Beethoven’s Final Sonata Opus 111 Notes by Margaret Scialdone
After completing his 32nd and final piano sonata, Beethoven is said to have made the astonishing remark that the piano is “after all, an unsatisfactory instrument”. This work does indeed strain the limits of both piano and performer, the latter spiritually as well as technically. The second movement, innocuously called “Arietta” (little song), reaches almost other-worldly dimensions of emotional profundity. Although he went on to compose other works for the piano (the Diabelli Variations and Opus 119 Bagatelles), he never contemplated writing another sonata.
Beethoven’s humor—“The Test of Kisses” Notes by Fred Haight
This song, “Prüfung des Küssens, WoO 89” (The Test of Kissing), was composed between 1790–1791, for Bonn’s Electoral singer, Joseph Lux. It is for a bass and orchestra. The author of the text is unknown, but this song, in the Italian opera buffa style, is skillfully orchestrated and full of humor.
The text tells of a “wise” mother who instructs her son that to kiss is a sin. The boy does not agree because he gets them free from Doris, and things seem to be fine. They may, however, lead to other woes.
The orchestration is through-composed. There is a surprising amount of variety in the work, including three tempo changes and a shift from 4/4 to 2/2 meter. The orchestra stands independent of the vocal area and doubling the singer only at particular moments such as cadences.
TEXT: Meine weise Mutter spricht Meine weise Mutter spricht: Küssen, Küssen, Kind! ist Sünde! Und ich armer Sünder finde, Doch das Ding so böse nicht.
Mord und Diebstahl, weiß ich wohl, Ist ein schreckliches Vergehen Aber, trotz, den will ich sehen, Der mich das beweisen soll.
Meine Küsse stehl’ ich nicht: Doris gibt von freien Stücken, Und ich seh’s an ihren Blicken, Daß ihr wenig Leid geschicht.
Oft begiebt es sich, daß wir Uns, vor Lust, die Lippen beißen: Aber soll das Morden heißen? Gott bewahre mich dafür!
Mutter! Mutter! Schmäherei! Sünd’ ist Küssen? Ist es eine; Nun, ich armer Sünder meine, Daß sie nicht zu lassen se
TRANSLATION: My wise mother speaks My wise mother says: Kissing, kissing, child, is a sin! Though I do not find the poor sinner As bad as the thing itself Murder and theft, I know Are terrible offenses But in spite of that I want to see It proven it to me.
I do not steal my kisses: Doris gives of her own free will, And I see it in her looks That she has little suffering.
It often happens that we Bite our lips with lust: But should that be called murder? God keep me from that!
Mother! Mother! Abuse! Sin is kissing? They are one; I mean, this poor sinner of mine, Should she even be allowed!
Beethoven : Creatures of Prometheus Notes by Margaret Scialdone
In 1801 the ballet master Salvatore Viganó was commanded to prepare a performance for Empress Maria Theresa. He chose the subject of Prometheus giving science and the arts to Mankind, and turned to Beethoven to compose a score for his libretto. “Creatures of Prometheus” is Beethoven’s only full-length ballet, with overture, introduction, 15 numbers, and a finale. As the original libretto has been lost, it’s no longer staged as a ballet.
In this 1960 performance, Charles Munch conducts the Boston Symphony orchestra in excerpts from Beethoven’s Opus 43, The Creatures of Prometheus.
Goethe and Beethoven: “Getting Along with Girls” Notes by Fred Haight
The Classics are often associated with imagery of stuffy-old-white-male who have nothing relatable for the contemporary youth generation. We beg to differ.
Goethe’s Mit Mädeln sich Vertragen (Getting Along with Girls), written in 1787, is a poem that makes hilarious fun of the “machismo” mentality of any young, over-confident, would be Don Juan. Beethoven captures Goethe’s imagery perfectly (including a mock sword fight), in this short work for Bass and Orchestra, WoO 90 (composed around 1790-92).
Mit Mädeln sich Vertragen:
Mit Mädeln sich vertragen,
Mit Männern ‘rumgeschlagen,
Und mehr Credit als Geld;
So kommt man durch die Welt.
Ein Lied, am Abend warm gesungen,
Hat mir schon manches Herz errungen;
Und steht der Neider an der Wand,
Hervor den Degen in der Hand;
‘Raus, feurig, frisch,
Kling! Kling! Klang! Klang!
Dik! Dik! Dak! Dak!
Mit Mädeln sich vertragen,
Mit Männern ‘rumgeschlagen,
Und mehr Credit als Geld;
So kommt man durch die Welt.
With girls I get along,
With men I brawl,
With more credit than money;
This how one goes through the world.
A song, sung on a warm evening,
Has already won many a heart for me;
And I back the jealous one against the wall, His sword in his hand; Out, fiery, fresh, The feather duster!
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!
The Third Symphony’s Finale: Creativity, and Heroic Humor Notes by Fred Haight
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.
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.
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 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.