Day 235: String Quartets Op. 59 No. 3 “Rasumovsky” & Op. 74 “Harp”

BeethovenCD40This, the third of the “Rasumovsky” string quartets, is even better than the previous two.

Don’t ask me why.

It’s just really fine, well-crafted music played by a reknowned group of musicians, the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinz Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

Here’s what’s on this CD:

String Quartet No. 9 in C Op. 59 No. 3 “Rasumovsky”

NOTE: All three of the “Rasumovsky” string quartets were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

String Quartet No. 10 in E Flat Op. 74 “Harp”

This was published in 1809. Beethoven was 39. According to its entry on Wiki,

The nickname “Harp” refers to the characteristic pizzicato sections in the Allegro of the first movement, where pairs of members of the quartet alternate notes in an arpeggio, reminiscent of the plucking of a harp. Like many nicknames for Beethoven’s works, this was created by the publisher.

Woo-hoo! I love pizzicato!

And this is a pizzicato-lover’s dream come true. It’s brilliant. So much Continue reading

Day 234: String Quartets Op. 59 “Rasumovsky” Nos. 1 & 2

BeethovenCD39Delightful music!

And, for a recording made in 1967 and 1968, surprisingly vibrant – as fresh as anything recorded today.

Such is the care Brilliant Classics extends to its music.

This record label is truly one of the finest in the world. (No, I do not get paid by them. I just really appreciate the quality and price of the music on the Brilliant Classics label.)

On today’s CD I am treated to:

String Quartet No. 7 in F Op. 59 No. 1 “Rasumovsky”
String Quartet No. 8 in E minor Op. 59 No. 2 “Rasumovsky”

There are three string quartets named “Rasumovsky,” the third being String Quartet No. 9 in C major, Op. 59, No. 3, which is likely on the next CD.

All three were written in 1806. Beethoven was 36, and well on his way to being deaf.

Both of these string quartets were performed by the Suske Quartett:

Karl Suske violin I
Klaus Peters violin II
Karl-Heinze Dommus viola
Matthias Pfaender cello

There’s a profound depth and complexity and – unless I am totally clueless – a kind of melancholy to this music. Some of it, like Movement III (“Adagio molto e mesto”) from No. 7 in F, exudes wistfulness.

Yet, that mood is wiped away with the fourth movement – “Allego (Theme russe)” – which, as its name suggests, offers a hint of Russian music, played more briskly than the Adagio of Movement III.

Of the two compositions on today’s CD, I think I prefer the second: No. 8 in E Minor Op. 59 No. 2.

It seems even sadder than No. 1, if that’s possible. Yet, it’s eerily compelling.

The two string quartets on this CD, as well as the third on the next CD, were commissioned by the Russian ambassador in Vienna, Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Day 206: Beethoven’s Opera

BeethovenCD11According to various sources, Beethoven wrote only one opera. (Which, truth be told, isn’t a bad thing, from my perspective. I’m not a huge fan of opera.)

You can read background on Beethoven’s Leonore opera here. Or here.

From its entry on Wikipedia:

Fidelio (Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe: Leonore, or The Triumph of Married Love) (Op. 72) is a German opera with spoken dialogue in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is his only opera. The German libretto was prepared by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly, which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux, and the 1804 opera Leonora by Ferdinando Paer (a score of which was owned by Beethoven).

The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named “Fidelio”, rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.

Sounds cheery enough.

Maybe that’s part of the reason why it wasn’t received well when it premiered. Another reason, according to Wiki, was this:

The success of these performances was greatly hindered by the fact that Vienna was under French military occupation, and most of the audience were French military officers. After this premiere, Beethoven was pressured by friends to revise and shorten the opera into just two acts, and he did so with the help of Stephan von Breuning. The composer also wrote a new overture (now known as “Leonore No. 3″; see below). In this form the opera was first performed on 29 March and 10 April 1806, with greater success. Further performances were prevented by a dispute between Beethoven and the theatre management.

Yeah. I can see that.

The other composition on Beethoven CD 11 is Die Weihe Des Hauses, which (in German) translates to Continue reading

Day 203: Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 & Piano Concerto in D

BeethovenCD8Yesterday, I thought I was done with Beethoven’s piano concertos.

Apparently not.

There are a few more to go, thankfully.

Today’s CD features two different pianists and two different orchestras.

From its entry on Wikipedia, Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Op. 58:

…was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert of the home of Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz. The Coriolan Overture and the Fourth Symphony were premiered in that same concert. However, the public premiere was not until 22 December 1808 in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien. Beethoven again took the stage as soloist. This was part of a marathon concert which saw Beethoven’s last appearance as a soloist with orchestra, as well as the premieres of the Choral Fantasy and the Fifth and Sixth symphonies. Beethoven dedicated the concerto to his friend, student, and patron, the Archduke Rudolph.

A review in the May 1809 edition of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung states that “[this concerto] is the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto ever”. However, after its first performance, the piece was neglected until 1836, when it was revived by Felix Mendelssohn. Today, the work is widely performed and recorded, and is considered to be one of the central works of the piano concerto literature.

Beethoven was 37.

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Op. 58 features: Continue reading

Day 197: Beethoven Symphonies 2 & 4

BeethovenCD2Like yesterday’s CD, today’s offering of Beethoven symphonies (No. 2 and No. 4 this time) are mature, melodic, dynamic, remarkably listenable, and enjoyable from start to finish.

And, like yesterday, I have to admit I had no idea Beethoven was this good.

I’m sure Schroeder (from Peanuts fame) would cluck his tongue at my ignorance regarding his favorite composer.

Schroeder
But I can’t know everything about everything. I mean, come on.

I’m only human.

Beethoven’s symphonies are both dynamic and delicate, with boisterous passages as well as gentle ones. Plus, the choice of instruments and what they play is masterful. I find myself leaning forward to hear every note.

I didn’t do that with Haydn. (Well, maybe once or twice.)

I did it with Mozart. A lot. But rarely with Haydn.

And, so far, I’m doing it with every composition from Beethoven.

According to Wikipedia, “Symphony No. 2 in D major (Op. 36) is a symphony in four movements written by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1801 and 1802. The work is dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky.” Which means Beethoven was 32 when he finished Symphony No. 2. (And 33 when it premiered.)

From its entry on Wiki:

Beethoven’s Second Symphony was mostly written during Beethoven’s stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802, at which time his deafness was becoming more apparent and he began to realize that it might be incurable. The work was premiered in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 5 April 1803, and was conducted by the composer. During that same concert, the Third Piano Concerto and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also debuted. It is one of the last works of Beethoven’s so-called “early period”.

For example, Movement III (“Scherzo & Trio: Allegro”) from Symphony No. 2 in D. Op. 36 is particularly captivating. Lots of clever little Continue reading