Showing posts with label Beethoven. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Beethoven. Show all posts

Friday, April 6, 2018

Things I Don't Get: Beethoven in Smurfs for the ColecoVision


Vienna, 1802. Ludwig van Beethoven takes a stroll through in country outside the city. The birds are singing as a soft, wispy cloud momentarily blots out the sun. Beethoven stops to run his hands over the heather and as filaments of light shine through the slender cloud and warm his fingers, the heart of the composer awakens full of joy in this realm of nature. His journal entry for the day reads, "Today a tune came to me straight from nature. I have begun to work it into a theme for a pastoral symphony, but in truth I just hope it makes it into Smurfs for Colecovision."

Not enough? Then mix in the Shaker theme from Copland's Appalachian Spring and loop both themes ad infinitum without development in front of trees that look like I could have drawn then in Microsoft Paint and voila! nature itself. Now throw in a little blue mushroom-dwelling socialist wearing a white Phrygian cap and dodging birds and bats and well smurfy smurf smurf you have something totally absurd.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

Contempt and Love


Moral philosophers are eager to suggest every which way we might become good people, but they seldom seem to get around to telling you what to do once you are a good person. Don't they expect anyone to try, let alone succeed? Perhaps they don't think that there is anything to worry about once you succeed at virtue, by which I of course mean act generally with approbation, since no one is perfect all of the time. Yet there seems a unique struggle attendant the adherence to virtue, and perhaps even to the attempt at virtue, and that is the development of disdain for those unsuccessful at becoming good people.

I haven't called them wicked because most often they are not. I'm not talking about disdaining dictators, murderers, and the like, which is very easy, but disdaining normal people who don't try or fail to practice virtues. Neither am I talking about intellectual virtue, for we can all comprehend that some people can't comprehend some things. How though should we feel about and react to people who harbor chronic character flaws and make no attempt to correct them, or fail at the attempt?

Let me give you an example and drop the pretense that I'm not speaking about myself. I work rigorously against a nature which is critical, finicky, easily-perturbed, controlling, conservative, proud, opinionated, stubborn, reclusive, anxious, indolent, petty, and derisive, among other faults. For eight years–yes, precisely eight, it's been a deliberate endeavor– I've tried to prune this thorny personality into a gentleman. I very much hope that I've at least made an improvement, but I'm at a point where I remember my old self and I'm not very sympathetic to him.

Moreover, though, I find myself unsympathetic toward those who haven't made the change. Freud wrote that we dislike people who remind us of ourselves, but for my part I find myself disliking people who remind me of my former self. Perhaps this is illogical, for it's certainly possible that such people have wrestled with other demons while I've tamed my less feral passions. Sometimes though you just can't shake the feeling that someone is congenitally–I was going to say congenitally bad, but I think the better word is weak. They lack the fortitude to improve.

There seem two ways to react to such people. The first is that to which I'm  immediately inclined: contempt. This is a word too strongly associated with hate, and it more correctly means to value little, from Latin's contemno. This is no power trip, though, because as much as the sight of such people inflicting their untutored personalities on the world fills me with disdain, that same low estimation is attended by feelings of great pity. We pity them because they don't deserve their burden–who can be said to deserve his character?–and because we feel that we've but narrowly avoided similar fate.

Yet pity is ultimately a feeling of pain, and it's no small coincidence that contemno can mean to avoid. Ultimately we wish to avoid such people. Aristotle's great-souled man is quite indifferent to inferiors. In contrast we take delight in seeing the good and it is the good which spurs us to imitation.

Of course ruling out erotic love, is there no affection these people may receive, no principle which may bind men to each other? How can we share φιλία or have an amicus without equality? Both Latin's caritas and diligo interweave the idea of esteem into the valuation. It seems there is no pure love, to use the overused word, for such people, but is there pure love for anyone? It seems always mitigated or predicated on estimation, eros, utility, similarity, equality, or some premise.

The only two remaining postures are humanism, a pure love for man qua man, and Christian agape. Yet humanism is still predicated on esteeming someone valuable as a human, to which one might rightly ask: so? What exactly might it be about the human which means we should love him? Consciousness? Our genetic similitude? Such are pretty cheap commodities and neither suggests, let alone demands, love.

Alone is agape lacking in estimation, for to love God does not imply that one finds Him in conformity with anything, but that one loves the beginning and end of everything. To love anyone in this regard then, is not strictly utilitarian or merely moral, but teleological, love as ultimate reconciliation. As such it is also love for being qua being, and thus the proper antithesis to hatred, the preference that something not exist, i.e. nihilism.

It is the father who makes men brothers, and it is the universality of this declaration which gives such profound weight to the finale to Beethoven's 9th, a work which has been rechristened in the 20th century as essentially humanist or at best deistic. Yet it is joy, man's pure loving reaction to love and an affirmation of life, that is the divine spark which makes brothers of men. In other words, Deus Caritas est. (Of course refining our understanding of caritas in the process.) In the encyclical of the same name, Benedict XVI wrote of that statement's, "Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny," saying that, "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter [congressio] with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction [progressionem]." [Latin English]
1 John 4.16: Ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, καὶ ὁ μένων ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ ἐν τῷ θεῷ μένει καὶ ὁ θεὸς ἐν αὐτῷ μένει. / Deus caritas est et qui manet in caritate in Deo manet et Deus in eo. 
Love and joy, then, are not moral or principled acts, but the proper progression, or climax of life. Again fittingly, hatred and nihilism are the rejections and regressions toward nothing, from God and being.

This is a polarity we find again in the 9th Symphony from its chaotic keyless opening, itself suggesting a polarity with the hovering perfect fifth, to its ecstatic choral finale. The poem calls to song, though, not only those who partake in love by friendship or marriage, but all men who have all been given by nature a passion [Wollust] for life.

In the finale to the 9th, then, Beethoven summons all to fall in love under the lieber Vater, and combines the theme to joy with a gesture as simple as it is profound, a kiss to the world, in a fugue. The inexorable motion, rollicking rhythm, and overlapping of millionem and ganzen Welt and kuß seem to create that very joy of which it speaks. It's the fullness of this path from nothing to everything and the rightness, the properness of direction which we feel in joy which makes the 9th seem to transcend its Earthly parameters, calling us to partake in the divine spark which exclaims, Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sanctus


Holy is one of my least favorite words in our beloved English tongue. To start, the word has an undignified ring, for both wholly and holy are merely 'oly without that oft-unheard puff of air. It sounds like it should be a suffix, not a word of great philosophical and spiritual import, and listen to those sounds next to one another: oh-lee. Say it nice and quickly and it sounds like a siren! Holy is also considerably debased by its position in a variety of common curses and epithets, and for my money there's something unpleasant about a word so frequently appended to the likes of cow and mackerel.

Yet, sanctus, is word which looms large in my mind. Aside from its aesthetic superiority what a panoply of perfect meanings swirl about it: sacred, venerable, pious, ordained. How sanctus seems to contain all the other virtues. It is what we call sanctus that defines not just ourselves, but everything.

One musical setting of the liturgy's trifold sanctus bring out all of these meanings.


The Sanctus from Beethoven's Missa Solemnis emphasizes the mystical power of the word from Isaiah 6:3, its centrality and the reverence it summons from us. Beethoven achieves this in a few ways. First, his indication is mit andacht, rapt and with devotion. Second, he's returned to D, the home key for the whole mass. Third, he's eschewed bright strings for the more austere basses. Fourth, in m. 9-12 Beethoven creates a novel, solemn color palette of horns, trumpets, and trombones. Finally, the theme itself is intimate, with its own internal motion, that step and leap, that generates the whole piece.
We begin then not with confidence, but with the reverence which precedes confidence. Only gradually does that germinal theme, working its way up, graced by a trifold repetition in the brass, finally say in the four soloists, Sanctus. Beethoven repeats not just sanctus three times but the whole phrase, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

In the first repetition, the polyphony emphasizes the unexpected spreading of the word. From one to the other the delicate word spreads from voice to voice. Also, by the musician's power, the melisma, he's made san-ctus, of two syllables, now of three and thus equal to the tri-syllabic do-mi-nus, to which it naturally now seems cognate.

In the second repetition with their crescendo on the first dominus and sforzato on the second, the voices seem to realize the possibility of this momentous development, but back off with the somber, darker piano repetition of Sabaoth. Can our Lord be the Lord of Hosts?

In the third an final repetition, the syllabic pronunciation is timid declaration, as quavering ninths in the violas and cellos fade away over a drumroll. The ensuing movement comes an emphatic yes in the form of an ecstatic fugue on pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Gardiner Conducts Beethoven

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. The Monteverdi Choir.
Conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. 
Carnegie Hall. November 17, 2012.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis holds a well-earned reputation for taxing singers with its tessitura, dynamics, and length. Period players like those of The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique run against additional challenges, with horn players swapping bits and violinists fiddling delicately against gut strings. Tonight even Sir John Eliot sweat up a storm as he led his ensembles through Beethoven's massive missa. The humble audience, however, receives little credit for following this exhausting piece for its duration. I did commit this time, and as close to fully as ever I have. Such may sound strange, "this time," but we fallible, distractible, humans, even music lovers, scholars, and aficionados, even performers, don't live in the whole piece every time. Cares intrude, fatigue sets in, wrappers are crinkled. Last night, however, Sir John Eliot, his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and The Monteverdi Choir were in full form. They made something special, and I went right along, note-for-note, now toe-a-tapping, then water-eyed, here a goofy grin on my face, there jaw agape. It was quite a night.

The woodwinds shone throughout, first bringing the Kyrie to intimate life, a life of presence but not activity, from their tender, luminous opening and the warm halo they add to the invocations of Kyrie, to the doom they herald and to which the soloists reply in imperiled urgency, Christe. Sir John Eliot meticulously shaped the remainder of the Kyrie giving weight and height to the impeccable declamation and intonation of the soloists, in particular Tenor Michael Spyres and Bass Matthew Rose. Without explication or philosophizing we heard what it means to call someone Lord and Christ.

The soft, tapered end of the Kyrie throws the forte opening of the Gloria into relief sharp enough to raise the hairs of the most casual listener. The dynamics here are so controlled that one never dulls to the forte or gets stuck in a rut of loud alternating with soft. The dynamics are rich and unified by a firm sense of forward movement, moving from the soft, fragile pax hominibus to an adoramus te of such power and volume I winced, then to a fleeting, pious adoramus te, and ending with the brazen glorificamus te.

After the four praises the winds again set the tone, this time with the oboes hollowing out a warm and gentle space for the gratias agimus tibi within this massive, rollicking movement. What the woodwinds shape in tone Gardiner shapes in time, and with this shaping the gratias becomes a discrete, personal prayer within a larger more grandiose movement. The same applies to the sections Qui tollis.
Gardiner keeps the finale, a flourish of fanfares and entrances of in gloria Dei Patris, full but not ponderous, and always finely articulated. This dense section easily collapses into a a brassy avalanche but Gardiner kept it light yet forceful.

The brass and winds launch the Credo in exceptional form. The bassoons were particularly nimble, neatly shifting from sprightly steps and walking lines to tortuous counter-melodies and plosive fortes. They not only gave the movement, especially its opening, a full, almost brusque bottom, but also, under Sir John Eliot, brought out figures that often remain on the page.

The glories of the Credo are twofold, though. First are the vigorous rhythms which give confident, joyful expression to the faith declared. From the steady, petrine Credo figure itself to the agressive de Deo vero and non factum, these figures animate the movement and bring to vivid life the text, in this case the faith itself, reaching an apotheosis in the dauntless, even strident fanfares ending with the great fugue on et vitam venturi saeculi. The courageous playing here adds a veritable sense of risk and pride in the growth of this timid figure from its humble origins nestled up with the sopranos through its brassy, celebratory climax.

Second is the incarnatus est, one of the glories of all music. It's also another wicked shift of dynamics and mood, from the swift descending figures of descendit de coelis to the soft basson pulse. We move in the space of a few bars from literal word painting, a descending figure to represent descent, to re-creation. While we perceive much of the movement as depiction, the symbolic language of this scene, the coming-into-being in the flickering bassoon, the hovering flute trill and the glimmer at de Spiritu Sancto, and the departure to the ethereal world of the Dorian mode, not only mimics but makes. We feel as if we have borne witness, and hence the power of the epoch-ringing declaration, et Homo factus est. The solo vocalists here were so soft and tender I leaned in as if trying to hear the news as it spread from part to part.

The winds and horns again made the moment in the opening to the Sanctus, which was as peering into a cloud waiting for someone to step from the mists, a wait fulfilled in the Benedictus. Here Concertmaster Peter Hanson coaxed a pure tone and a sweet, songful prayer from his instrument over the soft footsteps of the drums and strings in the highlight of the evening.

While the prayer for peace and military music are rightly said to characterize the Agnus Dei, its opening struck me the most tonight. The steps of the Benedictus continue on, but here as the lamb and through the cries of miserere and peccata. Gardiner's balanced touch and forces kept the two elements in joint relief, never overshadowing one another.

In the pre-concert talk Sir John Eliot noted how the score is only part of the piece and that the instruments themselves hold much of the music. The score, he said, is the butterfly pinned to the board, and music is the cloud of them in the sky. Last night, they took flight.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Musical Forms from the Middle Ages to Beethoven


I assembled the following to be a pleasing and perhaps instructive journey through music history and because we all know people who refer to "Classical" music.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Crazy Ludwig, a meme


In which we get unusually pop-culturey in order to shed a little human light on this musical Olympian (and to have a little laugh.)




Saturday, September 24, 2011

Thoughts on Sacred Music, Part II


In our first look at sacred music last month we discussed some concrete principals and why they functioned as the essence of good sacred music. It is, however, often said that taste is subjective. This I do concede to a point, and as an experiment I would like to make a less scientific comparison. We may say certainly that people have reactions to music but of course it is something in the music that has generated that reaction. I would like to look at a few incipits from some sacred music and briefly characterize what they suggest. I decided to use the beginnings of these pieces because they invariably receive an enormous amount of attention from the composer and they set the tone of the piece. In short, we can assume them to be the best the composer has to offer and exactly what he wants. Many musical works have weak transitions, lines, and moments, but we tend not to discuss the ones which fall out of the gate.

The incipits should briefly and perfectly capture the essence of the piece, or at least set a clear stage for development. So we may ask, then: first, do they, and second, what do they say?

N.B. I included only pieces using the Latin text of the Gloria from the Ordinary of the mass. I included the intonation of the Gloria de Angelis only once, which naturally excluded many settings which begin with the famous phrase. I have edited the chant and classical examples into the video below. The modern pieces have links to performances next to their descriptions.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Passing Through Infinity


The shade of Bach over Beethoven's gentle fughetta infuses a pathos to the sublime andante dance through time. (Compare to the similar but more abstract Contrapunctus XIII of Bach's Art of Fugue.) Here there is an element of dialogue, of longing, of tenderest and ineffable joy, but fundamentally of the human element to the passage through time and the human connections through past, present, and future.

Alfred Brendel once applied a line from the poet Heinrich von Kleist to the Diabelli Variations:

"When perception has passed through infinity, gracefulness reappears."


Beethoven. Diabelli Variations, Op. 120

See Variation 24 at 1:32
Alfred Brendel, piano.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Liebst du mich?


Schubert. Schwanengesang - Ständchen (Rellstab)



Mozart. Das Veilchen, KV.476 (Goethe)



Mahler. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (Mahler)


Bernstein on Beethoven, Mozart, and Music


From the Unanswered Questions Norton series of talks at Harvard, given in 1973. The series, happily, is available in paperback and on DVD.

On Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 18, op. 31, in E-flat major
and Musical Semantics


On Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, op. 550
Part I | Part II | Part III

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

András Schiff on Beethoven, op. 13


Pianist András Schiff on Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 8 
in C minor, op. 13.
  • Listen to more of this series here
Part I | Part II | Part III

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving, 2010


Last year in celebration of Thanksgiving I indulged in compiling list. I say indulged because I included no explanation or explication, unlike in my Mozart Counterpoint series which began at least as a sort of list. As such, I'll again leave you to determine the virtues of these works and the commonalities and differences amongst them. Last year's theme was simply art and Mr. Northcutt joined me in compiling a list of ten works. His 2009 List. My 2009 List.

I thought I'd make a tradition of it and compile a new list this year with a new theme. This Thanksgiving the topic is Sacred Music. This list is 15 items instead of 10 and this time is in a sort of order: consider the listing to be in three tiers and consider the order within those tiers to be a little loose (except for the #1 spot.) I tried to avoid listing different settings of the same text and to avoid listing many works by the same composer. I also confined myself to settings of Latin texts only. Also and obviously, the list could be much longer.


15) Laudate pueri Dominum, 'Psalm 112,' RV.600 - Laudate, pueri, Dominum; laudate nomen Domini (Antonio Vivaldi) [YouTube]

14) Dixit Dominus - Dixit Dominus Domino meo (G.F. Handel) [YouTube] [Text]

13) Te Deum (Anton Bruckner) [YouTube] [Text]

12) Spem in alium (Thomas Tallis) [YouTube]

11) Ave Maria (Josquin des Prez) [YouTube]


10) Mass for Four Voices - Agnus Dei (William Byrd) [YouTube]

9) Vespro Della Beata Vergine - Ave Maris Stella (Claudio Monteverdi) [YouTube] [Text]

8) Mass in C minor, KV.427 - Kyrie (W. A. Mozart) [YouTube]

7) Mass in B minor - Credo - Et resurrexit (J. S. Bach) [YouTube]

6) Ave verum corpus, KV.618 - (W. A. Mozart) [YouTube]


5) Missa Papae Marcelli - Gloria (Giovanni Palestrina) [YouTube]

4) Officum defunctorum - Kyrie (Tomás Luis de Victoria) [YouTube]

3) Mass in B minor - Gloria - Cum sancto spiritu (J. S. Bach) [YouTube]

2) Mass in C minor, KV.427 - Sanctus (W. A. Mozart) [YouTube]

1.
Missa Solemnis in D, op.123 (Ludwig van Beethoven)
 Credo - Et incarnatus est  (see 3:40)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tom Crawford on Beethoven's 9th

In a wonderful pre-concert lecture Thomas Crawford, Music Director and Founder of the American Classical Orchestra discusses the music and history of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Crawford discusses the scholarship of examining the Beethoven manuscripts, instrumentation and period-instruments, the grand structure, the many little moments, and the philosophical dimensions of Beethoven's final symphony.

The Orchestra celebrated its 25th Anniversary Concert this year.
Visit them at http://www.americanclassicalorchestra.org/

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

Music and Community

One of the most common criticisms of the left by the right is that the left is collectivist whereas the right is individualist. One of the most common criticisms of the right by the left is that the right is religious whereas the left is secular.  The left thinks the right wants to mix church and state and the right thinks the left wants to use the government to create the communal bonds it doesn't have. Responses by both ardent people of faith and secularists seem to range from casual distaste to wanting to stamp out the opposition. (Though I recall musicologist Michael Steinberg in the preface to his book Choral Masterworks: A Listener's Guide describing himself as a "religion-loving atheist.") These are of course broad sentiments of general observations, but there is probably some truth in them.

Earlier today we were discussing Aristotle, the present day philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre  politics, morality, the idea of "community as man's end." We noted that while it is not necessarily the end of man's existence, it surely is an important aspect. Everyone seems to have some longing for community, though there is considerable debate as to what that community should be. Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman often put man's longing for community beautifully but sharply:
Does God exist? Or doesn't God exist? Can we, by an attitude of faith, attain to a sense of community and a better world? Or, if God doesn't exist, what do we do then?
Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.

Well, we're grasping for two things at once. Partly for communion with others — that's the deepest instinct in us. And partly, we're seeking security. By constant communion with others we hope we shall be able to accept the horrible fact of our total solitude.

Unmotivated cruelty is something which never ceases to fascinate me; and I'd very much like to know the reason for it. [http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ingmar_Bergman]

Now we also spoke not long ago about music and how with the obvious exception of solo pieces, it is often both communal and individualistic. Everyone brings his unique skills, history, and practice to his instrument but all harmonizes into a whole. We recall Aristotle's statement of members of a community living not in unison but in harmony, a sentiment now rather cliché. We recall also Emerson's statement that “friends do not live in harmony merely, as some say, but in melody.” Now I am not saying if we all made music together we would achieve world peace. Yet the experience of making music together (particularly certain music) and even "only" experiencing music together can give such a sense of shared. . . something, and that something should certainly make one more aware of our shared human situation.

One example of such music the sacred mood of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte but probably the best is Beethoven's 9th symphony. Merely listening to the piece in the concert hall in it's hour-long glory is a shared experience. It is a journey from the harsh opening through turns ethereal, shocking, dazzling, rich with pathos, and celebratory to. . . to what? The simplest of Beethoven's themes, something anyone can enjoy, appreciate, and somehow take part in because everyone is supposed to.

Now I have heard secularists balk about Bach's religiosity, but I have never heard one complain about the line, "Do you feel the presence of the Creator?" in this symphony. Maybe they are overwhelmed by the "awe, mystery, and infinity" (in Tovey's words) the composer has evoked. We see in the finale the composer use counterpoint as a tool of synthesis and with a great double fugue Beethoven combines the two main themes. This synthesis of joy and brotherhood completes the journey from the peregrinate opening and draws all together and as we saw with Mozart's final symphony, creates a most profound sense of unity. In this symphony we feel the sacred as potently as in the "Et incarnatus est" of the Missa Solemnis but with an explosive exuberance, the "consummation of joy in Gloria Dei Patris" as Tovey put it. We have in the 9th Symphony something most extraordinary from Beethoven. It is not a cheap suggestion to "come together" "put aside our differences." It is an invitation to transcend them for a while and share in an experience which will hover over the rest of your life.  In this symphony we have not just a great work of art, but a priceless gift.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gardiner on Beethoven's Fifth


Sir John Eliot Gardiner thinks there is something French about Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Did Beethoven use French tunes written during the Revolution to incorporate ideas of rebellion and liberty into his symphony?

Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX

Monday, January 4, 2010

Movie Review: Immortal Beloved

Directed by Bernard Rose. 1994.

In the DVD commentary track to Immortal Beloved director Bernard Rose suggested the conundrum of the immortal beloved was a natural locus around which to structure a story of Beethoven. I am not entirely convinced of that observation and with the structure of Immortal Beloved, the film itself is more like a trip through the life of Beethoven featuring remembrances and reminiscing with the people who knew him. What makes the film succeed, though, is the significance it is able to demonstrate in the contrast between Beethoven’s stormy personal relationships and the degree to which he was cut off from virtually everyone, and the universality of his music.

Foremost among these characters is Beethoven’s factotum, Anton Felix Schindler, who revisits the women in the late Beethoven’s life in order to find the one the composer referred to in his last will as his immortal beloved and to whom he left his estate. Schindler comes off as the historical Schindler does in his biography of the composer (Beethoven As I Knew Him), i.e. as Beethoven’s conservator. Not just as the protector of Beethoven’s estate, though, but of his character and how he would be remembered. Sometimes Schindler comes across as noble, enduring abuse from his boss but remaining loyal to the composer because he understands the magnitude of Beethoven’s loneliness and genius. Other times he comes off an obsequious fool, hopelessly in awe of a man he permits to exist in his own moral world because of his infirmities.

In visiting the women of Beethoven’s life, Schindler discovers despite their tempestuous time with him, they remember him fondly or have at least made their peace with him. One woman, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, was one of his pupils. In order to receive her father’s consent to marry Beethoven, she had to prove to him Beethoven could still play and support her, so she tested him, offering Beethoven a supposedly empty room and a new English Broadwood on which to experiment in private. The girl and her father spied on Beethoven as he tested the piano playing the adagio of the C-sharp minor piano sonata*. When she reveals herself to him during his playing, he jumps up and stumbles away, shocked at the violation. Outraged, he storms out shouting, “It is terrible! Terrible to rob me in this way! Of my most treasured feelings!” Such is the significance of music to the composer, of his intensely personal ability and need to express himself through his compositions.

Another woman, countess Anna Marie Erdödy, first meets Beethoven at the disastrous debut performance of the Choral Fantasia at which his deafness was made evident to all. Outraged at the thoughtless and childish response of the audience to the composer’s affliction, she escorts him out and away from their contemptuous laughter. After she loses her young son in Napoleon’s invasion of Austria, Beethoven, growing still more deaf but wanting to console her, hands her some music and says, “We will speak through music.” He then begins the largo to the Op. 70 D major piano trio for her*.

Last Schindler visits Johanna Reiss, with whom Beethoven had the most intense and tumultuous relationship after she went on to marry his brother, Caspar Anton Carl Beethoven. Despite protracted legal proceedings in which Beethoven sought custody over her son and Beethoven’s violent denunciations of her, even before sharing the letter with her identifying her as his immortal beloved, Schindler discovers she has made peace with Beethoven, a peace she discovered after hearing his Ninth Symphony. She regrettably only takes note of the final movement, but nonetheless says the Ode to Joy made manifest Beethoven’s capacity for love so much she could no longer despise him.

Thus we see again, like with his relationships with the countesses and his gift of the bagatelle Für Elise to his nephew, Beethoven was most successful in communicating through music. As he said to Schindler, music’s unique power is to transport the listener into the mind of the composer, and when others were able to be transported, they were able to know Beethoven. The final act of Immortal Beloved dwells somewhat too much on the resolution of the mystery. Fair enough, perhaps, given the title and structure, but the film’s significance lies not so much in the resolution of that particular thread as with the two larger contrasting elements of Beethoven’s life, his personal relationships in general and his music. The concept of music being so pure a form of expression that, when it is brilliant, it can emotionally affect us the way it does is more significant than Ludwig and Johanna’s near-miss at the hotel. Nonetheless Immortal Beloved succeeds in showing us both the Beethoven that struggled his whole life to achieve a communion with those he loved, and also the one who succeeded in expressing himself to all humanity through his music.




* N.B. Regarding Dedications:

1) Op.27/2. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor. 1800-1801. Dedicated to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.
2) Op.70/1. Piano Trio in D major. 1808. Dedicated to Countess Anna Marie Erdödy.
3) WoO.59. Bagatelle for Piano in A minor: "Für Elise." 1810. Autograph missing, but "Elise" probably denotes a dedication to Therese Malfatti.