MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Keep On Keeping On

Beethoven: sketches for Fifth Symphony

Beethoven: sketches for the Fifth Symphony

I think I mentioned elsewhere that I’ve started growing tired of “best-of-the-year” lists. Not that I don’t appreciate taking stock of a certain period — I’m actually kind of obsessive about that — but I’ve lately been finding those lists too arbitrary in the way they try to shoe-horn a whole year of experiences into some sort of hierarchy. Anyway, I always end up discovering that excellent things get left out, while trend-think makes undeserving ones crop up to annoy me.

So I won’t give in to this tiresome ritual, with all its problematic meritocracy.* And as the year ends and a new one approaches with its illusion of offering a blank slate, I prefer to focus not on perfection achieved but on the tortuous route toward it. Here are a couple of inspiring examples of the fight against settling for something that’s good but not good enough. Instead of pristine blank slates, let’s consider the crabbed, crossed-out traces of an inner battle to wrest a chaos of ideas into something that will work. It’s the principle of starting with something that’s maybe even unremarkable and then pressing on against the odds to squeeze some sort of beauty or meaning from it. Over and over, facing constant confusion and frustration.

I suppose Beethoven is the most-obvious example of what I’m referring to. To me what’s especially encouraging about the stories of his compulsion to get things right, working them over and over, is that we can see Beethoven sometimes starting out with some really mundane stuff.

In his study of the Missa solemnis (a current preoccupation), Roger Fiske quotes from Beethoven’s first attempts to work out the theme of the Credo: “No one need be surprised that Beethoven’s sketches for the start of the Credo verge on the inept; his preliminary sketches often do. He seems to have needed to write down something which (to us) looks totally unpromising before he could find what he wanted.”

Leonard Bernstein even used the convoluted sketches for the Fifth Symphony to dramatize his point about Beethoven’s aesthetic struggle to write music that somehow seems “inevitable”:

Beethoven’s manuscript [in contrast to the gorgeous, flowing chirography of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements] looks kike a bloody record of a tremendous inner battle. Before he began to write this wild-looking score, he had for three years been filling notebooks with sketches….And so he tried a third ending, and this one worked…[H]e had to struggle and agonize before he realized so apparently simple a thing: that the trouble with his first ending was not that it was too short, but that it was not short enough. Thus he arrived at the third ending, which is as right as rain….

Imagine a whole lifetime of this struggle, movement after movement, symphony after symphony, sonata after quartet after concerto. Always probing and rejecting in his dedication to perfection, to the principle of inevitability….

[I]t leaves us at the finish with the feeling that something is right in the world, that something checks throughout, something that follows its own laws consistently, something we can trust, that will never let us down.

And there’s the example of William Butler Yeats, as Curtis Bradford (Yeats at Work) shows in his intriguing study of the poet toiling over drafts in his bound notebooks. The final version of “Sailing to Byzantium” encompasses a very small percentage of the lines Yeats wrote down in his first draft. The amazing (in every sense) opening line of “Leda and the Swan” — “A sudden blow: the great wings beating still” — started as “Now can the swooping Godhead have his will” or “The swooping godhead is half hovering still” (Yeats initially wanted to title it “Annunciation”).

Draft of a page from Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium"

Draft of a page from Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium”

“The Choice” (1932)

The intellect of man is forced to choose
perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story’s finished, what’s the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day’s vanity, the night’s remorse.

–William Butler Yeats

Thanks to all for visiting my blog. I wish you all a happy and productive new year and hope you’ll continue to visit and share your thoughts.

*OK, now I’m going to go ahead and cheat and slip in a reference to these as absolutely unforgettable experiences I was privileged to enjoy in 2013: the Adams/Sellars Gospel According to the Other Mary in LA; Lucerne Festival AND Seattle Opera Rings; Morlot conducting Messiaen’s Turangalîla; Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at the National Gallery; Mark Rylance and the RSC’s Richard III and Twelfth Night; the Richard Diebenkorn retrospective at the de Young Museum; SF Symphony concert of Tom Adès, Mendelssohn, Stravinsky, with Pablo Heras-Casado; Azeotrope Theatre’s Gruesome Playground Injuries (Seattle); Gregory Maqoma’s Exit/Exist; the Met’s Dialogues, Giulio Cesare, The Nose, and Frau; and The Good Person of Szechuan at the Public.

Filed under: Beethoven, creativity, poetry, Yeats

CD Review: Hochman/Homage to Schubert

Benjamin Hochman

Benjamin Hochman; photo by Jürgen Frank

I haven’t yet had the pleasure of encountering Benjamin Hochman in live performance, but I come away from his new release, Homage to Schubert, with a remarkably vivid sense of what he brings to the competitive scene of today’s young pianists. This is his second solo album and debut recording for the AVIE label, and it amply reveals Hochman’s qualities as an interpreter as well as the creative and original programming style that appears to be a signature.

A native of Jerusalem now based in New York, Hochman counts Claude Frank and Richard Goode among his mentors. He made his New York debut in 2006 with a Met Museum recital juxtaposing Bach, Berg, Schubert, and a newly commissioned piece. A similar imaginative leap ties together his program here: two lesser-known Schubert sonatas and a pair of contemporary pieces “commenting” on the Austrian’s legacy — by György Kurtág (Hommage à Schubert) and Jörg Widmann (Idyll und Abgrund), respectively. Hochman performs on a Steinway and benefits from the tasteful production and engineering (Eric Wen and Dennis Patterson).

Of course there’s lots of powerful competition even when it comes to these less-familiar Schubert sonatas. Paul Lewis, the spiritual scion of Alfred Brendel, has recently staked an irresistible claim to this territory, and Mitsuko Uchida is another eloquent advocate. (She also began linking Schubert’s piano music with Schoenberg back in the ’90s.) A fundamental attraction of Hochman is that he allies a natural sympathy for Schubert’s brand of musical thinking with superbly balanced technique, all the while effacing any temptation to showboat or force a newfangled reading onto these scores.

In other words, Hochman’s overall stance toward Schubert himself is pretty traditional, while smartly allowing the “moderns” sharing his program to provide a contemporary angle. It’s a daring and subtle strategy, and one that rewards the listener. Which is by no means to imply that there’s anything even remotely stodgy or routine here: Hochman initiates the proceedings with the gorgeously spun lyrical flow of the Sonata in A major D664 (from 1819), his control of the pulse so mesmerizing that it seems as if this music has always been going on — a stream we’ve been graced to chance upon.

Hochman is fully alert to the potential of Schubert’s wild contrasts. That’s the premise, after all, of pairing the gentle, smaller-scale A major with the hugely ambitious and even aggressive Sonata in D major D850 (the so-called “Gasteiner,” after the spa town where it was written in 1825, the year Schubert sketched most of the “Great” C major Symphony). Yet Hochman doesn’t overload these contrasts with melodrama, but lets the few outbursts in D664 take us by surprise within the larger context.

At several points I could almost imagine D664 versus the “Gasteiner” as a precursor for Schumann’s Eusebius (especially in the melancholy appoggiaturas of D664’s Andante) and Florestan dichotomy. But what excites me the most about Hochman’s deeply satisfying approach to D850 is his implicit understanding of the Schubert-Beethoven connection. By this point, Schubert’s acquired admiration of the German composer had begun inspiring a new level of ambition (he was a Beethovenian convert).

Hochman seems to hint at the uncanny echoes of late Beethoven, as in the “Gasteiner”‘s widely wandering second movement, where one passage of reiterated chords suddenly approaches the radiance of the Arietta in Beethoven’s Op. 111. But he avoids any impression of Schubert as an imitator or epigone: these moments occur as genuine Schubertian epiphanies within a remarkably different musical landscape.

Between Schubert and Beethoven, there is an almost diametrically opposed sense of drama, as Hochman points out in his excellent booklet essay, alluding to Brendel’s famous image of Schubert “the sleepwalker” in contrast to Beethoven “the architect.” That groping around unforeseen corners to alight on a new vista that is so characteristic of Schubert is especially apparent in the weirdly mercurial variants of the finale’s rondo theme as Hochman performs it.

As for the contemporary homages, Hochman has chosen two utterly distinct ways of thinking about Schubert. Kurtág’s lapidary piece (lasting about a minute) distills the contradictory ingredients that make up Schubert into an intense poetic reverie — a musical life that flashes before our ears.

The German composer Widmann — who is just 7 years older than Hochman — has meanwhile written a miniature suite of “six Schubert reminiscences” in Idyll and Abyss (originally conceived as a companion work to the great final B-flat Sonata D960). Teasing direct references to cadences and phrases slip a reflective scrim over the distance between Schubert and us. Alternately playful and disturbing, Widmann’s suite rudely juxtaposes the many sides of Schubert’s personality, purposely emphasizing the paradoxical nature of a genius that encompassed sweet melody, leisured reflection, and savagely violent outbursts. Widmann and Hochman leave it up to the listener to put the pieces together.

(c)2013 Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: CD review, new music, review, Schubert


Black Sun; Isamu Noguchi, 1969

Black Sun; Isamu Noguchi (1969); photo by Thomas May

Just a little after the solstice, while taking a walk, I chanced upon this image of the setting sun fitting into the “donut hole” of Isamu Noguchi’s Black Sun, a granite sculpture in Seattle’s Volunteer Park.

For a moment, it felt as if I were encountering an ancient ritual site, designed with astonishing precision, to map out the link between our world and the cosmos. A last flicker of light before the sun was swallowed by the horizon.

Filed under: photography, sculpture

Bernstein’s Chamber Music

Leonard Bernstein in 1944; photo by Carl van Vechten

Leonard Bernstein in 1944; photo by Carl van Vechten

The “curse” of being Leonard Bernstein — of having to cope with too many talents and corresponding passions within a 24-hour day — is usually talked about as too-muchness on the macro level: Lenny the composer, say, becoming frustrated by the energy he had to siphon off into conducting gigs, ditto for Lenny the pianist, Lenny the teacher, etc.

Sometimes what’s shuffled into the Lenny-the-composer persona is broken down into the rubrics of “classical” versus Broadway undertakings. But it’s remarkable how many subcategories can be teased out here. For instance: chamber music.

While recently working on a piece about some of the early chamber works, I realized these comprise an entire subset of their own of unfulfilled potential, since, for the most part – and for obvious practical reasons – Bernstein pretty much abandoned writing chamber music despite the incredible promise shown by some of his earliest pieces.

His Sonata for Clarinet and Piano from 1941-42, which after all he chose as his first officially published composition, has become a mainstay in that sparse repertory. And with good reason. Here’s the second movement:

There’s a lone Sonata for Violin and Piano, from 1939, the year Bernstein graduated from Harvard – though the Sonata for Clarinet has also been reworked as a violin sonata. Written for a young Raphael Hillyer (future co-founder of the Juilliard Quartet), this piece also demonstrates Bernstein’s flair for abstract chamber writing, but he also made use of some of the ideas here in the ballet score Facsimile and the Age of Anxiety Symphony.

An even earlier treasure is the Piano Trio from 1937, also a product of his undergraduate years at Harvard. Already Bernstein shows his natural gift for absorbing a multitude of influences and turning them into something fresh. Notice the intriguing inclusion of then-fashionable Neoclassicism alongside the blues touch of the middle movement (later recycled as the tune “Gabey’s Comin'” in On the Town).

“I have a suspicion that every work I write, for whatever medium, is really theatre music in some way” — L. Bernstein in his prefatory note to his Symphony No. 2 (The Age of Anxiety).

Filed under: American music, Bernstein

A Soundtrack for Christmas

All right, enough already of the reindeer and sappy carols. Who better to depict the true spirit of the Christmas season than the greatest of them all, J.S. Bach? Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage: Even Ebenezer Scrooge couldn’t have resisted.

Here’s Sir John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in the so-called Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, that splendid package of six Christmastime cantatas. A very happy Christmas to all!

Filed under: Bach

A Facelift for Handel’s Messiah

Sir Eugène Aynsley Goossens

Sir Eugène Aynsley Goossens

For the Handel bicentennial in 1959 (200 years since George Frideric’s death, that is), the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham proposed giving Messiah a face lift. In a rather bizarre essay, he argued that advances in the sphere of orchestral music had so shifted public taste that audiences were no longer willing “to tolerate a collection of voices singing…with little or no relief from the orchestra” for the duration of a full-scale piece. Beecham commissioned Sir Eugène Aynsley Goossens (1893-1962) — his younger (and recently knighted) assistant, who was also a composer — to re-orchestrate the entire score for a fee of £1,000.

Goossens came from a renowned family of musicians that had migrated from Belgium to England. Beecham jump-started his conducting career, and Goossens eventually developed into a famous and influential figure (especially as a new-music champion). Noël Coward even name-checks him in his lyrics for “Russian Blues” (“My heart just loosens when I listen to Goossens”). A series of globe-trotting posts kept him at the helm of American orchestras for over two decades. He then moved on to Australia to lead the Sydney Symphony and helped found the city’s new opera house.

But just a few years before Goossens’ former mentor came calling with his Handel project, a tabloid scandal caused an abrupt fall from grace for the esteemed maestro. The precise details remain murky, but they involve a suitcase of erotic materials that linked Goossens to his lover Rosaleen Norton, an Australian occult artist and practicing witch (the so-called “Witch of Kings Cross”).

Rosaleen Norton (the "Witch of Kings Cross")

Rosaleen Norton (the “Witch of Kings Cross”)

A guilty plea for importing “blasphemous, indecent, or obscene works” led to a fee, and Goossens had to resign his positions. The made-for-tabloid scandal later inspired the play The Devil is a Woman by the Sydney-based writers Mandy Sayer and Louis Nowra, Onez Baranay’s novel Pagan, and even an opera (Eugene and Roie by the Australian composer Drew Crawford).

The whole affair sent Goossens’ career into a nosedive. He spent his final years back in England, where he prepared his Messiah score: 364 pages of 30-stave manuscript paper that dwarfed Handel’s original autograph of 259 pages. A team of five copyists clustered nearby, madly scribbling away to meet Beecham’s deadline.

Even though the project was conceived to enhance performances in large concert halls, Beecham conducted a single live account (at the Lucerne Festival, on 12 September 1959). It was actually his best-selling studio recording (for RCA) that won this new version of the oratorio an iconic status. The first public performance of the reupholstered Messiah in the UK didn’t happen till forty years later, at the Proms, where it was billed as a “Messiah for the Millennium.”

In the interim, Goossens’ central role as the orchestrator of this version was glossed over. Carole Rosen, an authority on the Goossens family, refutes claims that a dissatisfied Beecham had himself retouched most of the orchestration. “Apart from a few passages,” she argues, “the whole of the rest of the work as recorded by Beecham was orchestrated by Sir Eugène Goossens.”

The basic premise behind retrofitting Handel’s score — in this case, to “modernize” it by using an enlarged, late-Romantic symphonic ensemble — would nowadays of course be taboo. Yet Messiah‘s long, rich performance tradition in a sense entails a series of revivals that did precisely that.

For his own annual revivals, the ever-pragmatic Handel frequently tailored the score to adapt to particular performers and venues (his revival of 1751, for example, used a boys’ choir for the treble voices). Mozart introduced the work to Vienna audiences in 1789 by clothing it with a full complement of classical woodwinds. A tendency toward expansion snowballed in the following century. Festival performances reached circus-size proportions, featuring choruses sometimes numbering in the thousands.

Despite its reputation for being “over the top,” the Beecham/Goossens edition was intended as a middle-of-the-road approach in the face of some truly wayward distortions. “If Handel is to be brought back into popular favor,” Beecham declared, “some reasonable compromise must be effected between excessive grossness and exaggerated leanness of effect, and this is what has been aimed at in the present version.”

To audiences who have absorbed the insights of the early-music movement in the half-century since, the jingling triangles in “For Unto Us” or march-band cymbals and piccolo in the “Hallelujah” Chorus probably sound like the definition of excess. Many would reject it out of hand, more or less along the lines of anti-Regie operaphiles who are disgusted by interventionist stage directors. Yet it’s too dismissive to simply write off the Beecham/Goossens Messiah as a perverse exaggeration or a noisy showboating at the expense of a pristine original.

Listened to with a less-judgmental attitude, it reveals a fresh take on over-familiar music. After all, Goossens’ approach wasn’t merely to “pile on” sonorities. Flowing harp accompaniment, pizzicato strings, a fortress of brass, and brightly chattering woodwinds cause us to listen to the tunes and counterpoint we know by heart from another perspective. The Goossens Messiah reminds us that a genuine classic is not an immutable, tamper-resistant object. Its vitality comes from its inexhaustible capacity to surprise.

(C)Thomas May. All rights reserved.

Filed under: conductors, Handel

Remembering Julian

Remembering the victims on this 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, especially the brilliant Julian Benello. After graduating from Yale, Julian was studying cognitive sciences at Cambridge and helping assemble a commemorative anthology in honor of his father, the sociologist C. George Benello.

The composer Gavin Bryars also lost a dear friend in the carnage, the sound engineer Bill Cadman. In his memory he composed the Cadman Requiem.

“I felt a real need to write something,” Bryars explained in an interview two years ago for WQXR, “perhaps the only time for me that this has been an almost physical necessity — and so I wrote this requiem, and it was incredibly cathartic.”

In the first place, although neither Bill nor I were practicing Christians, a requiem still felt like the right thing to compose. I was reminded of being at Cornelius Cardew’s funeral, where the majority of those present were either atheists, communists or both, and the absence of any person in authority, like a minister, meant that the event lacked coherence.

There was no sense of structure and no one knew what to do next — it was only the arrival of another funeral at the graveyard that pushed the burial forward. Having something formal, like a requiem, is almost reassuring in such circumstances, irrespective of religious belief.

However, when I looked at the form of the requiem itself, as distinct from the idea of one, most of the sections didn’t seem to me to be appropriate to Bill’s death — asking for forgiveness and so on… Then I thought of Caedmon’s Creation Hymn, the earliest poem we have in English, and Bill’s surname “Cadman” may be a corruption of this name….

Writing a requiem is something that I could only have done in this personal context, finding it less appropriate to intervene in public grief….

Filed under: memorial, requiem

Laughing at the Last Laugh

Bradley Cooper and a donut diet-fattened Christian Bale in American Hustle

Bradley Cooper and a donut-larded Christian Bale in American Hustle

I’m a sucker when it comes to the theme of the con artist, the perfect mark for the grifter-artist who capitalizes on this topic, whether it’s Melville depicting a trickster in his last published novel (The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade), Thomas Mann (Confessions of Felix Krull, his last, unfinished novel), art forgers, the plays of David Mamet and John Guare, etc.

Guare in particular came to mind last night when I saw David O. Russell’s new film American Hustle. I was thinking of Guare’s brilliant treatment of another “ripped-from-the-headlines” source in Six Degrees of Separation and then recalled that he’d actually taken on the “Abscam” sting operation himself in Moon Over Miami.

Moon originated as a never-made film project for Louis Malle and John Belushi at the start of the Reagan era. Guare turned it into a play (which I saw years later at Yale Rep, with Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as “the Sheik”).

One of Guare’s major champions, then-The New York Times critic Frank Rich, described Moon as an “uninhibited comic mess” with its free-associative technique.

As with Mr. Guare’s screenplay for the Louis Malle film ”Atlantic City,” the truly dominant character in ”Moon Over Miami” is the fast-changing, drug-infested beach town of the title. Mr. Guare’s Miami is a malevolent, all-American frontier for ”the pilgrims from the lost places,” with more moons, metaphorical and otherwise, than have been seen since the early plays of Tom Stoppard. The city’s ethos is a surreal melange of 1950’s resort kitsch and 1980’s corruption.

While ”Moon Over Miami” can resemble a campy Hotel Fontainebleau floorshow, complete with band and a chorus of ludicrously buxom ”mermaids,” its main plot is a satirical rehash of the Abscam scandal, with mimed videotape replays of public officials receiving attache cases of cash.

The play originated as a film project for John Belushi, and its Abscam gags now seem to have exhausted their shelf life. When the script narrows its focus to politics (especially in Act II), the writing goes flat. Mr. Guare’s conventional polemical point – that overzealous F.B.I. agents, entrapped Congressmen and mobsters are morally interchangeable – doesn’t justify the laborious efforts devoted to making it. The jokes about the dispirited post-Watergate F.B.I. are much fresher.

But back to American Hustle. Nearly all the reviews I’ve seen refer to the hilarious opening sequence of Christian Bale as the protagonist con man Irving Rosenfeld struggling with his comb-over and glue – the first act of deception we see in a film where getting the style right, “from the feet up,” is the credo for pulling a con off.

Some critics, like Peter Debruge in Variety, miss the point entirely by whinging about how the comb-over “threatens to upstage [Bale]’s actorly grandstanding at every turn,” no matter how fitting the metaphor, and complains that the filmmaker has conned the audience and critics by “cobbling a movie together from what feels like outtakes.”

This whole the-style-becomes-the-substance line of critique misses out on where the film (which does have its flaws, especially length) succeeds. I think Mick LaSalle gets it when he describes how the character portrayals have depth beneath all that polyester and sweet-and-rotten nail polish:

Jennifer Lawrence, as Irving’s young wife, embodies the movie’s tonal range. She is funny and alarming, often at the same time.

But it’s [Amy] Adams and Bale who are the film’s heart and soul, the honorable crooks in a sea of piranhas, the movie’s truthful core around which all the madness revolves. Adams, who goes through the movie almost flopping out of her low-cut ’70s gowns and blouses, is especially poignant playing an intelligent person with the least power and the most at stake. It’s fascinating watching her think her way through as she does the most with a bad hand. And Bale brings great suppressed feeling to his scenes with a goodhearted New Jersey mayor (Jeremy Renner), whose life Irving is being forced to wreck.

Filed under: American history, film, themes

How Do They Do It?

Charles Dickens, by a Boston Daily Advertiser cartoonist (March 1868)

Charles Dickens, by a Boston Daily Advertiser cartoonist (March 1868)

So is genius really “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,” as Thomas Edison declared (his variation on the “there are no accidents” meme, you might say)?

Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, looks at the varied routines some of the great artists and thinkers have devised to make the most of their moments with the Muses.

Reviewer Christopher Hart points out that the book offers fascinating examples of the many ways creative types “discover for themselves Flaubert’s famous advice that one should live like a bourgeois and put one’s bohemianism into one’s work.”

Thomas Mann evidently loved his kip, rising at 8am, enjoying a good hour’s nap in the afternoon and going to bed around midnight, in a separate bedroom from his wife. Richard Strauss appears to have slept a good ten hours a night. The results of all this bourgeois self-discipline and these early nights are plain: many of those who followed such a regimen were hugely prolific as well as great, from Bach to Balzac to Dickens. F Scott Fitzgerald, I was astonished to learn, sometimes wrote up to eight thousand words a day. This is approaching Barbara Cartland levels, but it didn’t seem to do his prose much harm.

But don’t forget the importance of exercise:

The best inspiration often came while walking. Beethoven always took a pencil and paper with him in the Vienna Woods, and Kierkegaard often came home and started scribbling again still in his hat and coat. Some always wrote standing up – Hemingway and, I think, Virginia Woolf (who is not covered here). Nabokov started standing up, then progressed to sitting and finally lying down. Few seem to have practised any more violent exercise than walking, apart from Byron with his boxing and riding and, rather surprisingly, Joan Miró. The dreamy surrealist was an ardent practitioner of boxing, running and ‘Mediterranean yoga’. He detested going to parties, telling an American journalist, ‘They get on my tits.’

Rosemarie Bodenheimer paints a detailed portrait of Charles Dickens as relentless walker:

Walking was essential, to bring his books into being, and to calm the effects of his intense engagement with his characters. Repeatedly his letters mention extended periods of walking as he worked toward a new project. The activity of walking allowed him to think his way into new fictional worlds, while allaying the increased restlessness that came upon him when he was still in a state of uncertainty.

And pretty soon it will be time again for those New Year’s resolutions…..

Filed under: book recs, creativity, writers

Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (1819)

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler (1819)

He was an artist, but also a man, a man in every sense, in the highest sense. Because he shut himself off from the world, they called him hostile; and callous, because he shunned feelings. Oh, he who knows he is hardened does not flee! (It is the more delicate point that is most easily blunted, that bends or breaks.)

Excess of feeling avoids feelings. He fled the world because he did not find, in the whole compass of his loving nature, a weapon with which to resist it. He withdrew from his fellow men after he had given them everything and had received nothing in return. He remained alone because he found no second self. But until his death he preserved a human heart for all men, a father’s heart for his own people, the whole world.

Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live for all time!

Oration by the playwright and poet Franz Grillparzer delivered on the occasion of Beethoven’s funeral on 29 March 1827

To mark the occasion of the day celebrated as Beethoven’s birthday, here’s an account of what may well be Beethoven’s greatest large-scale composition – and his greatest “opera” – in an account led by Leonard Bernstein with the Concertgebouw: the Missa solemnis.

Filed under: Beethoven

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