Beethoven’s questions

19th November 2009 | Concerts, Daily Life, Florestan Trio, Musings, Travel | 0 comments

For the past few days the trio has been rehearsing intensively. Over the next ten days we have two concerts at the Bath Mozartfest, a fundraising concert and dinner for the Florestan Trust, a concert at the University of Cambridge, a concert in the Wigmore Hall (with a world premiere), and three concerts in the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. So there’s an awful lot of music to prepare.

Today we were rehearsing, amongst other things, an early Beethoven trio and also a late one.

When I went to hear the Takacs Quartet play Beethoven in the Queen Elizabeth Hall last week, I enjoyed reading in a the programme booklet a remark made by the quartet’s first violinist, Edward Dusinberre. He said, if I remember rightly, that he doesn’t consider Beethoven to have ‘got better and better’ throughout his composing career, because even his very first pieces for string quartet, the opus 18 set, are a treasure-house of ideas, as well as formidably challenging in a technical sense. Ed said that he rather thinks of Beethoven posing certain questions to himself throughout his composing career, and answering them in different ways at different times. His later answers are not simply ‘better’, just different. He clearly works on the idea of transforming little cells of musical material from his first works through to the last, though what he wants to transform them into, and how, undergoes subtle change as the years go by.

I found this a very helpful insight. There’s no unbroken line of progression, and no sense in which only the late works are ‘sublime’; you can suddenly find a movement of great depth and poise – such as the slow movement of opus 1 no 2 – in one of his earliest published works.  Equally, you can find silly humour and simple dance music in the most revered of the late works, though in some extraordinary way the inclusion of such ingredients only makes the music feel more profound.

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