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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.

Beethoven: Sparks of Joy – No.1

Beethoven Piano Sonata “Pathetique” in C minor
Notes by Fred Haight

Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, in 3-PARTS (the second of the C-Minor Series)

Part One: Why is this work called “Pathetic”?

Beethoven’s electrifying Piano Sonata #8 in C minor, op.13, known as the “Pathetique”, was composed in 1798, when he was 28 years of age. It shook the musical world. Nothing like it had ever been heard. Today, we often listen passively, like it is old hat. Put yourself in the shoes of someone hearing it for the first time, and imagine the shock they felt.

Though it was his publisher who chose to call it “Grand Sonate Pathetique”, Beethoven approved of the title! Why would he approve of his work being called pathetic? Perhaps the word meant something different back then than it means today. Throughout this series, we will identify how the kindred spirits of Beethoven and the great poet Friedrich Schiller collaborated, though they never met. We have to consult Schiller in order to understand what pathetic actually means.

In his essay, On the Pathetic Schiller wrote:

“Representation of suffering (pathos)-as mere suffering-is never the end of art, but, as a means to that end, it is extremely important. The ultimate end of art is the representation of the super-sensuous, and the tragic art in particular effects this…in that it makes sensuous, our moral independence from the laws of nature, in a state of emotion.

“Only the resistance, which it expresses to the power of the emotions, makes the free principle in us recognizable; that resistance, however, can be estimated only according to the strength of the attack…nature must have first demonstrated… its entire might before our eyes..

“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, belongs to a capacity of resisting that is above all natural power; that is infinitely sublime.”

Thus, the Pathetique sonata, is not born out of personal suffering, nor does it wish to make us feel sorry for the individual who suffers—a feeling which, however heartfelt, cannot change anything. Rather, it demonstrates to us the potential to bring about change, by summoning something deep within, that rallies us to: “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.”

We provide a recording of the first movement, by the late Claudio Arrau, who resisted an overly-rushed tempo. We will discuss the scientific aspect, in the next episode.

Stay tuned.

Schiller Institute Website Inaugurates Beethoven Celebration Postings

December 16, 2020 marks the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven.  As part  of the international celebrations this year and next year,  in honor of Beethoven, the Schiller Institute  is happy  to inaugurate a new feature on our website. We will regularly post selections of Beethoven’s music with short discussions of the pieces. 

Friedrich Schiller’s beautiful words from his poem “Ode To Joy” are magnificently memorialized in the last movement of  Beethoven’s  9th Symphony. 

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, den Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt,
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Seid umschlungen Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder – überm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen. 

English Translation

Joy, thou beauteous godly lightning,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire drunken we are ent’ring
Heavenly, thy holy home!
Thy enchantments bind together,
What did custom stern divide,
Every man becomes a brother,
Where thy gentle wings abide.

Be embrac’d, ye millions yonder!
Take this kiss throughout the world!
Brothers—o’er the stars unfurl’d
Must reside a loving Father.

Schiller’s words and Beethoven’s music speak to us even more passionately and powerfully today, in these times of pandemic disease,  famine, economic crisis social unrest, and the threat of war.  Let us take Schiller and Beethoven to our hearts and minds and forge a new paradigm of peace and development for all humanity.  Listen, and let Beethoven instruct us!

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