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Beethoven's Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1, "Ghost"

January 4, 2022

On this month's lecture, resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Beethoven's Piano Trio in D major, Op. 70, No. 1, "Ghost". Featuring a performance by Gilbert Kalish, piano; Areta Zhulla, violin; Mihai Marica, cello.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music Podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, Resident Lecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992. In 2011, we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever-growing archive of videos made available live and on demand at ChamberMusicSociety.org

We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus, we explore historical context. And with live musicians in the studio during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's podcast features Beethoven's Piano Trio in D, major Opus 70 number one, The Ghost. Gilbert Kalish is the pianist. Areta Zhulla, violinist, and Mihai Marica, cellist. And what about you people?

Well, we're going to look at one movement of The Ghost Trio. It's the movement that gives it the name Ghost. A few things about ghosts first of all. I have a lot to say about Ghost, but why is it called the Ghost Trio? Well, you can look this up and you will find the whole story easily. I'll give you a moment to take out your phone.

No. I'll sum it up for you. The original name comes from Czerny, who was Beethoven's piano student and the author of not only quite a lot of music, but many piano exercises that if you had a certain kind of piano teacher, that's all you did. But Czerny felt that the second movement sounded like a ghost, and he thought it was the ghost of Hamlet's father.

So that stuck for a very long time that it's the ghost of Hamlet's father. But then a manuscript with some sketches of the ghost trio was found among Beethoven's manuscripts, and it was scribbled on a page that also had sketches for an opera about Macbeth. So in a way, Czerny was right that it was perhaps a ghost and perhaps Shakespeare.

But it turns out that the sketch of the trio that was on the page with the Macbeth has nothing to do with the opera that he was planning on Macbeth. Now, we might find out in a few years that it does have something to do with it, but at the moment, everybody thinks it doesn't have anything to do with it.

Of course we could say, "Well, why did he put it on that page?" There is an expression, not in German, but there is an expression, "We're on the same page." I hear this, unfortunately, almost every week because there's a woman who does laundry in my building. She doesn't do it for a living. She has children who apparently have convinced her to do the laundry every day.

And I go down there once a week and whenever I go down there, she says, "Oh, we're on the same page." So for me, being on the same page is really... I don't think it really indicates anything. Just from a musicological point of view. So yes, they were on the same page, but so what? Now sometimes this leads to other artists developing something.

And there is an example with this Ghost Trio before musicologists, including Maynard Solomon, one of the great experts in Beethoven and Alan Tyson, also another great Beethoven expert, until they decided that this sketch just happened to be there because Beethoven was, you know, sloppy, and he wrote all over his pages. And also in those days, paper was...

Well, it is again, but paper was rare and important and it was kind of cloth-like, actually. And so if there was a blank spot, you would write on that. I mean, I still do that. I have lots of scrap paper, a very big pile of it, and I grab it and on the other side of it could be anything. And sometimes I wish I hadn't written on the side that I just wrote on because of what's on the other side.

So that's what we have. But for a while there, people thought that there was a Macbeth connection and two things happened because of the so-called Macbeth connection. One was that not too long ago, online, obviously it couldn't have been too long ago, there was a chat back and forth. A Dutch musicologist and a few Beethoven fanatics were talking about this connection and one of the Dutch musicologists for fun, without being paid, without having any reason to do it, other than fun, took some of the music of the trio and some of the music of the Macbeth Overture.

Put it together, orchestrated it, and had it played by a mini computer, a fake sound computer version of an orchestra. And he called it the Macbeth Overture by Beethoven. Then that went somewhat viral. And Leonard Slatkin, conductor at the time of the National Symphony, premiered, it. And when he was asked if, in fact, that was by Beethoven, he said, no, no, no.

When he said it was by Beethoven, "It's put together by this Dutch musicologist, but we think it's interesting." It was a total flop, of course, and it would have been before it was played, because who wants to hear a Dutch musicologist putting together sketches by Beethoven for two different pieces? If you really want to hear that, that's fine.

Anyway, but also Samuel Beckett was interested in this because he had a recording of The Ghost Trio, the one with Barenboim. And the program notes said that it was related to sketches about Macbeth, not just that it was on the same page, but that's what people thought for a while. It must be related to it. So he wrote a TV play in 1975 called The Ghost Trio.

Some of you were nodding your heads. You remember it. He originally called it Tryst, and then he crossed off the title Tryst and changed it to The Ghost Trio. And it remained the ghost trio when it was performed on television. There was a character who basically sits still most of the time and looks forlorn, and is kind of crumpled over holding a cassette recorder.

If you remember what that is, it's time for a check up. And the cassette recorder, he would occasionally press a button and you would hear some of The Ghost Trio. And Beckett wrote in the script which measures of the ghost trio should be played at that time. So this Ghost Trio is out there, out there floating around like any other ghost.

Now, before we hear some of the music, which we will, and then I will be talking and back and forth and you'll hear the whole piece, as we always do. I want to let you know that, first of all, that this same group of musicians who's sitting right here will be playing the entire piece at a concert in this very room on November 14th.

I think it says that in your program. So you might want to be there for that. You're only going to hear one movement today. But I thought instead of reading something from Macbeth, which really didn't have anything to do with this exactly. Or from Hamlet, which also is not really connected to it, I read something from Ghost.

Ghost- You know, Ghost? Ghost is a book. I hope it's not what you're thinking, but Ghost is a novel by Alan Lightman. And Alan Lightman is a physicist. He was the only physicist who was ever appointed to two different departments, the Science Department and the Literature Department or Humanities, where he taught writing and he's written a couple of novels like Einstein's Dreams.

And I think the reason I'm going to read this, which will take longer than reading this, but to explain but the reason I want to read this is that in Shakespeare's time and in the plays of Shakespeare, ghosts were natural, understandable phenomenon. Everyone believed in ghosts. Of course. In Shakespeare's day, all over Europe and most of the world and America, people believed in ghosts. In the 17th century.

And ghosts are very big and witches were very big. And the witches from Macbeth are really more than- it could have been Banquo, the ghost, but it could have been the witches because it's often said- this is another bad idea, but that there are three people and three witches. It's a trio. They must have been the witches. That's not good musicology.

By time Beethoven was writing this, and of course he didn't call it The Ghost, enlightened society... They may have been religious or not, or they may have felt that they were somewhat religious, but this was a period when things were in question. But the idea that there were demons and ghosts and everything was pretty much no longer accepted.

But there was still a fascination with it and a growing nostalgia for it. And that nostalgia for a time when you could explain everything that way, or when everything was mysterious and vibrant with demons and witches and goblins and ghosts. That's a time that is both repulsive and appealing. It's both scary and inviting. It's both enticing and something you wish you could forget.

So I thought I'd read a little bit as an introduction. We're going to- when I'm finished with this, I think we'll just play from bar one to the downbeat of... when the tune starts again at bar 18. So it was just the real opening. This is written by a physicist, but it's a character in his novel, Ghost. It's someone who doesn't believe in witchcraft or ghosts or anything, but he thinks he's seen one.

So these are some quotes from the book. I saw something. I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It's been a week, but I still have that awful image in my mind. It burns. I close my eyes and I see it. I open my eyes and I see it. But what are the words to describe it?

And I don't think I'm suggestible. I prefer seeing the world as it is. I wish I hadn't seen what I saw. I want the world to go back to where it was a week ago. The thing lasted only a few seconds. Just a few seconds. Why can't those 5 seconds be smudged out and erased? What is 5 seconds in the space of a year or even a day?

I must have imagined it. I caught it only out of the corner of my eye, just a brief hovering thing in the corner of my eye. What was it? Where are the words to say what it was? And now hear this little excerpt. (music plays)

Right. And the reason to stop there, thank you. It was beautiful. The reason to stop there is that it is the second iteration of what you just heard. The structure of the piece, if you just think of it in formal terms, it's very simple. But of course the content is far from it. The structure is two big parallel sections in the coda, and the two big sections consist of four excuse me, of two smaller sections giving you four parallel sections.

So you have what you just heard. If that's A and then you have B. And then you will have a new version of A, A one and B one. And the coda. And it hangs together in a very simple way, but it's always changing. Now, before I get into the actual music in detail, I'm really going to take a good, close look at some of the musical techniques.

I don't want to let go of the idea that there was a nostalgia for mystery and a nostalgia for demons and witches and also for gods and goddesses. And of course, part of what brought in the Romantic era was a nostalgia for, even ancient Greece and those gods and goddesses. That's nothing new. How could it be? But I do want to read a little bit of a poem by Keats. I'm into reading today.

And Keats, of course, was a contemporary of Beethoven's, but he also only lived to be 26 years old, which is something I can never believe. Mozart only lived to be 35, but Keats just 26. Luckily, he didn't have to waste time doing standardized tests in high school. I'm going to roll on that one. Okay. I'm going to read a few moments from Keats.

I'm skipping around in a poem, Ode to Psyche. And in the few lines that I'm going to read, everything is about the idea that Psyche, the goddess Psyche, is no longer really there, and no one believes in her anymore. But he would like to. That's all it says. Oh, brightest, though too late for antique vows. Too, too late for the fond believing lyre. Lyre, instrument. Believing lyre. When holy were the haunted forest vows. Holy the air, the water and the fire.

Yet even in these days so far retired from happy pieties thy Lucent fans fluttering among faint Olympians, I see and sing by my own eyes inspired. So let me be thy choir and make a moan upon the midnight hours. Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy Incense sweet from swinged censor teeming, thy shrine thy grove thy oracle thy heat of pale mouth profit dreaming, yes, I will be thy priest and build a fane in some untrodden region of my mind where branched thoughts new grown with pleasant pain instead of pines shall murmur in the wind.

It's not so simple, but it's a great image because he he knows it's in his mind that he wants this. And maybe he's saying it always was. But he also uses music, you notice, over and over. He's got the lute and the pipe and he's got the believing lyre and then the wind whistling in the pines. Which actually relates to some of the sounds you hear here, according to one of the great writers, poet...

Now, and see if you can figure out who this is. A great poet, a novelist, painter, critic and composer of Beethoven's time. And everyone knows some of his works. This is E.T.A. Hoffmann. Yeah. Everyone who knows The Nutcracker knows his stories. I mean, he wrote so much, and he wrote great novels and not bad music, and he was not a bad pianist.

And it's just amazing. One of those people. Maybe three of those people. Now, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony came out the same year as this trio, 1808. When I say came out, they didn't do that then, you know. But Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was finished in 1808. This trio and Opus 70 number two, which comes right after, was finished the same year.

Symphony Number Six, The Pastoral was finished the same year and the major cello sonata, Opus 69 was finished the same year. He was pretty busy. All masterpieces, all game changers. I don't know what the German for that is, but that's what they were. But E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a review of the Fifth Symphony in which for the first time somebody said that this is romantic music. That's where it comes from.

But he doesn't say that it's only Beethoven. He actually says that music is romantic and Haydn is romantic, and Mozart is romantic. But it started with Beethoven's Fifth and that started this whole idea that Beethoven somehow turned everything from classical into romantic. It's not a bad concept, but it comes from this one article. So here are a couple of highlights which relate very strongly to this trio, because he says something and I won't have to tell you what it is, but I probably will anyway.

What that relates to this whole idea, from the review of the Fifth Symphony, when music is discussed as an independent art, it should it not be solely instrumental music that is intended? Music that scorns every aid from and mixing with any other sort of art, like poetry, music that only expresses the distinctive and unique essence of this art...

Skipping a few lines. Beethoven's instrumental music opens us to the realm of the monstrous and immeasurable. Glowing rays shoot through the deep night of this realm. And we sense giant shadows surging to and fro, closing in on us until they destroy us. But not the pain of unending longing in which every desire that has risen quickly in joyful tones, sinks and expires. Only with this pain of love, hope and joy, which consumes but does not destroy, which would burst asunder our breasts with a mightily impassioned chord.

I learned it from a Shakespeare director. We live on. Enchanted seers of the ghostly world. Romantic taste is rare. Romantic talent even rarer. And perhaps for this reason there are so few who are able to sweep the lyre with tones that unveil the wonderful realm of the romantic. Now, here's a quick comparison. Still by E.T.A. Hoffman of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. And what he says here became what people think, and even now, ever since.

It's not that it's wrong or right, but he just sort of set the bar and this is how he defined it. Haydn grasps romantically the human in human life. He is more accommodating, more comprehensible for the common man. Mozart laid claim more to the superhuman, to the marvelous that dwells in the inner spirit. Beethoven's music wields the lever of fear, awe, horror, and pain, and it awakens that eternal longing that is the essence of the romantic.

Thus, he is a purely romantic composer. And if he has had less success with vocal music, it is because vocal music excludes the character of indefinite longing and represents the emotions which come from the realm of the infinite. Only by the definite affect of words. So he's making two huge points. That instrumental music is more profound and more complex and more romantic than music with words because of the words getting in the way.

And the other is that Beethoven, you can trace it from Haydn and his humanity to... I should go up. Haydn in humanity to Mozart and his superhuman, above human qualities and abilities and nature of his music, and Beethoven to the extremely romantic, the scary, the monstrous, the awe inspiring. Now, that really does work. How does Beethoven create this atmosphere right at the beginning?

It's important for you to know that in case you are writing a piano trio later, that it will be also about a ghost. I mean, when I say how did he achieve it? I just want to draw your attention to a couple of things. One of it, one of the things he does is he separates the ideas, making them feel more full of suspense and less immediate.

So, for example, let's say... Do you mind if I play something, Gil? Thank you. I'm just going to play one little thing. Let's say... Do you have a place to hang out for one minute? Okay. What happened if you take the strings out of this piece? I'm just going to play the piano part without the strings. (music)

It works, doesn't it? It's a little bit more ordinary because all the phrase lengths are the same and the tune is the same. But who knows whether he perceived of it that way? We have some sketches which we'll get to later. But he might have thought of it this way and then decided to open it up with something ghostly because the piano has the pulse, right?

The pulse is how humans think of time. I didn't mean to get slapstick at that moment, but I couldn't... The cello and the violin have no pulse. Now, of course they do. They have a time signature and they're counting, but the feeling is without pulse. I would bet that Beethoven didn't really care if they played that exactly in time.

Nor should you. But I mean, you probably do. But it's the feeling of it floating. Let's just hear, again, as written from the opening up until the cadence at bar six, seven, eight, nine. And think about, as you listen, the separation of the of the cello and the piano. I mean, the strings in the piano, the pulse versus the lack of pulse. But also, every time the strings come in, the note that they play, does that feel like a note that you expected to hear or not? (music)

Okay. Now, I, at one point, I had the strange thought that I would write some connecting music in the piano to make this flow more. But I realized I didn't have to because Beethoven does it later in the piece. Let's take a look at that. I almost did it. It was strange. And I thought, "Wait a minute. I know why I'm thinking about that.

He does it." So if we go to bar 46, you've just heard the opening of the first section. The parallel spot, which is the opening of the second section, is almost exactly the same, but different. And what's different about it primarily is links in the piano. We hear that from there, but basically the same thing. (music) Great.

And now you notice probably that the tune that was in the piano right hand is now in the violin and the cello and the left hand of the piano are playing what they played. But more importantly, the reason for that rearrangement is so that the right hand of the piano can play something new and that is connecting the devices. But he's still, even though he's connecting it and filling it in a little bit, he's still leaving it very sparse and not giving you some of the harmonies. They're still ambiguous.

Now, Gil, this might be the second out of five times I ask you to... When you hear this... (music) Right here. That's a little strange. At the time that must have been very, very strange. If I kept this going, it wouldn't seem so strange. Right? But then it would have to go... It could have gone, but it doesn't.

What he does here doesn't work. So, in fact, he doesn't give you here the chord that he must have been thinking of. Why must he be thinking of a chord? Can't he just write a strange note and like, you feel uncomfortable? Can't do that. Because the logic of composition and the rules of harmony, by rules I mean the principles of harmony and the things that make him a composer who crosses things out and writes them over and over means he's not going to write an inexplicable note. It's not possible. The logic has to be there. So what it really is, is this. (music)

And then... So, it's... Which is very typical of Beethoven harmony. And does he ever give you that chord? Over and over, but never there. That is the... You hear that? The diminished seventh. They all know because they've been trained within an inch of their lives. Yes. Some of you have been hearing the diminished seventh chord explained for 20 years or more. But anyway, the diminished seventh chord is at the crux of this piece.

The only place he doesn't write it at all is the parallel, that spot and at the beginning, the parallel spot, and you get this emptiness and a feeling there's a chord missing. It's the diminished seventh chord. So that is the strangest use of that chord I know in classical music. It's complete absence. It's being represented by one note and it's never filled in in that spot.

It occurs many times, and when it does occur, it's quite powerful. For example, let's see. If we could play from bar... I mean, if you could play from bar 63, 64, 65, 66. Okay. You heard the opening and then you had this, part two, and then the parallel spot. This is the beginning of that second spot.

From 63 unless I... The bar before the diminished chord. Yeah. (music) Here it comes. That's it. Okay, thank you. And of course it goes somewhere that, whether it's expected or not, it's a revelation. Whether it's expected is actually up to who's listening, I suppose, but it is always a revelation. The first diminished chord that appears in this piece is the second piano measure, which is this if you want to just, could you play that?

Just the second measure that you play of the whole piece. Yeah. (music) That's a diminished chord. But then the big crashing, powerful diminished chord that is as terrifying as Beethoven wanted it to be ever. Yeah, yeah, go ahead. You could give us those two bars. Yeah, now that is a terrifying diminished seventh chord. There, it doesn't go to a strange place.

It doesn't resolve to an unexpected place, but its power, its sense of interruption... You notice that it's a huge interruption. In terms of the texture, the rhythm, the dynamics. A gigantic interruption. Actually, this reminds me, and I brought it with me, a little bit of another famous diminished seventh chord moment of Beethoven's, which I'd like to play for you, because it relates to how he thinks about this chord and how he thinks about time.

Here it is. Sorry. This is from the fourth piano concerto and it is nothing at all but a diminished seventh chord. This comes from a moment where the piano is alone in the second movement. Like The Ghost trio movement, this second movement of the fourth piano concerto, and like quite a few other pieces of his time, seem suspended.

Pulse comes and goes. And diminished seventh chords are usually at the crux of the drum. So here's a moment from there. (music) And then it goes on. But not like that. In fact, speaking of time being dislodged, which is a very big change in Western music. I say Western partly because it is western music, but also because rhythm and time are different in different cultures completely.

One of the things that is the most different. But, Gil, maybe we can do some of these short excerpts now. In The Tempest Sonata solo piano, the fast music in the first movement stops more than once and goes into not exactly a cadenza, but kind of a dream world where there is no time and the pedal is used in various places, which you'll hear soon, to indicate a blur which was different on his piano than it is like ours, but, still, it was a blur.

And that blur also is to eliminate bar lines, pulse and a sense of now. So let's hear, if we can, maybe the first time that happens. (music) So this is in the middle of a fast movement and what makes it great is that everything stops for this reflection. In fact, even in the Fifth Symphony, right at the beginning, when that oboe stops everything. Bah bah bah bah bah bah bah.

And then you have that oboe solo that is not in time. It's very slow. That's the same idea. It's the stopping of time. Now, later on in the same movement, we get a much more unusual one, which has the feeling a little bit of an operatic recitative, but it is a dream, maybe, of an operatic recitative or a memory.

It's very quiet and it's very hazy. (music) Right? That's what happens. I mean, that's pretty strange, isn't it? It's pretty strange. And it is also, I like to think, emotionally realistic because, you know, you're busy doing something and then you have a thought. And that thought might seem like a second to you. And someone says, "What's the matter with you?

You've been standing there for 3 minutes." It could happen. You know, one time I was preparing a talk about creativity and I was typing away on the computer. And at one point I hit a key and I had this thought and I was thinking about it. And when I lifted up the key and looked at the computer, I filled an entire page with that letter, which is not what I thought had happened.

So that became part of the talk, actually. I read the letter over and over. No. But that sense of time stopping. By the way, the diminished seventh chord was in the first example. But it's not just a diminished seventh chord. Here, it's really the blur of dissonances into consonances without resolution. Because something that would not be acceptable in a normal, pulsing piece of music too dissonant, too strange is acceptable when everything stops.

And you can tell that this is unreal. This is almost surrealistic. This makes Beethoven extremely modern. Now there's a passage in the piano that you've already heard once on bar 16 of the of The Ghost trio, where the piano is just dropping. Oh, yeah, we are going to do the other one in a minute. It's just dropping like almost mist floating down.

If you could just play that one passage then I want to say what E.T.A. Hoffman wrote about that. (music) Yeah, now that it sounds very simple and it is, but it can be, again, the sense of drama that just happened before it with those big crashing, diminished chords, it just stops and floats and before we go on. It's very strange.

Every decision Beethoven made in this movement is a combination of beautiful and strange, which is, for some people, the definition of romanticism. E.T.A. Hoffmann, again, he wrote about this. He recalls playing, he was a pianist too, the tremolos and also this passage and where it says, "Una Corda." That means with the soft pedal. He said, "In order to create a susseration," which means a whispering or murmuring, this is a quote, "That recalls the alien harp or glass harmonica, floating sounds that surround the soul like hazy figures in a dream, enticing into a world of curious presentiment." Now, he's also referring to the very next bar.

Gil, would you just play that tremolo for us? And you have to realize that this was unusual at the time. (music) Now it's almost like the piano sustaining a pitch isn't it? Almost like piano is playing like strings. Just holding there. On Beethoven's piano, I could say it sounded different, but the fact is, by the way, when someone says Beethoven's piano, you have to ask which one?

Because Beethoven collected all the pianos of his time. He had in his room at one time four of the newest pianos. One from France, one from England, one from Germany and one from Italy. And some of them had extra pedals on them because they were trying new things. The pedals, one of them had a split- I love this idea, a split pedal that could raise the dampers on half the piano and not the other half.

We don't even have that. That's a great idea. I think we should bring that back. But because of digital keyboards and synthesizers. But they can't do that exactly either, actually. I mean, you can program it to do that, but just having a pedal that lifts this half and not this half so you could blur and have resonance here and not there.

And then you could put down two pedals. Some of the pedals had strange names that I admit I don't know what some of them mean. One of them is called a bassoon pedal. I can't imagine that there was a bassoon in the piano. I'm not sure what that means exactly. Maybe it only affected the area that's the range of the bassoon.

I have to look into that. But all his pedals were different and Beethoven was never happy with the pianos. He always thought that it could be improved. It could be better. Which is why he was always buying new ones. So just as a warning, when you hear an authentic performance of Beethoven on an authentic piano, you have to ask which piano?

When was that piano from? Was it one he used? Would he have really liked it instead of something better? Because a lot of authentic music makes a lot of sense. But in the case of Beethoven and his pianos, he didn't like them. So I think he would have liked this more. I really do. At first he might have found it overwhelming.

But very quickly he probably would have figured out how to break strings on this as well. And I think he would have loved the strangeness. Now, Gil, if we can go back to the, yeah, the excerpt from this one. Did we not do that? Oh, yeah, we don't need that one I don't think. This is the great... Now, this is from Opus 110 Piano Sonata.

And this is another example of Beethoven stopping time and experimenting with the piano. He writes exactly which pedals to put down. There's a soft pedal and then the damper pedal and to release one and put the other down. It's kind of hard to hear all that. But he requests it and he's also experimenting with the touch. You'll hear a repeated A which he has markings with slurs and staccatos on it.

He must have experimented with this feel of this key and thought, "This is an amazing sound and feel." Even though he couldn't hear very well at the time, which is maybe another part of it. But he played it over and over and over and it's impossible to know what he really wanted, but it does feel like he's pulling you inside the pitch, inside the tone.

And there's a feeling, again, of a recitative from an opera with an actual baroque, formulaic quote that comes at the end of Recitatives. So here's just a bit of this music from Opus 110. (music) Great. Isn't that extraordinary? And the focus on one note. It has a modernity. Why does it sound modern? Because it isn't about any formulas, about any received ideas, about any conventions at all.

It's about the moment and exploring the moment from a completely personal standpoint. That was not something that was common at all. And Beethoven did open up this feeling that at first, bit by bit, but then more and more that the composer is writing and exploring a unique situation with every piece. And that led to composers, in a way, writing less music than they used to because they weren't all supposed to be the same anymore.

You couldn't write a hundred of something if they were each supposed to be an exploration of something new. So nine Symphonies of Beethoven is much more amazing than 104 symphonies of somebody else. Although those were also extremely good, actually. I shouldn't have said 104. I was too specific.

Now, many of those are magnificent. Now, I'd like you to hear another section and then I'll say a few things about it. Let's start at bar 18. This is where we left off, where the tremolo begins in the piano, the whispering winds or the murmuring trees of the ghost. And we take the motif, or Beethoven takes the tally rum pum pum and also dee dah dum, those two.

That's all he needs, those two motifs, to explore them. And he takes us through a harmonic progression that's quite interesting. And I think we'll stop maybe at the end of bar 35 or 36 in there somewhere. Or 37. At the end of 37. (music) Great, great. Now there's some very strange things that happen there. Pardon me. Thanks, Gil.

Among the things that happen, which you can just feel, is that Beethoven moves past the expected key or the typical key and goes one key further. And that does give us this incredible sense of illumination, which is that he's in D minor and he ends up in C major. Normally, and he refers to this earlier...

Normally, it would have gone to F major, which is the relative major, but going a fifth higher to C is literally higher aspirations, higher ambitions. It actually goes higher and it feels quite extraordinary, the way it lifts into C major. But the thing that is much more obvious is when the cadence comes, we have this sound. (music) It's not this. It's this.

The downbeat is this right? The note of the resolution is this. Instead of doing a trill, which would have sounded very normal and instead of doing this, he starts on the low note. It's very disturbing, but it also creates a double sense of harmony very soon after that, where this happens. Because the chords here are a diminished chord. And a major chord.

So I mean, it's filling in. That makes it diminished. Makes it a minor chord. You hear both. It's very disturbing. It has a double meaning but it's still down here. And then, of course, you heard that it travels downward after that. It has to. It has to go because of the tension. If you just resolved it like that, it wouldn't be great.

It needs to fall apart and collapse as this continually does. It reminds me, and this piece reminds me in a few places of Opus 30 number two, much earlier piece, the Violin Sonata, which begins like this. (music) Now, that already is a little bit like The Ghost trio in a very simple way. You can't yet click your heels, you can't yet tap to the beat.

There's no beat until here. But then when, as soon as you can tap your beat, it's silent. See what I mean? That's great. It seems like a simple opening, but it's genius because of that. If you went like this... it would ruin it. Or if you did this... Even if you did this, that also would be terrible because would be marking time instead of leaving the silence for your heartbeat to pick up where the tension left off.

Now, if the pianist waits too long, it's very disturbing. But the next thing that happens, there's a cadence. But this time it starts on the upper notes. The same two notes. Not... What is the difference between Opus 30 and Opus 70? That's the difference. But that's a huge difference. I'm being somewhat facetious, but it's a gigantic difference because, one, the resolution note is on the beat and in the other, it's so bizarre.

He turns it upside down and it's extremely disturbing. Now, of course, that's not the only difference, but that's symbolic. It's an iconic example of what the differences are. A few other great moments from this movement. There's a coda. A coda is an ending that has the feeling of an ending. It's a closing statement, but it always achieves something. In a lot of Beethoven's music it achieves a sense of triumph.

There's a coda that lifts a C minor piece to C major. That's one of the most common ways of thinking about Beethoven. That you have a struggle in C minor, which accomplishes through the coda a gigantic and thrilling sense of victory in C major. This does not do that. This is in D minor and it has, which you already heard, a little bit of an inkling of D major.

Maybe we should just listen to that again before we hear the coda. Can we just go back to this is the D major glimpse of D major. You don't get it for long. If we can go back to the diminished chords on 59 to 60 and keep going through a little bit of D major. Yeah, I think that would be good. (music)

It's your only D major moment. Diminished seventh. It's gone. But C major is a possibility. Coming. Another diminished seventh chord. Okay, great. Thank you. And you hear that that low note problem occurs again, but with music on top of it, the right hand on the piano is also there and the strings are investigating through all the harmonies. So that is the climactic part of the piece where you have a glimpse of D major, which is where you want to be.

If you're in D minor, you want to get to D major. It's East Berlin and West Berlin. Which of course he knew nothing about. So I don't mean to confuse you, historically speaking. However, the history of how German politics treats Beethoven's symphonies is worth looking into. There's a lot written about it. There's an entire book on the subject, but I won't get into that now.

Okay. Then at the end we get a coda and the coda begins like each of the sections. Remember, there are two big sections and they all start with... they all start the same way. Two big sections like that. The first, you already heard. It ends with the diminished seventh chord and the trailing off of the mist. In the second section goes to C major becomes very dramatic, then it starts again and this time the piano fills in with some beautiful filigree, but without all the chords that you want to hear, fills in the passages.

And then again it opens up. And this time it goes to D major briefly and it disappears. Then comes the coda. I would like you to hear the coda, the way it's written. So let's start at bar 87. (music) Now, that movement ends. After you think it's over, you notice there begins a little chord progression. There's a chromatic chord which actually is a diminished chord.

It moves towards what seems like it's going to open up to a new section, and then there's a crashing minor chord and it quietly dies away. That seems like the perfect ending, and it is the ending that opened on Broadway and stayed. But it's not how we wrote it out of town because he wrote a sketch which has a different ending.

This is really by Beethoven. This is not a joke. I know people who come to my lectures think that I write all the alternative endings. Frequently I do. This is, I promise you, actually by Beethoven, because it's just a different ending. And remember what you heard. And can you give us the ending that he decided not to use please? (music)

Isn't that interesting? That's the exact opposite. This might be the only time this has ever been performed, by the way, except for possibly at some musicological conference. But it's the exact opposite. But why didn't he like it? Well, you can think of your own reasons, but it's not just the powerful ending wiping everything out. It's too final.

And he realized that the ghost disappearing is better than the ghost lifting the visor or the veil or something, but also the chord progression before it. The way he ended up writing it, it's cut short. It's soft and suddenly in the middle of this chord progression, it stops and you don't know what to think. And then it ends quietly.

Here, he followed the chord progression in a normal way, completely conventional, and took it to its cadence like any composer would do at that time. And he must have looked at that and said, "This is awful." And he changed it. Now and it probably crossed it out with a raise or a knife, as he often used the knife because the paper was thick and full of cloth and he probably completely destroyed it.

But the balance of this piece, in other words, the fact that the structure is so logical, if you look at this ending, this is a perfectly balanced ending, the one that he got rid of. It uses the motif at the end and the chord progression does what it's supposed to do. But the logic of it bothered him. It was too conventional. But he doesn't do away with logic completely because by logic I mean the structural logic of the piece. It's symmetrical. The keys are balanced.

The second part that you finally hear comes back and stays in the minor key instead of moving into C major like it does the first time. Why does he need that logic if he's breaking all the boundaries? Well, I think you probably have some very good answers for that because you don't necessarily have to study music at all to answer that.

But I want to read two things. Before I answer that, I said something about the power of the ending versus the quiet and lifting of the veil. You know that Beethoven had on his composition desk, glass and under the glass, his favorite quotes and some of those quotes were from Isis, the Egyptian goddess, which were very popular at the time.

It wasn't like he was the only one in Germany who was interested in this, but along with E.T.A. Hoffmann and Novalis and other writers that he followed, this Isis quote was meaningful. And what she says in this quote is, "I am everything that is. That was. That will be. No mortal man has lifted my veil." Kant called that the most sublime thing ever written.

So, obviously, you can't lift your visor at the end of this mysterious thing and say, "Ah-ha! That's who you are." He realized that. Maybe he wrote that ending, and then he looked at the desk and saw the quote and said, "No, no, no. I can't do that." Now, finally, before we hear the whole movement, I want to answer the question about logic.

And while I can answer it for you in lots of ways, the end of that book, Ghost... It's actually not the end, but part of it... in the book, Ghost, there's a passage, this is by the physicist Alan Lightman, but it's a novel, asking questions about if you're a logical person but you think you've seen a ghost, what do you do?

So here's what he writes. "Logic is what holds it all together. Without logic, anything could happen. People could turn into frogs. The moon could suddenly fly off into space. If one illogical thing happens, then a million illogical things can happen. The entire world might come apart piece by piece. Like when you pull a stray thread on the sleeve of your jacket." So we're going to hear the whole movement now. And when you hear those threads, you could think of it all unraveling like the sleeve on your jacket. (music)

We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Visit ChamberMusicSociety.org to watch videos of these lectures as well as masterclasses and concert performances. And while you're there, check out the calendar of upcoming Chamber Music Society events in New York and around the world. See you next time.