompanied the King of Prussia to the Congress of Vienna, and asked Beethoven to compose incidental music for his play, “Leonora Prohaska”. The play was never performed, as the subject had already been treated in Piwald’s “Das Madchen von Potsdam” which was performed that year. Beethoven’s music has four parts: 1) Chorus, “Wir bauen und sterben’ (We build and die); 2) Romanze (Es blüht eine Blume im Garten mein) (A Flower blooms in my garden); 3) Melodrama; 4) Trauermarsch (Funeral March); The fourth number is an arrangement for full orchestra of the funeral march from the Piano Sonata No. 12 in A flat major, Op. 26, transposed from A flat minor to B minor. This rarely-heard work is performed here by the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claudio Abbado. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven: Spark of Joy — Tribute to the incomparable Christa Ludwig on her passing
To honor the memory of the great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig, who passed away April 26th, we hear today her legendary performance in the title role of Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio. She sings the recitative, “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?” followed by the aria, “Komm, Hoffnung!”
Monster! Where are you rushing? What will you do in your wild rage? Does the call of sympathy, The voice of humanity, Move nothing in your savage heart? But just as like stormy seas Anger and hatred surge in your soul, There appears to me a rainbow, That rests bright on the dark clouds, That watches so quietly, So peacefully below, That mirrors old times, And newly calmed my blood flows.
Come, Hope, let the last star Not fade for the weary, Illuminate my goal, be it ever so far, Love will reach it. I follow an inner drive, I waver not, I am strengthened by my duty Of true wedded love. Oh you, for whom I bore everything, Could I only be at your side, Where evil has you chained, And bring you sweet comfort! I follow an inner drive, I waver not, I am strengthened by my duty Of true wedded love.
Ms. Ludwig was also a signer of the Schiller Institute’s 1988 call for the Verdi tuning to be restored bringing the pitch back to A = 432 cycles per second. [Message by Margaret Scialdone and Mary Jane Freeman.]
Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — his beautiful song, An die ferne Geliebteto contemplate the future.
Alois Jeitteles was a young physician who was also making a name for himself as a poet when he wrote the six poems which Beethoven wove into the beautiful “An die ferne Geliebte” (To the distant Beloved). It is a true Liederkreis (song cycle), thoroughly composed so that the songs are inseparable from one another. This performance by John Sigerson and Margaret Greenspan was part of an international conference of the Schiller Institute that took place in April of 2020. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — String quartet Opus 18, no. 3
The third of Beethoven’s Opus 18 string quartets was actually the first composed – Beethoven himself placed it third in the cycle. It’s a warm-hearted, genial work, with a rollicking, knee-slapping finale. We present once again the Amadeus Quartet. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven’s fifth and last piano concerto was published in 1810 in French-occupied Vienna, but not performed until the following year in Leipzig. The Vienna premier took place in 1812, with Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny as the soloist, Beethoven being by this time too deaf to play with an orchestra. Beethoven, an ardent republican, would certainly not have approved of the nickname “the Emperor” for his 5th piano concerto, calling it simply his “great concerto”. It’s a grand and expansive work, with rich dialog between soloist and orchestra. Here is a most enjoyable performance by Pierre-Laurent Aimard on piano, with David Afkham conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony orchestra. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]
Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto is unique in that it opens not with a grandiose orchestral introduction, but with a serene statement of the ideas by the piano soloist. Following its public premiere in December 1808 – part of a marathon concert which also featured the 5th and 6th Symphonies, the Choral Fantasy, and three movements from the Mass in C – the concerto languished until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn. On November 3, 1838, Robert Schumann wrote, “Today Mendelssohn played the G‑Major Concerto of Beethoven with a power and polish that it transported us all. I took a pleasure in it such as I have never before enjoyed, and I sat in my seat without moving a muscle or even breathing.” Today’s performance is by Mitsuko Uchida, with Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – Quartet No. 2 in G major, Op. 18, No. 2
The second of Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets has earned the nickname “Compliments Quartet” or “Quartet of Bows and Curtseys.” With Haydnesque overtones, it was first published in 1801. Good-natured and full of surprises, it’s performed here by the world-famous Amadeus Quartet.
Founded in 1947 by refugees from Hitler’s Anschluss, the Amadeus Quartet retained its original membership for the next 40 years until the death of violist Peter Schidlof. First violinist and primarius Norbert Brainin was also famously a close friend of Lyndon LaRouche, whom he considered as more knowledgeable about music than he was! An interview with Brainin is linked here. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]