In this clip, Sam Haywood performs Beethoven’s first piano sonata, which is dedicated to his teacher, Joseph Haydn.
A listening aid to the very first recording of Beethoven’s music, the Romance in F major, Op.50, recorded September 13 1889: alongside the original (played by Herr Krahmer and Herr Schmalfuß), are two other performance extracts (played by Louise Chisson, recorded 2010, and Jascha Heifetz, recorded 1951).
Beethoven Hero is a continuing exploration of the man, his music, and his extraordinary reach across time and space. The trilogy takes us on a journey through history and around the world, telling stories of the enduring power of Beethoven’s creations—of the ways they live within us and transcend the boundaries that separate us.
The legacy of Beethoven—in our personal lives and in the public conflicts, tragedies and occasional triumphs that define our times—is complex, and Beethoven | Hero explores this complexity. The first part of the trilogy,Following the Ninth (2013), followed the music to China, Chile, Germany and Japan. The second part, Love & Justice, takes us to Chile once more, using Beethoven’s Fidelio to explore the darkness of political repression and the way Chileans tried to sustain hope in the shadow of Pinochet. The third part, Last Will and Testament, will follow in the footsteps of Beethoven’s powerful Late Quartets.
While I do believe that Beethoven’s music somehow captures universal virtues—the courageous and passionate will to overcome all defeats, spiritual and physical—I am also open to the fact that I am living within the mythos of Beethoven the Hero. His image, both biographical and musical, continues to pull us toward the man and his creations. We puzzle over the man, and we embrace the music in an attempt, always incomplete, to understand who we are as humans, in pain, in love, in joy, in accents both spiritual and sensual at equal turns.
At a time when art and music are disappearing from school curricula, we are designing the Beethoven | Hero trilogy to be used in schools across the country to improve students’ understanding of the arts and of the historical contexts in which they are created and experienced. Beethoven | Hero tells the story of how art—emerging from the collision of history and flawed, brilliant humanity—outlives its creator to challenge, inspire and occasionally transform us.
He has always a small paper book with him, and what conversation takes place is carried on in writing. In this, too, although it is not lined, he instantly jots down any musical idea which strikes him. These notes would be utterly unintelligible, even to another musician, for they have no comparative value; he alone has in his own mind the thread by which he brings out of this labyrinth of spots and circles the richest and most astounding harmonies. The moment he is seated at the piano, he is evidently unconscious that there is anything in existence but himself and his instrument; and considering how very deaf he is, it seems impossible he should hear all he plays. Accordingly, when playing very piano, he often does not bring out a single note. He hears it himself in the ‘mind’s ear.’ While his eye, and the almost imperceptible motion of his fingers, show that he is following out the strain in his own soul through all its dying gradations, the instrument is actually as dumb as the musician is deaf.
I have heard him play, but to bring him so far required some management, so great is his horror of being any thing like exhibited. Had he been plainly asked to do the company that favour, he would have flatly refused; he had to be cheated into it. Every person left the room, except Beethoven and the master of the house, one of his most intimate acquaintances. These two carried on a conversation in the paper book, about bank stock. The gentleman, as if by chance, struck the keys of the open piano, beside which they were sitting, gradually began to run over one of Beethoven’s own compositions, made a thousand errors, and speedily blundered one passage so thoroughly, that the composer condescended to stretch out his hand and put him right. It was enough; the hand was on the piano; his companion immediately left him, on some pretext, and joined the rest of the company, who, in the next room, from which they could see and hear everything, were patiently waiting the issue of this tiresome conjuration.
23 April 1827.
We find, in Russell’s Tour in Germany, the following account of the celebrated musical composer, Beethoven, whose recent death, in circumstances of poverty and distress, alleviated only by English charity, has attracted so much notice. The author seems to have met with him in 1822:
“Beethoven is the most celebrated of the living composers in Vienna, and, in certain departments, the foremost of his day. His powers or harmony are prodigious. Though not an old man, he is lost to society, in consequence of his extreme deafness, which has rendered him almost unsocial. The neglect of his person which he exhibits gives him a somewhat wild appearance. His features are strong and prominent; his eye is full of rude energy; his hair, which neither comb nor scissor seem to have visited for years, overshadows his broad brow in a quantity and confusion to which only the snakes round a Gorgon’s head offer a parallel.
I quite like this short fiction by Tyger Schonholzer- it has an unusual premise, which I won’t reveal so that you can discover it for yourself, but feel free to discuss this in the comments.
I did not expect nineteenth century Vienna to be so filthy. The stench assailed me as soon as I stepped through the portal, gagging me and forcing tears from my eyes. I choked back a cough to keep from retching and sidestepped a puddle of horse urine and dishwater, clicking the heels of my lace-up boots on worn cobblestones. I had hoped to be dropped outside the city proper so I would have time to adapt, but my mission was urgent and the portal guards knew to take me as close to my object as possible. I did not come here for pleasure but to save a life.
I hurried along a wall of narrow buildings, ducked into a doorway just in time to avoid a splash of bath water from an upstairs balcony and pulled my stubborn skirts to my knees. Would I ever get used to this garb? And would I ever get used to the way men leered? I dropped my skirts and stepped out into the street with what I hoped was an aristocratic air. The men dropped their gazes.
I found his house at the next corner. A simple facade brightened by vigorously climbing wisteria led to a cobblestone courtyard. I gathered my courage and knocked on the heavy oak door. A servant answered.
“The master is not here.”
“You can come in and wait. He never goes far when he walks.”
I followed the maid up a staircase and through a dark corridor, unadorned with paintings of any kind. Ludwig did not entertain. We entered a large airy room, strewn with piles of papers and she bade me sit down. When I moved a stack to find room for my feet, I found scores upon scores of music, all written in his hand. What a treasure! I traced the notes lovingly with my fingers, resisting the urge to stuff the papers into my bag to preserve them for the afterworld. All would remain as it should. I had a mission.
My heart pounded in wild leaps when I heard him approach. My whole life I had been anticipating this moment, when past and future would meet and I would stand in the presence of his greatness. Would you blame me for being a Beethoven groupie?
A collection of artworks inspired by the 7th Symphony.
Here is one I especially liked:
When listening to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, I was moved by the piece’s fluid movement and rapid ups and downs. The second movement reminded me of the ocean. While listening, images of smooth rolling tides and giant crashing waves filled my mind. Its unpredictability was that of a storm. In the midst of my research on Beethoven himself, I found a quote that inspired my image further: “Tones sound, and roar, and storm about me until I have to set them down into notes.”
A Beethoven letter from Baden to Ries, dated July 14, 1804, hints at a rehearsal at Schuppanzigh’s on Wednesday, the 18th of July, for which Beethoven wanted to “take care” to be there. It was, in fact, Ries’ rehearsal of Piano Concerto No. 3. Let us refer to Ries’ own report:
“Beethoven had given me his beautiful Concerto in C minor (Op. 37) in manuscript so that I might make my first public appearance as his pupil with it; and I am the only one who ever appeared as such while Beethoven was alive. . . . Beethoven himself conducted, but he only turned the pages and never, perhaps, was a concerto more beautifully accompanied. He had two large rehearsals. I had asked Beethoven to write a cadenza for me, but he refused and told me to write one myself and he would correct it. Beethoven was satisfied with my composition and made few changes; but there was an extremely brilliant and very difficult passage in it, which, though he liked it, seemed to him too venturesome, wherefore he told me to write another in its place.
A week before the concert he wanted to hear the cadenza again. I played it and floundered in the passage; he again, this time a little ill-naturedly, told me to change it. I did so, but the new passage did not satisfy me; I therefore studied the other, and zealously, but was not quite sure of it. When the cadenza was reached in the public concert Beethoven quietly sat down. I could not persuade myself to choose the easier one.
When I boldly began the more difficult one, Beethoven violently jerked his chair; but the cadenza went through all right and Beethoven was so delighted that he shouted ‘Bravo!’ loudly. This electrified the entire audience and at once gave me a standing among the artists. Afterwards, while expressing his satisfaction he added: ‘But all the same you are willful! If you had made a slip in the passage I would never have given you another lesson!” (Thayer: 355)
Imagine being there! It must have been marvellous!!!
With respect to Beethoven’s first three works in this category, Thayer further has to report that the first two were performed in Berlin and Frankfort/Main within two yeas and the third in Berlin in late 1804, while Piano Concerto No. 3 was published by the Kunst-und Industrie-Comptoir in 1804 and dedicated to Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia, Beethoven’s cherished “royal pianist” friend.
There can only be added one more not with respect to the first Piano Concertos, namely by Ries who reported:
“I recall only two instances in which Beethoven told me to add a few notes to his composition: once in the theme of the rondo of the ‘Sonate Pathetique’ (Op. 13) and again in the theme of the rondo of his first Concerto in C major, where he gave me some passages in double notes to make it more brilliant. He played this last rondo, in fact, with a expression peculiar to himself.. . . ” (Thayer: 367).
As far as first references to Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto are concerned, Barry Cooper reports with respect to early 1804:
“Amongst first sketches for Leonore are very early ones for three major works that were not completed for several years and had to wait until 1808 for their public premiere: the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and the Fourth Piano Concerto” (Cooper: 138).
Cooper further reports that the sequence in which Beethoven worked on his major works of that period in the year 1806 saw him beginning with his work on his Fourth Piano Concerto, namely after the revision of his opera Fidelio/Leonore (thus in winter and spring of 1806). (Thayer places Beethoven’s start of his work on this Piano Concerto into the year 1805 [Thayer: 392]). Cooper further explains that during this period, Beethoven was not using a sketchbook, but rather only loose leaves, and that many of them may have been lost, so that the progress he made with this work can not be easily traced. His first sketch from the beginning of 1804 was supposed to only have stretched over five bars, that on July 5, 1806, however, a first score was completed, since Beethoven offered this work to Breitkopf and Härtel in his letter of July 5, 1806 (Cooper: 155).