Beethoven Opus 119 Bagatelles Notes by Margaret Scialdone
The Opus 119 Bagatelles appeared in London in 1823 as “Trifles for the Piano Forte, Consisting of Eleven pleasing Pieces Composed in Various Styles by L. Van Beethoven”. They are quite accessible to non-celebrity but accomplished pianists, and it’s possible to hear brilliant interpretations by people you might not have heard of. A good example is this performance by Helen Ryba, who has a piano studio in Woodbridge, New Jersey.
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 “DerErlkönig” Notes by Margaret Scialdone
Goethe’s poem “Der Erlkönig” tells the story of a boy riding home on horseback in his father’s arms. He is frightened when he hears the seductive voice of the Erl King, a powerful and creepy supernatural being. The Erl King attempts to lure the child into joining him, promising amusement, rich clothes and the attentions of his daughters. He tells his father, who assures the child that it’s just his imagination. Suddenly the boy shrieks that the Erl king has done him harm! The father breaks into a gallop, and reaches home only to find that the boy is dead.
Der Erlkonig was set to music by several composers, Schubert’s version being the best known. Beethoven’s setting heard here, is WoO 131. Can you hear the four distinct voices?
Who rides so late through the night and wind? It is the father with his child. He has the boy in his arms; he holds him safely, he keeps him warm.
‘My son, why do you hide your face in fear?’
‘Father, can you not see the Erlking? The Erlking with his crown and tail?’
‘My son, it is a streak of mist.’
‘Sweet child, come with me. I’ll play wonderful games with you. Many a pretty flower grows on the shore; my mother has many a golden robe.’
‘Father, father, do you not hear what the Erlking softly promises me?’
‘Calm, be calm, my child: the wind is rustling in the withered leaves.’
‘Won’t you come with me, my fine lad? My daughters shall wait upon you; my daughters lead the nightly dance, and will rock you, and dance, and sing you to sleep.’
‘Father, father, can you not see Erlking’s daughters there in the darkness?’
‘My son, my son, I can see clearly: it is the old grey willows gleaming.’
‘I love you, your fair form allures me, and if you don’t come willingly, I’ll use force.’
‘Father, father, now he’s seizing me! The Erlking has hurt me!’
The father shudders, he rides swiftly, he holds the moaning child in his arms; with one last effort he reaches home; the child lay dead in his arms.
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.
When Beethoven Becomes Hilarious! Notes by Fred Haight
We have had several episodes on Beethoven’s sense of humor. Today, we cross over into utter hilarity. Beethoven composed folk songs in many languages, including English, Italian, Danish, and Russian.
The first piece today is not a folk song but a setting of Goethe’s The Flea from his Faust. Its part of 6 songs that he composed in 1809, op. 75, no. 3. It’s in German. Here, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performs the song, with English subtitles.
2. One commenter reminded us of the song Ih nit di Nehma, from 23 Songs of Different Nationalities, WoO158a (1816/17). If you are wondering what language it is, it appears to be a Tyrolean dialect. Tyrol/Trentino straddles Austria and Italy. It is mountainous and apparently has a lot of regional dialects. We print here the closest thing we could find to a translation. Two things are clear a). There is a lot of yodeling. b). A woman is rejecting a man, and by the sound of her voice, he should not be too disappointed.
I nit di nehma I like di nit nehma, You top pike, You can’t come to me You were much too bad for me; And you wanna be my man You urban aff, What do you think of no You foolish laff You talked yodel, What you need a woman You have a soda Koan juice more in body; You’re cute like a brue And cute as a bird what did a woman do to you. The gannet from Passau Is your contrase You kier like a Spanau, Now go and go Stop your grumbling I’m telling you I give you a faunzen You talketer bue.
Glossary Talketer Jodel = foolish journeyman You have = anyway Contrase = image You kier = you squeak Faunzen = slap in the face
3. L’amante Impazione (the Impatient Lover) Op 82, No. 3 and 4 (composed 1809), are in Italian. The lover seems a bit infantile. Beethoven captures this manic-depressive quality by setting it twice, once in a manic way, and once in a depressive way, using exactly the same words. Both are played here. Click on two separate videos to hear the two versions!
Che fa, che fa il mio bene? Perché non viene? Vedermi vuole languir Così, così, così! Oh come è lento nel corso il sole! Ogni momento mi sembra un dì, Che fa, che fa il mio bene? Perchè, perché non viene? Vedermi vuole languir Così, così, così!
What is my darling doing? Perhaps she will not come? She likes to see me pine away Like this, like this, like this How slowly the sun runs its course, Every second’s like a day. What is my darling doing? Perhaps she will not come ……. ? She likes to see me pine away Like this, like this, like this.
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!
Beethoven and Tragedy: The Coriolan Overture Notes By Fred Haight
We have already talked about Beethoven’s sense of the heroic; and the power and optimism expressed in his Third Symphony, his only opera Fidelio, and the Egmont Overture.
However, an important part of trying to create a positive outcome for society, involves the study of tragedy. This does not refer to the way in which people use the term today, such as a natural disaster, but what happens when the flaws in both a leader and a society result in failure, or worse, betrayal?
Heinrich Joseph von Collin wrote his play, Coriolan, in 1804, the year that Napoleon crowned himself as Emporer. That same year, Beethoven scratched out the dedication of his Third Symphony to Bonaparte, lamenting that now Napoleon would become just another tyrant, and trample on the rights of men. That same year, Schiller premiered his last play, Wilhelm Tell, celebrating the ancient triumph of ordinary Swiss people over the threat of subjugation by the Hapsburg Empire.
In the next year, 1805, the French army occupied Vienna, and many of the city’s leaders left. Von Collin was an opponent of the French occupation, but also seems to have served as some sort of diplomatic liaison. In 1807, Coriolan was performed with a prelude composed by Ludwig van Beethoven. Von Collin was a classicist, familiar not only with Shakespeare, but with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Von Collin’s play is a Germanic rewrite of the ancient story of Gaius Marcius Corialanus, which Shakespeare also wrote about, in his play Coriolanus. We will use Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus, supplemented by the historical writings of Livy and Plutarch, to give a brief account of this tragedy of a flawed military leader and a flawed Roman Republic.
Gaius Marcius Coriolanus was promoted to General after showing great personal courage in defeating the Volscians at the city of Corioli, and was given the honorary name Coriolanus. He made an effort to seek higher political office, but had a deep flaw, in that he DESPISED the ordinary people—the plebeians. That was not just Coriolanus. There was a severe overall divide in the Roman Empire between the plebeians and the patricians. He had to win their approval to be promoted, but he absolutely refused to obey the standard ritual of showing them his war wounds. Worse, he was a speculator, who hoarded grain even while the people starved. He insulted the people, calling them “crows pecking at eagles”. As a result, Coriolanus, the war hero, was exiled from Rome. His wounded ego was so enraged that he went to his old enemies, The Volscians, and offered to lead their army in an attack on Rome. They marched together. The Romans were so freaked out that as Coriolanus and the Volscians approached, they sent Coriolanus’ mother (who had far too much influence on him), and his wife and children to talk him out of it. He relented. Thus, he became seen as a traitor by both the Romans AND the Volscians, who were at the gates of Rome. In Shakespeare’s play, he was murdered. In the Collin, he committed suicide.
If you read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you see the same problem within the Roman Republic: a huge rift between the people and those in power—the plebeians and the patricians. The patricians had no respect for the plebeians, and the plebeians were fickle, having had no sense of loyalty to the patricians. In 1804, this history would be resonating in people’s minds, as the French Revolution descended into barbarism, with the “sans culottes” decapitating the aristocracy in droves, and as a great general, who promised to liberate the people, became a tyrant.
This performance of the Coriolan Overture is conducted by Wilhelm Furtwangler, recorded in 1943, as Germany and the world experienced an even worse tragedy.