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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.2

Part 1: The Eroica Symphony
Notes by Fred Haight

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”: 1st mvt (Furtwängler)

Beethoven lived in a time of great hope and optimism. The world was changing, and the future looked bright.

The poet Friedrich Schiller, expressed this in “The Artists”:

How beautifully, O man, with your branch of palm,
You stand on the century’s slope
In proud and noble manliness,
With open mind, with spirits high,
Stern yet gentle, in active stillness,
The ripest son of time.”

Schiller further said to his fellow artists that they must be leaders:

“The dignity of Man into your hands is given,
Its proctector be!
It sinks with you! With you it will be risen!”

It seems that Beethoven heeded Schiller’s words. In his admiration for the success of the American Revolution and the ideals of the French Revolution, Beethoven dedicated his 3rd symphony, “The Eroica” (Heroic), to Napoleon Bonaparte, at a time when it seemed he might actually liberate mankind. When Napoleon crowned himself Emperor in 1804, Beethoven ripped out the title and said ” Now, he too will trample on the rights of mankind.” He rededicated it to “The memory of a Great Man.”

You can hear that heroic and inspiring quality in the first movement: The crisis-ridden middle (development section) of the movement, was the longest ever written up to that point. In this recording, it lasts a full 6 minutes from 3:12 to 9:12. The Coda, or ending, is also magnificent. If the main theme, reminds us of a hero on horseback, the last minute and a half sounds more like Pegasus, the horse with wings!

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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