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Beethoven: Sparks of Joy!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Three nations on Mars; Beethoven’s triple concerto.

The space agencies of three different countries – the United States, China, and the United Arab Emirates – have successfully arrived at Mars and begun a promising collaboration for the advancement of human knowledge and power. 
In that spirit, we have today’s selection: Beethoven’s Triple Concerto for violin, cello, and piano. The soloists are cellist Mischa Maisky, his son Sascha on violin, and his daughter Lily at the piano. Enjoy!  [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — the master’s climactic Op. 111 finishes his use of the sonata form.

Although Beethoven would go on to compose other works for solo piano, the Opus 111 is Beethoven’s climactic finish to the sonata form. With the first movement, he reduces the C minor key to its bare elements (think of the Pathétique) and produces a work of incredible power and passion. The second movement, innocuously called “Arietta,” takes the form of variations on a simple theme in C major, but these variations transcend anything that has ever been done on the piano.
Here is an thoughtful performance by Mitsuko Uchida. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Opus 110 well-known, presents a gamut of settings, much like a great drama.

Opus 110 is the most popular of Beethoven’s late sonatas. The opening is lyrical and warm, and is followed by an exuberant Scherzo, whose themes were borrowed from two folk tunes – “Unsa Kätz häd Katzln ghab” (Our cat has had kittens) and “Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich” (I’m a dissolute slob, and so are you). The specific force of the allusions may not be felt, but their boisterous, comic character is clear.
However, it is the extraordinary third movement that dominates discussion of this sonata. Its principal elements are an Arioso dolente  (lamenting song) and a three-voice fugue, which unexpectedly loses heart and gives way to a second Arioso even more despairing than the first. Suddenly, the fugue is repeated, but this time the theme is turned upside-down, and it ends on a note of triumph with a flourish of arpeggios.
Seong-Jin Cho was just 17 years old when he performed this sonata at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy!

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Wonder and human ingenuity got us to Mars, and this Beethoven song reflects upon such human qualities.

The ongoing exploration of Mars by scientists of three nations leads one to ponder the true nature of mankind and our exciting prospects for the future.
One of Beethoven’s most beautiful songs is  Abendlied unterm gerstirnten Himmel (Evening Song Under a Starry Sky), which describes the effect on the soul of gazing into the night sky and contemplating the immensity of creation. In the first strophe, the thousands of stars in the night sky make the soul feel immense, lifting it out of the dust. In the second strophe, the soul feels as if it is looking “zurück ins Vaterland” (back into the fatherland), while in the next two strophes the soul soars heavenward, finally reaching “Meine Leiden schönen Lohn” (the beautiful reward of my suffering). 
It’s sung here by Peter Schreier, with text in Spanish, English, and German. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Op. 109 is the predecessor to the Hammerklavier.

The Opus 109 sonata is a much smaller work than its immediate predecessor, the “Hammerklavier”. It has a fantasy-like first movement followed by a quick prestissimo, and the whole is capped with a marvelous theme and variations, which Beethoven instructed was to be played “song-like, with the most intimate expression.” Here Daniel Barenboim performs. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy — Op. 106, “Hammerklavier,” enfolds soul-wrenching drive with those unknown last moments of a Mars landing.

The Opus 106 “Hammerklavier”, Beethoven’s 29th sonata, is one of the most demanding works in the entire keyboard repertoire. Magnificent in scope, enormous in length, it contains a soul-wrenching Adagio movement and ends with an incredible double fugue. One might compare the finale to NASA’s “seven minutes of terror” as the Mars spacecraft makes its final descent and landing on the Red Planet!
Beethoven remarked to his publisher Artaria that this sonata would be “a hard nut to crack”, and that it would have pianists gnashing their teeth for the next 50 years. In fact, Beethoven’s London publisher released only the first three movements (rearranged so that the Scherzo followed the Adagio) because it was felt that England had no pianists at the time capable of playing the finale.
Although Beethoven had already used the term “Hammerklavier” for the Opus 106, it has become universally accepted as the name for this immortal work. Here is a superb performance by Vladimir Ashkenazy. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – Op. 101 begins his “late period” sonatas.

The Opus 101 is generally regarded as the first of the “late period” sonatas, in which Beethoven takes advantage of the expanded range  and sturdier construction of the “Hammerklavier” to produce works of extraordinary power and richness of effect. In fact, in the Opus 101 Beethoven uses the low “E” for the first time – a note that didn’t exist on earlier instruments.
This is emphatically not a “Romantic” work. The Romantic movement was unleashed after the Congress of Vienna in order to supplant artistic rigor and replace it with “anything goes” licentiousness, in order to corrupt the musical tastes, and hence morality, of the public. Beethoven was  always a Classical composer.
The sonata, which Beethoven jokingly suggested be called “the difficult-to-play A major sonata” is performed magnificently by Emil Gilels. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven’s sonata Op. 90 follows Napoleon’s defeat.

Five years would lapse before another piano sonata appeared since Napoleon’s storming of Vienna. During these years, Beethoven composed his Mass in C, and organized a successful revival of his opera, now called “Fidelio”.
The Opus 90 sonata was composed following the defeat of Napoleon and during the preparations for the 1815 Congress of Vienna – the conference of royals and their functionaries which restored the feudal system over war-ravaged Europe, unleashed the Romantic movement, and ruthlessly suppressed all efforts to replicate the new American model of government in Europe. 
The sonata has two movements, and is played here with great passion by the Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Beethoven: Sparks of Joy

Beethoven’s rebuke of Napoleonic forces; a sonata for Archduke Rudolph.

Napoleon’s forces approached Vienna in April of 1809, forcing the nobility to flee to their country estates, and Beethoven to shelter in his brother’s cellar, with pillows strapped over his ears to preserve what little hearing he still had. 
The departure of his friend and patron, the Archduke Rudolph, was the occasion for Beethoven’s next piano sonata, “Das Lebewohl” (The Farewell), Opus 81a. In the first movement (“Das Abschied” – The Parting) he writes the syllables “Le-be-wohl’ over the opening theme, which he returns to throughout. The second movement, called “Abwesenheit” (Absence), is a poignant depiction of longing, and  leads directly to the third movement, “Das Wiedersehen” (The Return), in which Beethoven celebrates the anticipated homecoming of his patron with unbounded joy and exuberance. 
It is important to note that from this point on Beethoven abandoned the use of both the French and Italian languages in his compositions, instead giving all tempo and other instructions in German, and he was furious when his publisher gave this sonata the name Les Adieux.
András Schiff gives an outstanding interpretation of this marvelous work. [Notes by Margaret Scialdone.]


Humankind Explores Mars

Perseverance Safely on Mars, Right on Target, Ready for Her Search for Life

Feb. 18, 2021 (EIRNS)—NASA’s Mars rover, Perseverance, programmed to arrive at Mars this afternoon, plunged through the atmosphere, and landed at 3:55 PM, Eastern Standard Time, exactly on schedule. It was the fifth time NASA has successfully landed a spacecraft on Mars. For the first time, American and European orbiters already at Mars were aimed, and in some cases repositioned, to photograph and film the craft’s entry, descent, and landing. Perseverance, itself, was equipped to record for the first time the sounds and some images of its entry, descent, and landing (EDL). It was described as the first time we put ears on another planet. Within minutes of landing, Perseverance herself had sent back pictures of her surroundings. Mission managers expect to receive more imagery over the next day or so.

During a post-landing briefing, EDL Project manager Al Chen happily reported that Perseverance had found a good “parking lot” in the Jezero crater, well within its target landing site, landing with very little tilt (1.2 degrees). The Surface team, which will be functioning on Mars time in tandem with their rover, is already at work checking out the Rover’s status, with its power systems looking good right after landing. The rover will be “unwrapped”—various arms and instruments opened up—over the next few days, and the team will then begin to figure out where it will travel and by what route, avoiding sand ripples and examining differences in terrain as it heads out to find a good spot for a heliport to test Ingenuity, the first powered flight vessel ever deployed on Mars.

Perseverance, known as “Percy” by her developers and admirers, is a major advance over its solar-powered golf-cart-sized predecessor. Percy weighs a ton and is the size of an automobile, and she is nuclear-powered. (The team described how there is no need to worry anymore about sand getting on the solar panel.) There’s plenty of dependable power for the two-year mission. She supports advanced equipment, specially designed to search for life on Mars.

The Jezero crater is the site of an ancient lake. It was picked because of its unique status on Mars—having clearly identified channels of the entrance and exit of the water. Near the entrance is a very rich “delta” region, thought to be ideal for finding Martian micro-organisms. Science team member Matt Wallace described the geological richness of the site, saying that they have ahead of them “years of scientific investigating.”

One of the most exciting features of this mission is its sample-caching system, to collect and store soil samples to be recovered and returned to Earth by the first “round trip” Mars mission which must follow. The tubes being used to collect samples were put through a highly rigorous sanitizing process, to make sure that any microorganisms found would actually be Martian in origin.

President Biden called to congratulate the team, and said he would congratulate them in person.


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