"Audubon Quartet" Concert 3/5/01

By Paul Zweifel

The Three Faces of Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven  was born in Bonn, Germany on Dec. 16, 1770 into a family of musicians. His grandfather, also named Ludwig, was Kappelmeister in the court of the Elector of Cologne (who had his seat in Bonn). His father, Johann, was a less successful musician than young Ludwig's's grandfather, partially due to a taste for drink. However, Johann saw to it that young Ludwig received a first-rate musical education--in fact he might be said to have driven his son unmercifully, in some part perhaps contributing to Ludwig's neurotic adulthood.

At age eleven, Ludwig left school to become a full-time musician, first as an organist and harpsichordist in the Elector's Kapelle and later as a viola(!) player in the opera orchestra. When he was 17 years old, he was already so well respected in Bonn that funds were raised to send him to Vienna to study further, hopefully with Mozart. He did play for Mozart, who commented after hearing him improvise, "Keep an eye on him: some day he will give the world something to talk about." Unfortunately, after Ludwig had been in Vienna for only two weeks, he was recalled to Bonn because his mother fell fatally ill with consumption, dying only a day or so after her son's return.

In 1792, Beethoven returned to Vienna. Mozart had died a year earlier, but Beethoven hoped to study with Haydn whom he had gotten to know during two visits Haydn made to Bonn. Beethoven did become Haydn's student, but the relationship never worked out from a tutorial standpoint, although the two men did become quite friendly. ("Papa" Haydn, remember, was one of the best-natured persons in the world, and was able to overlook Beethoven's often brusque and boorish behavior.) Beethoven found other teachers, including Johann Schenk who taught him counterpoint and Antonio Salierei who gave him lessons in vocal declamation. At first the fact that Beethoven was working with other teachers was kept secret from Papa Haydn, but when he found out he accepted the situation with his usual good nature.

Beethoven lived in Vienna for the rest of his life (he died in1827), making only short short trips to Prague, one trip to Berlin and several trips to the spa at Teplitz (everyone "took the waters" in those days). He also spend summers in varoious country villages. Some of these villages, for example Heiligenstadt where he spent two summers, have long since been incorporated into Vienna proper. (More on Heiligenstadt later.)  Teplitz, incidentally,  appears prominently in the movie "Immortal Beloved." This wonderful movie with a great sound track (available on CD) is basically a fictional account of Beethoven's sex life. (It might surprise some of the audience to learn that classical musicians actually have sex lives, something often thought to be restricted to rock stars.)

Even while studying in those early years, Beethoven was actively composing, and began to wear the first of the three "faces" announced in the title of this talk. Although some musicologists refer to such a classification as simplistic, let me go ahead and describe it anyway as I do think it gives some insight into Beethoven's compositions. I like to refer to not three aspects of Beethoven but rather three different individuals, Beethoven I, Beethoven II and Beethoven III. In the modern spirit of categorizing everything for easy computer access, I have even come up with some "key words" to describe these three Beethovens.

Beethoven I lived from his birth in 1770 until 1802; the transition to Beethoven II occurred when Beethoven I realized that he was going deaf. The boundary layer consisted of the famous Heiligenstadt Testimonium, written in Ocober 1802 and addressed to Ludwig's two brothers but only discovered in his papers after his death. Some of the most important and familiar compositions of Beethoven I include the first (1800) and second (1802) symphonies; the variations for cello and piano ("See the conquering hero comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabeus and "Ein mädchen oder weibchen" and "Bei Maennern, welche liebe fuehlen"  from The Magic Flute--1796); also the "Moonlight" (1801) and Pathétique (1799) sonatas; and of course the six string quartets Op. 18 (1801). (To these might be added quartet in F, which is actually a transcription of the piano sonata in E, Op. 14, No. 1.) Tonight we will hear Op. 18, no. 4 in c minor from this set, and I'll say a little more about it later. The key words for Beethoven I might be "freedom" and "extroversion." Freedom means from external constraint and from anxieties, not necessarily freedom for humanity. Beethoven I's music sounded a lot like Mozart and Haydn except in Beethoven's own inimitable idiom. That is, it sounds like Mozart and/or Haydn, but never would be confused with it. To illustrate this period in Beethoven's life, I have chosen part of the Rondo movement from the Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13. The performer is the 16-year old Daniel Bairenboim, in his pre-Jackie days.( I chose the c-minor Op. 13 because it is closely related, musically, to the quarteet Op. 18 no. 4, more than just by sharing the same key.) But first A PICTURE OF BEETHOVEN I


Beethoven II existed from 1802 to 1812, circa. Here the key words I have chosen are "Passion" and "Heroism." Some well-known compositions of Beethoven II include symphonies 3 (1805)-8 (1812); his (only) opera Leonore (later renamed Fidelio); Op. 72 (1805, revised 1814); the violin concerto, Op. 58 (1806); and the three "Rasumovsky" string quartets, Op. 59 (1807) Tonight we will hear No. 3 in C Major. These quartets were commissioned by and dedicated to the Russian ambassador, Count Rasumovsky, hence their sobriquets. In fact, themes from Russian folk songs were used in the first two quartets but not in No. 3, unless a certain melancholy in the slow movement can be interpreted as Russian. Rasumovsky, incidentally, kept his own resident string quartet and no doubt it was that group which first performed these works. Beethoven II wrote two other string quartets (for a total of five). They are Op. 74 (1809) and Op. 95 (1810). PICTURE OF RAZUMOVSKY; PICTURE OF THE STRING INSTRUMENTS USED BY THE RASUMOVSKY QUARTETS.

As an illustration of the style of Beethoven II I have chosen the allegro ma non troppo movement from the Appassionata Sonata, Op. 57 in f minor, again played by the 16-year old Bairenboim. This work was written in one of Beethoven II's perhaps most productive year, 1805. PICTURE OF BEETHOVEN III


The years between 1813 and 1817 are sometimes called Beethoven's "fallow years" since he was relatively unproductive. It was in 1812 that he became more-or-less totally deaf, came to grips with it, and even, for the first time, acknowledged it publicly. He actually equipped himself with books, in which visitors could communicate with him by writing. Of the 400 or so books which were filled up between 1812 and Beethoven's death in 1827, 160 survived until World War II at which time they disappeared into Eastern Europe, never to be seen again. The 240 books which did not survive were destroyed by Beethoven's biographer Anton Schindler who was trying to "protect Beethoven's memory" an ambition that also accounts perhaps for the poor quality of his biographical work.

During the fallow years, Beethoven did some revising of his earlier work (most notably of Fidelio, which was shortened from three to two acts and renamed at this time) and wrote a couple of cello sonatas as well as a piano sonata, but by and large his creative Muse was dormant. One compelling incident during these years was his attempt in 1814 to play the piano part of the Archduke Trio, but the results were disastrous. The composer Ludwig Spohr wrote of this concert: "On account of his deafness there was scarcely anything let of the virtuosity which had formerly been so greatly admired." He still had 13 years to live, and it is amazing that he was still able to function as a composer, but function he did, and Beethoven III, born in 1818, produced the most greatly admired music of any of the three Beethovens.

The key words for the last of Beethoven's alter egos are "Tragedy" and "Introspection." These last works are the most profound and by far the most difficult to comprehend. It is the fact that Beethoven III is speaking to us from the depths of his soul. Among the most important and best-known works of this period are the ninth symphony, Op. 125 (1824); the Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106 (1818); the Diabelli Variations, Op. 120 (1823); the Missa Solemnis, Op. 123 (1823); and the string quartets Opa. 127 (which we'll hear tonight), 130, 131, 132, 133 and 135. 131 and 135 come from 1826, all the rest from 1825. Op. 133 is the Grosse Fuge in B flat, originally the finale of Op. 130, but changed to a stand-alone piece after considerable commentary by the Viennese critics to the effect that the Grosse Fuge was too "heavy" for the rest of Op. 130. (Beethoven did write another finale for Op. 130). I still remember the first time I heard the (late) Cleveland quartet. It was in 1971, in Aspen, and they were all unknowns, just getting started. The played Op. 130 as originally written, with the Grosse Fuge as the finale, and I can tell you that it was one of the most exciting concerts I have ever heard. Prince Galitzin, a Russian nobleman who lived in St. Petersburg, incidentally, commissioned Opa. 127, 130 and 132. PICTURE OF GALATZIN

To exemplify Beethoven III, I have chosen part of the Largo from the Hammerklavier Sonata, performed by Mieczyslav Horsowski. Although Horsowski, who died two or three years ago, was still performing in public when he was over 100, he made this recording at the relatively early age or 65. By the way, "Hammerklavier" is a strange name for a sonata. It means, more or less, "pianoforte" since "klavier" itself means "piano," at least today. (The idea of the prefix "hammer" was to distinguish the piano, with its struck strings, from the original klavier, or harpsichord, with plucked strings.) Beethoven chose this name as an act of Teutonic patriotism (or chauvinism) disdaining the Itlianate word "pianoforte." Incidentally, the sonata was considered so difficult that few pianists in Beethoven's day could cope with it. I'm not sure what the situation is today, but the fact of the matter is that the Hammerklavier Sonata is rarely found on a recital program. In his book Beethoven, Denis Matthews referred to the sonata's "complex profundities," pretty much par for the course, I might add, for all of Beethoven III's works. PICTURE OF BEETYHOVEN III


Note that in addition to the piano selections you have heard from the three Beethovens, tonight you will also be hearing one quartet from each of these composers, Opera 18, 59 and 127 respectively from Beethoven's I, II and III. Counting the Grosse Fuge as a separate entity, Beethoven in all wrote 17 quartets, otherwise 16 divided quite evenly (6, 5, 5) among his three personae.

I haven't prepared any technical material on the three quartets we'll be hearing tonight; Tom asked me to give a more-or less historical talk which, as any the students in my opera classes could tell you, is my major interest anyway. But I have another short quote from Denis Matthews. This is a comment on Op. 18, no. 3 which we heard at the first of these series of concerts (we'll be hearing no. 4 tonight); I think it's relevant to the present brouhaha attending the musical scene in Blacksburg these:

The D Major quartet Op. 18, no. 3 reminds one again that "writing quartets properly" involves effects of the utmost economy…when the movement rouses itself rhythmically and dynamically, Beethoven compensates by introducing unexpected key-changes at important structural points…One does not need technical knowledge to respond to these modulations as changes of mood, or of tone voice; or to sense the unusual key of the Andante (B flat) which opens in a deep sonority with the second violin playing above the first. The old adage about "playing second fiddle" is also alien to the true art of quartet writing. There are a couple of other things I want to add. In the first place, earlier in this talk I promised to say more about the Heiligenstadt Testimonium which, you recall, Beethoven wrote in October of 1802, when he realized that he was going deaf. Heiligenstadt, which at that time was a little village in the country, is today part of greater Vienna. It is easily reached by underground (U4) or, more scenically, by tram. Take the tram from central Vienna to Grinzing where you might stop to sample the heuriger and perhaps walk to the Schubert statue (Schubert summered in Grinzing). A few hundred meters past this statue you can see the house where plaques indicate that Karl Böhm and Kurt Gödel both lived, at different times of course.

Walk back to the station and take the tram on to Heiligenstadt. You might want to take a look at Karl Marx-Hof, one of the monster apartment house complexes erected during the years between the two world wars, and associated with "Red Vienna," the first socialist government. Stop to contrast how people lived during times separated by little more than 100 years, that is Beethoven's Vienna and "Red Vienna."

Let me read just a part of the testimonium, of which you can by a (German) copy in the Beethoven house, a charming cottage on a quiet street perhaps a kilometer from Karl Marx-Hof. PICTURE OF HEILIGENSTADT TESTIMONIUM


Finally, a word about the Diabelli Variations, which I mentioned earlier as a composition of Beethoven III's in 1823. In 1819, Anton Diabelli, publisher and composer, circulated a waltz tune of his own composition among 50 or so composers in and around Vienna, inviting each to contribute a variation to a composite work to be entitled Vaterländer Künstlerverein (Art Association of the Fathreland.) Beethoven wrote not one but 33 variations on Diabelli's waltz which was hailed as a worthy successor to Bach's Goldberg Variations (one difference is of course that Goldberg didn't write the theme on which the variations were based.) The contributors to the original scheme included such well-known names as Czerny and Hummel and even Archduke Rudolph, a fine pianist in his own right who was a student of Beethoven's and patron of the eponymous trio, Op. 97 (1811). The Hammerklavier Sonata, incidentally, was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph as was the Emperor Concerto, Op. 73 (1809) and the Missa Solemnis intended for Rudolph's elevation as Archbishop of Ölmutz in 1820, but, unfortunately, Beethoven didn't complete the work until three years later. PICTURE OF ARCHDUKE RUDOLPH

Particularly noteworthy contributions to Diabelli's project came from Schubert and the 11-year old Franz Liszt. Beethoven met Liszt that year, and after hearing him play, lifted him up and kissed him. This meeting between Beethoven and Liszt is significant, since Beethoven III was the father of the Romantic Movement in music, which Liszt, along with his son-in-law Richard Wagner, were to raise it its apotheosis. In fact in Wagner's essays one reads that he considered symphony writing to have ended with Beethoven's ninth, and that he traced his ideas of Gesamtkunstwerk, the integration in his music dramas of words, music, scenery, costumes, staging etc., back to this symphony. In fact, at the opening of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in 1872 Wagner conducted Beethoven's ninth symphony in celebration. PICTURE OF WAGNER IF YOU HAVE ONE