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Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3

March 6, 2020

On this week's lecture, resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 59, No. 3. Featuring a performance by the Solera Quartet (Miki-Sophia Cloud, Tricia Park, violin; Molly Carr, viola; Andrew Janss, 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 lecture features Beethoven's String Quartet, Opus 59 Number Three. Originally recorded January 31, 2018. The Russian connection to Congress is of significance in tonight's lecture.

There is a direct connection to the Russian ambassador and Beethoven. I'm going to explain it to you now. The Russian ambassador to Vienna, Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky, a member of the Congress of Vienna, paid cash directly to Beethoven in exchange for three string quartets. Two of which include Russian melodies, apparently, as a bribe to the count. Kirillovich not only paid Beethoven for the music, but in a planned takeover of a long established ensemble, Razumovsky essentially bought the Schuppanzigh String Quartet and renamed it the Razumovsky String Quartet.

This is well kept within the family because Razumovsky was the brother in law of Karl Lichnowsky and Karl Lichnowsky was the one who originally had the quartet. Apparently, the prince called this shift of the quartet ownership within the family, quote, "A beautiful thing."

All that's true. It's just the slant on it's a little weird, but it's all true. In other words, the Russian ambassador, Razumovsky, did pay Beethoven and he did write the Three Quartets. He did include those two things. They were brother in law. And now we move on to the actual music. This piece starts, this is the first movement of the third Razumovsky Quartet.

This piece starts with a dark, ambiguous, vague and kind of disturbing opening. But there's a tradition of that. But at the time they, Beethoven, wrote it, it was a fairly new tradition. So we're going to look at some of the traditions. But first, let's hear the actual opening of this quartet, no games here yet, as Beethoven wrote it. (music) Nice.

Thank you. It is full of ambiguity, and that ambiguity comes from using harmony to suggest possibilities and silences. And in every case, practically, you have a resolution that is not what you, if you expect anything, your ear is expecting something. You're getting resolutions you don't expect. But also the time that a chord is held, the harmonic rhythm, is such that you really feel suspended.

Now, I said that there were some precedents to this, and let's take a look at Mozart's Dissonant Quartet. 1782 is the Mozart. This is 1806. Interestingly, the first precedent that's really close to this is the Mozart, then Haydn's creation, which is after the Mozart and then this. So let's take a listen to the opening of the Mozart Dissonant Quartet, so called. (music)

So there are a lot of differences. In Mozart, we have a pulse all the way through. And not only do we have a pulse, but the eighth note's (singing) never stop at all. But it is extremely dissonant in a way that the Beethoven isn't, because the Beethoven is functionally dissonant. Okay? There are lots of kinds of dissonance. There's note on note dissonance. That's obvious, but it doesn't have to be that. This is note doubt note dissonance. (music)

And if I give it a chord, (music) this is a dissonance, a functional dissonance, because it has to resolve in that time. It could resolve various ways. And then there are structural dissonances. Like let's say you're in the key of C and you change key. When you're in a different key, let's say A-flat, that's a structural dissonance. So then you have little passing dissonances. Something very simple, like a... (music) So that kind of dissonance in real life is like you're sitting in a movie theater or a play and the person in front of you's head keeps going like this.

So it's not a big deal. But, you know, right in front of you, that's dissonance. And then you go like that and that's consonance. Depending on who moves, it's a different kind of dissonance. Now, you also have suspensions, which is something like this. (music) The top note. (music) The chord is really just two chords doing this, (music) but if one is stuck, (music) the one in the middle doesn't move.

But it's in both chords, so it's happy. If it's stuck, it's like if you're leaving your house and your coat is caught in the doorway. That's good, right? Okay. So your coat is caught there and you are dissonant at that moment. When the coat is released, that is the resolution. So there are all these different kinds of dissonances. Now, in the Mozart, you have an extremely note to note dissonance.

The first thing you hear, I'm just going to do a little bit of analysis of the Mozart. It's going to help us later. The first thing you hear, especially if you're a duck, you think is a mother duck. What I mean by that is the first note you hear is a C at that time you would expect C major or C minor to be the key. (music)

But you could be wrong. Then you hear this. Okay, we don't know, now we have a problem because we don't have this (music) or this. (music) We have... (music) We don't know what that chord is. It's only two notes. And then another chord. Ah, another note. We have a chord, but that chord doesn't tell us what key we're in for sure.

And then the moment that a new note comes in, wow, that's intense. Mozart could have done the same thing like this. (music) That's the same exact harmony. And it would have sounded more romantic, but less bizarre. But because of the voicing, when this resolves, this comes in and this is the root of a chord floating up in space. So his voicing is extremely dissonant on purpose.

Believe me, everything he did was on purpose. They didn't do that, "Oh, ugh, I guess I'll leave it." But when he did do that a lot of people, including his publisher, thought he was wrong, he made a mistake. People were always saying that Mozart was making mistakes, especially in that particular piece. Okay, so that's a very dissonant thing.

However, Mozart does something that's much more conventional in this opening than Beethoven, which is after this... Oh, that's perfect. Can you make that a little larger? He's got an iPad there and I can see the score. Let's see. Ah, okay. So after that happens, (music) when it resolves, eventually it goes down a step from this (music) to this. (music) But then we get the exact same music transposed down.

So it's still strange, it still feels creepy and weird, but we just heard that music up a step. So now we have the conventional thing, which is a repetition with a change of pitch. So that's called a sequence. So by taking something, by creating something extremely dissonant and unpredictable, but then repeating it, even though it's down a step in a key, we don't expect, he is, I hate to use the expression, normalizing how weird that was.

That is not actually normal, that first phrase. But by repeating it down a step, you begin to believe it. Okay. Never mind. I'll drop that. Now, getting away from Mozart, another precedent is Haydn's creation. So here is the, I'm going to play this on a recording because we only have four instruments and this is an entire orchestra.

I tried to force them to do it, but didn't. Here is, from Haydn's creation, I won't say the name of this section because that's, I will after you listen. (music) I'll have to stop it. But it won't. There. The name of that movement is Chaos. Right? Now, it's interesting. For us now, you hear something like that- you wouldn't be thinking of chaos.

But that's very interesting because Mozart had said that in an opera, no matter how dramatic or how angry a character gets, it still must be music. You can't just throw out the laws of music. But the idea of what chaos is is really quite astounding at that time, because all it was for Haydn was a kind of dissonance that for us almost doesn't even exist.

But it is there and it has a couple of strange things in it. That kind of dissonance with ambiguity, which is terrifying in tonal music, you know, and eventually everything is ambiguous. But that kind of ambiguity leads to a sense of directionlessness and incomprehensibility. At a certain level. If you can't predict, every prediction is wrong, that's chaos.

And actually, that's a good definition of chaos. For musically speaking. So let's take a look at the Haydn just for a moment, and then we'll get back to the Beethoven. Although, I mean, they're very, very closely related here. By the way, have you noticed that this C in the cello, (music) this whole thing also, this was a, same key for those of you who are paying attention. It was a C. All these pieces start with, they're in C and there is something to that too.

But let me get back to it. So the opening of the Haydn on the piano, it will sound different to you. It'll be probably more dissonant. We have these. I'm speeding it up a little. (music) Now, this goes by pretty quickly, but there is a whole moment of that, which then we don't know where we're going to go. And this must have shocked his listeners, that chord, if you revoice it, is the Tristan chord.

Now, the Tristan chord was not a chord invented by Wagner. It was used differently by Wagner than anyone else used it by making it, first of all, just like the Beethoven starts with a dissonant chord, a diminished seventh chord. Do you remember the Beethoven opening? You know, it starts. You don't expect it. You don't know what's going to happen.

The Wagner chord also, you don't know where you are. You don't know where you are. That's the main thing. But here in Haydn's creation, it's the same idea. It's quite intense. Then it resolves like this. (music) And when this resolves, remember I told you about a suspension? This entire dissonant chord up here is suspended. It's still there. And then finally, of course, it resolves. (music)

I'm sorry. That was even more unexpected. It is unexpected. And then later on you have this kind of dissonance, which is more like the Mozart note to note. (music) But everything that happens can be explained by a harmonic concept. That's true in the Beethoven, too. But what's different with all of these pieces, what makes them chaotic is that their relationship to a tonal center is not clear.

You're writing that down, Judy? You're going to use that in a class? Okay. Alright. (inaudible) Okay, good. All right. That's alright. That's alright. It's just true. So it doesn't matter who said it if it's true. Remember that. If it's not true, you will remember who said it. Okay. So anyway, getting back to the Beethoven- well, actually one more example by Beethoven right before he wrote this quartet and the other quartets that go with it, Beethoven wrote Fidelio.

Which took quite a few years. And the prison scene, which I know is close to the hearts of these people, because this quartet plays in prisons quite a lot. Right? When did they let you out, exactly? No, (inaudible). But in the dungeon scene, in the prison scene, we have, the same chord that begins the quartet is this. (music) We have it like this. (music)

And then one note drops and we can resolve. Then another diminished chord, and it resolves. Now, some of you have heard me say a lot about diminished chords, but in order to fully understand what Beethoven does here, we need to hear a couple of chords. Beethoven basically foreshadows in this, even more than Mozart and Haydn, the whole romantic concept of harmony that is picked up by Chopin and eventually Scriabin and it leads even to early Schoenberg.

It's the idea that music can crawl by half steps from one harmony to another rather than function. Now, by function I mean it has a purpose. A chord, a harmony has a purpose. Just like in your apartment. It's probably true in prison as well. But in your apartment you have rooms that have functions and the functions have names and that tells you something about what that room is for.

You have a kitchen, you don't do certain things in the kitchen. You do certain things in other rooms. You have a bedroom, a kitchen, you have a bathroom. You may have a dining room, you might have a library. Well, they have names so that you can use them properly and they have things in them. Harmony is the same way.

You have dominant seventh chords which have one purpose, primarily one purpose. (music) Or same thing. If it does something else like this, (music) it is not actually a dominant seventh. It just sounds like one. It's actually got another name. For those of you who like the names, fine, augmented sixth chord. (music) It sounds just like a dominant. And you have other chords like the diminished chord which starts this piece.

I know I've talked about this before, but I'm going to do it again. Okay? Now, the diminished seventh chord. (music) If you lower any one note a half step, you get a dominant. That means you have four dominants. They all become like a kitchen in a different apartment building. In other words, if a key is an apartment itself with all those rooms, then you can go from apartment to apartment by lowering only one half step.

How's that for a mixed metaphor? Now, to make that clear, I've rewritten this so that we can hear what would happen if each one of them had a turn at lowering a half step, but going where Beethoven would have gone. So, for example, let's hear the first one. This is what Beethoven actually wrote, but we're only going to play a little bit of it. Shallow drops.

Okay. So what you just heard was the cello was the one who lowered and we have what sounds like a dominant. (music) So it could have done this, but it turns out to be an augmented sixth. All right. So first we have the diminished chord, which could be in many keys, right? It could be anywhere. We don't know where.

So at that time, a diminished seventh chord starting a piece was shocking. It's not insulting or anything like that. It's just shocking. It's like... It's still a little shocking. And it's also forte and it drains away. And then you get one note lowered in the cello and we have, again, a possibility of a key. We're hearing it in the back of our minds.

And it's not that one. All right. So let's say that we had the violin one be the person who moves and the cello doesn't. Same diminished chord, but violin one drops a half step. (music) Okay? It's exactly the same chord progression, but a different instrument has taken us there so we're in a different key. Instead of going to A minor because of that, we ended up in C-sharp minor.

Or did we? No, we didn't. Sorry. We're in C minor. C minor. Not C-sharp. I was standing on a half step over here. And, now, the next one, the second violin is going to be, maybe you should play a little bit louder because you're an inner voice. The second violin is going to move. (music) See, it's very similar each time, but completely different.

Harmonically, the structure of each of these is exactly the same, but they're in different keys. That's what's so amazing about choice. You know, the creative process is about choice. Beethoven- well, let's do one more and then I'll make that speech. Okay. Now the violist has a chance to move. (music) And the last one is with the cello dropping. But instead of going harmonically to A minor, we treat the chord that we arrive at as a dominant and go to the key of B flat minor. (music)

Now that's the only one that's completely different. And it sounds like it's over because that's one reason he would definitely not do that. And if he did decide to do this, (music) if he did decide to resolve it, he would have had to write a melody. See what I mean? If you did that, you could keep going. But he didn't want to have any melodies.

Did you notice there's no tunes here? This is just chords and silences. So that's actually kind of shocking. The Haydn one is full of melodic lines and the Mozart is full of melody and pulse. This one is actually the weirdest one because of the silences and the lack of harmonic rhythm. It just floats. So he couldn't have put any chord that sounds like the right resolution because he would have been forced to write a tune.

So that's a very elaborate part of the creative process, you know? So, he does this (music) and he's thinking, "Well, I could do that. I could do this. I could go... Ah, it's all the same." No, it's not. The one on the bottom, he put it on the bottom so that he could move in certain harmonic areas. I mean, in other words, it all could have been the same, but he would have been in a different key and he knew where he wanted to go.

Now, since this diminished chord starts the piece, the first note that has any identity of its own is the cello note. Right? Because everything else is- this is a chord. Then when this happens, our attention is drawn there. And so we're listening to (singing) And the F and E, the first two notes that actually mean something in particular that have focus become the obsession of the entire movement. F and E. Now, of course, half step too.

But the number of times those two notes, F and E are guiding the movement are, it's just everywhere. Okay, and we'll take a look at that. Now, after he does that, I'll just take you through this at the piano to go a little faster. The other thing that's happening is that the third beat, the last, the upbeat of every measure is where things move after this. (Music)

Now it starts. And then... there's a down beat here. What I should say is, is always a alone instrument. Three. One. It keeps giving you this feeling of (singing) which also plays rhythmically a part of it. Now, if you play, let's play the last chord before the Allegro and let's just hold it. (music) Okay, now, the top note, the F, because we're used to listening to things melodically and because that was the first note that had any function, we're kind of expecting something to happen to it.

Now, let's go on and hear what happens. Give us the beginning of the allegro. (music) Okay, that was good. This chord, you're waiting and waiting and waiting, and you want it to resolve, right? Finally. If it were Mozart or Haydn in the tempo of what they had been doing, you would have had. (music) And even if it went to Allegro, it would have, first, (music) something like that.

But instead he goes... (music) The allegro starts with an upbeat and you can't tell if it's an upbeat or downbeat. You are really, you're in trouble. You can't tell if it's an upbeat or a downbeat. You can't tell why it's so short. You can't tell what time signature you're in, which has actually just changed. Then he tries to establish with some melody what's going on.

However, I want to draw attention to the F and E for a moment. That's an F, E, F, E, F. Okay? So, he's beginning to drill that in and then you have. (music) So when it comes to rest, F, E, we had E, F answered by F, E. Now if this starts to drive you crazy, it's good. Okay. Because it is an obsessive aspect of Beethoven's piece.

What is he doing? Why is he focusing, and you'll see more and more and more all the climactic moments, they're all half step climactic moments. Many of them are on E and F or have E and F in the harmony. What is that about? It has to do with the concept of the opening being ambiguous and mysterious, pulling something out of it to hold onto, and then being determined to make that positive.

That's the feeling we get to. I mean, because Beethoven, you know, he had in real life his deafness and many other things, that being by far the worst problem. And as he was working on the Razumovsky Quartets. This is a famous moment in his personal life. He wrote on the sketches for the Razumovsky Quartets, "Let my deafness no longer be a secret, even in my art." Now, no one ever really can figure out what exactly he meant by that.

And many people, including me, I have dug around looking for evidence of his deafness in his art. I found a couple of there are quite a few places where he seems to be writing about hearing issues, which is really interesting. But in this piece, if you take the mood of that statement, he went from a miserable state to a state where he accepts his misery as part of the creative process.

That is a huge leap. Actually, when you think about prison, that's kind of exactly it. Right? Which is to take the thing you suffer from and instead of hiding it, instead of blocking it, you not only just accept it, you make it who you are and make it positive. That is the symbol of Beethoven. That's what he did.

Now, people write a lot about freedom. Beethoven writes about freedom a lot. That's true. There's a lot about freedom. Fidelio is about freedom. Freedom is, according to the philosophers of the time, freedom was what a human being has to get and search for and all that's true. But at a personal level, it was a kind of freedom, freedom to be normalized, to be normal in society.

Now, you might know the Heiligenstadt document, but if you don't, I'm not going to read the whole thing. It's very long. I'm going to read a couple of moments from it because in in 1802, he wrote a will because he thought he was going to kill himself. He had every reason to be as suicidal as anyone in history because he was completely alone.

I mean, he had relatives, but his mental state was completely alone. He, as a composer, was losing his hearing rapidly, and he could not hear most of what people were saying to him. He couldn't hear the music he was writing very well. And he didn't want to tell people except his doctor and Prince Lichnowsky. A few people knew. Of course, many people knew more than he imagined.

These are a couple of paragraphs from the Highland Good Start document, which is called that because he moved to the country in Heiligenstadt and he considered suicide, but instead wrote a will, thinking that the will would be because he's going to kill himself. But in the middle of the will, he decides to live because of music.

It's a really famous document. When I was in Heiligenstadt a long time ago on a tour, the tour guide was a young woman whose German was good, her English was not, which is now, you never find anyone there who doesn't speak English better than a politician in the United States. But, basically, at that time, she said in English that he killed himself there, which is not true.

He never killed himself. So I had to correct her and she never understood what I was saying. It was terrible. This is from the Heiligenstadt document. "Though born," Beethoven writing, "Though born with a fiery, active temperament, even susceptible to the diversions of society, I was soon compelled to isolate myself, to live life alone. If at times I tried to forget all this, how harshly was I flung back by the doubly sad experience of my bad hearing?

Yet it was impossible for me to say to people, 'Speak louder. Shout, for I am deaf.'" Moving on in the document, "Forgive me when you see me draw back when I would have gladly mingled with you. My misfortune is doubly painful to me because I am bound to be misunderstood. For me, there can be no relaxation with my fellow man, no refined conversations, no mutual exchange of ideas.

I must live almost alone like one has been banished. I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes me and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed." Moving on later in the document, "Such incidents drove me almost to despair. A little more of that, and I would have ended my life.

It was only my art that held me back. It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me." So it's great that he was so accomplished at that time and knew it and had a sense of mission. So that's really what this piece can be imagined to be about.

I've read a lot of writings about this piece and unfortunately people keep saying that this is a throwback to classical like he's a tribute to Haydn, a tribute to Mozart. Well, we just saw that there's a reference to Haydn's creation, perhaps in a reference to Mozart's dissonance. But these are not tributes. This is a breaking free of that and making a statement about it.

This movement is showing that the darkness is something he personally experienced in a way that no one else has. And the light is his determination. And this movement is bigger than any quartet movement before it. I mean, all the Razumovskys are hugely bigger. And then after that, of course, he expands and changes the Quartet on a regular basis.

So, we get into this E, F thing. I think what would be interesting to do is to find a couple of places in the piece, don't worry, I found them already, where there's Es and Fs dominating the situation. So we already had the very beginning which goes (music) and there it is again. And then when this happens (music) right there, we have... (music) And again. (music)

So those chords were picked because of the F and the E. In other words, he didn't have to do it that way. And there are a lot of choices. Remember, you know, the creative process in any field and composition is all about choices. So there's a concept, there's a sense of improvization and working it out possibly at the piano.

But he was pretty deaf. He apparently sat at the piano and, you know, I think I understand this completely. If I had my ears completely plugged and I couldn't hear anything still playing the piano, I would hear what I was doing better than if I wasn't playing the piano, because I know what it's supposed to sound like. You know, it's neurologically hooked up from years of doing that.

So, moving on, let's start at, well, how about right at this thing where I was? That's 37, 38, 39, 40. Is this... (music) Somewhere in there. (music) Okay, great. Now I'm going to draw your attention to the number of times the E and the F is the turning point. We already heard the first part, but this (music) this tune could have been... (music) It could have been any phrase like that, but it keeps turning right on the F to the E. F, E and E, F.

And then, of course, it also comes down. (music) It stops there, too, on the F and the E. And then this huge leap (music) is followed by (music) E and F. Now, I'm not saying there aren't other notes along with the E and F but the E and the F are continually put in different contexts and the melodies are constructed so that they are usually the starting and ending point.

And then when something new happens, they appear again. Now, if he's in a key where that doesn't work, he's going to have to skip it. Let's look at another great spot. Bar 80. Can you started bar 82? (music) Okay, 81 is probably better. Yeah, sure. (music) Okay, great, great, great. Thank you. So what happened there is he went to the key of E minor, which is, it's not that strange, but he, right here, (music) this chord is five of E minor and then in E minor have an F sharp.

Alright? So it should have been, (music) but that doesn't happen. Instead the E goes to an F. How does he get away with that? He gets away with it, actually, because what I mean by that is it become sensible and comprehensible and probably another 'ensible because the F gives us an augmented sixth chord. Remember that sound? We go (music) but that augmented sixth chord which would go back to here to stay in E minor is also the dominant of C where he goes back.

So what you're playing with is the ambiguity of the meaning of a functioning of a chord. In other words, it's a pun. In other words, it's a double meaning. And this is the key to a lot of harmonic thinking from the classical period. More and more and more and more through the romantic period, where it becomes completely dominating, the idea of inharmonic, which, like, the fact that you can hear a chord two different ways and it can do two different things.

And, remember, the piano only has, or the Western music, 12 notes repeated, repeated, repeated. So ambiguity is a gift. We need ambiguity, otherwise everything's obvious. We would have been done writing music a long time ago. So the ambiguity that's built in is not there from some instrument maker or some other source than composers. That the imagination of how else can something resolve?

And more and more, it actually makes a lot of sense that the keyboard helped composers do this. And I'll give you an example. Here's a diminished chord. (music) Same one. If I lower the bottom note, we have that dominant or augmented sixth. If I lower now another note in the middle, I have another chord Beethoven's uses throughout this piece, which is you don't have to know the name of it for any test, believe me.

But it's a dominant seven with a lower fifth, then if I lower the top, I get the Tristan chord, not in the right inversion, but I get the half diminished chord. Then if I lower the third, I'm back to another diminished. I could have just done this. But I'm doing it crawling like a spider across the keys. That concept of not dealing with function but dealing with voice, leading of things, crawling and creeping and leading in unexpected ways.

That is what the romantic harmony that comes later is all about. And Beethoven is exploring it not only in the opening, he's exploring it in more fun, playful ways throughout. In other words, it's as if he was in prison with, in Fidelio himself, or as if he was truly imprisoned by his deafness and realizes that the same things that torture him can become a life force.

Those half steps, just to make it musical for a moment, those half steps that can change everything don't have to change everything for the worse. And they don't have to change things to make them darker or make them incomprehensible. They can be changed to be humorous. They can be light, they can be charming. This is the exact same chord progression.

So he does those things over and over throughout the piece. So let's keep going. Another F, E spot. Let's go right before the first ending, maybe two bars before the first ending. (music)

Yeah. So the viola is, and yes, (singing) E, F, E, F. It's like, "Okay, let's get back." And then the first violin gets convinced by the viola, "Okay, let's go right back to the beginning." You heard that right? I don't have to do that ten more times? Okay. Now, the second ending is very similar and the E, F is still there.

Let's go maybe the same spot, two bars before and then to the second ending. (music) Let's try two bars before the first ending and go to the second ending. (music) Okay, now the reason I let them go a little further is that they end up in the key of E-flat Major. And E-flat is one of the keys that is in that maze of wandering through keys.

And that's why I'm saying that, actually, everything that happens in the fast, fun, playful part of this piece, which is by far the most part of this movement, is hinted at in some way in that opening. So E-flat Major was an unknown territory in the introduction and it felt far away. How do I get out of here?

But then here it's fun. It's the same key. And he got there in a similar way and he's having a good time. Another big E, F spot, let's go to, let's say 129, 28, 127? Oh no, even before that. Sorry, how about 123 with the pickup? (music) Okay, great. Great. Now there were a lot of them there. Quite a few.

If E, F is now in your head, you've probably heard how many strange things happen. But I'll just draw your attention to it. First, we're in E-flat which has no E in it. It has an E-flat. I mean, normally it has no E. So, (music) And we have... (music) but then all of a sudden it changes.

On the note E is what changes the key. E to F and then at the end of that phrase, the E leads us to the key of F major. Before, when we had this chord, it went like this. (music) The wrong place. (singing)

And we also had this chord (music) taking us... (music) But here we have (music) going to the actual key of F major. Okay. So there may be a few more and there are. But instead of do them all because there are so many, a couple of other strange things. You already heard that the very beginning of the Allegro, there's a weird ambiguity of rhythm.

You don't know if this is the downbeat or an upbeat. (music) It becomes clear that the rhythm... (music) We start to get the sense of a pulse and obviously the rhythm... (singing) and also (singing) just those two notes. It's obsessive. These two little notes are enough for him to hold on to. He doesn't need much to create the feeling of a whole piece.

You know, sometimes people talk about Beethoven on the street in a cafe, whatever. And they say that he was always able to create a huge structure out of nothing. It's true, but it's not exactly true because they'll say the idea is this little note or the idea of these two notes or the idea of these three notes.

It is. That's what it feels like. But the idea is not the three notes. The idea is the structure. The three notes are the motif that he's using to make the structure. In other words, it's a minor point, but it's important compositionally because I've seen composition classes where somebody says Beethoven used very small motifs. I want you to take this.

(music) Or... (music)

And write a sonata based on that. Let's see what happens. Of course, if you're doing it, it's because you already understand the Sonata concept and the structure and how to do that. Otherwise you can't do anything. I mean, you could do something else perhaps. But the idea is not, that motif is not the point. The point is the procedure and the structure and the narrative structure.

And the narrative structure isn't going to be interesting if it doesn't have an emotional connection to reality for the person doing it. It's not going to do anything. So the emotional connection to reality is, as I was saying for Beethoven, that taking a small idea and holding onto it and making something of it is proof of that he can make the world a positive place for himself.

It is about willpower. His music is about determination, and his music is about an unrelenting positive energy to take the darkness or to take some kind of oppression, in Fidelio, or to take a limitation in an idea and push it all the way to triumph. So the idea is so big, it's not this little thing. This little thing is a unit that's used to do that.

It's like, you know, if I give someone a brick and say, this is all you need if you're a genius to create a cathedral. But they don't know what a cathedral is. How are they going to start? You have to have the whole concept before you can use a brick. All right. Now, rhythmically speaking, Beethoven does couple of things that are absolutely wild and original here.

Let's start at 150. And what he does is he's taking that rhythm from the beginning. (singing) Not much to work on, right? (singing) And he obsessively takes it through distant keys and then compresses it. Here, let's hear this. (music) Stop. Thank you. (singing) There's the E, F bringing us back to the opening. Isn't that remarkable? Now, that, in a sense, that section is a summary of the entire piece because it starts with a kind of ambiguity.

It starts with obsessiveness. And, you know, there is a relationship between no rhythm, suspended rhythm and a continual repeated rhythm, which might as well be no rhythm because you're not going anywhere. It's exactly the same. It's a parallel idea. So he takes that through some keys that we don't know. And what's amazing is also that diminuendo and it gets very quiet.

Because as it gets quiet, he's taking you, again, more inward to that spot where possibly the depression or the limitation or the wall is. And then it starts to go the other way and it gets lighter harmonically by opening up. The flats disappear. It actually gets higher. In other words, it lifts harmonically and it increases to double time rhythmically and suddenly. It's an explosion of positive energy.

It's great. There's another spot similar to that which we will go to right now, which is, let's see. Where's the perfect spot? Well, let's start right on it. 213, 14, 15 to 216? (music) Okay. I hate to stop you. That was great. Isn't that crazy? Because the first time, you know, I mean, I'm just going to say the obvious, but that's okay.

Sometimes that's necessary. The first time the rhythms are quarters and then they become eighths, and then it's the harmony you concentrate on in the dynamics and it explodes this time in a much shorter. He's compressing that idea to such an intense small space that it has to get much, much faster and it goes into sixteenth notes and then explodes.

So Beethoven actually uses rhythm differently than anybody before him because he uses it in an emotional manner that is very different than the conventions that he heard all his life. In other words, there's nothing before Beethoven in Western classical music, let's say, but still really nothing, because it's a whole different world. If you go looking at, let's say, the rhythms of India or something, there's nothing to do with this.

It's completely different. So he takes a pattern at the beginning, is completely suspended. And the idea is that because of the harmony and the rests and the slowness of the pace, you have no idea if there's any rhythm. In fact, it could have been written out today. Somebody might just write a framatta over each one and give you no idea how long to play those chords.

It's better with an inner pulse for the musicians, actually. It's a little more intense, but it's just floating. Then you get these rhythms that start to pulse and he compresses them to faster. This idea of, you know, the word stretto in Italian means to narrow. And in music, the word stretto means usually that the voices of a few come in sooner than they did before.

So you have a theme and a theme and a theme, and then when it comes in later, the themes get in, they enter closer. Why are they entering closer? Because the walls are narrowing. They have no room. The word stretto comes from that. So in other words, if you have four people walking down the street and suddenly the walls are narrow, they're either going to have to go single file or climb on top of each other or something.

And that's what he does here. He, without changing the meter, which is the the time signature, the rhythm becomes compressed. You know, there's a difference between rhythm and meter. Meter is like four, four, two, three, four. But what you do over it, (singing) that's rhythm. So rhythm is the life of the, that is within, lives within a meter.

And what he does is the meter then becomes compressed, but artificially because he doesn't change it. It's within what they do. The rhythm sounds like the meter is getting narrower and narrower. I want to hear that one again because that one drives me crazy. Let's do the exact same thing again. And go on a little like you did. (music)

Okay. And let me ask you, what do you think are the two high notes that get repeated over and over? E and F? Yes. At first it starts with E and F (music) and then it goes (music) and the E and F are (music) and then when it ends, at the very end of the phrase (music) F and E. Now, you say, "Well, so what?

It's just ending." (music) I didn't actually hear anyone say, "So what?" But anyway, but it could have gone like this (music) or (music) but it doesn't. It goes... (music) So it ends F, E and that's when, I mean, that reinforces it even further. I think we could hear this whole movement at this point. Oh, we better, actually.

So I'll sum up what I've been saying by repeating the entire thing really fast, compressed. But, again, there are two important points. Maybe three. But among the two important points are that Beethoven uses just a few notes and rhythms, but that's not the idea of the piece. The idea is that those things are taking him from depression to elation.

He doesn't need much to save his life. And that's the message of so many of his pieces. They can be vastly different from each other. And I just read an entire book on how all of his music is about freedom, and it's a really good book called Beethoven And Freedom. It's really very good and very hard to read because it's quoting philosophers who don't speak any language known to man, but deeper than freedom is the personal journey of the self.

And that is where composers normally write from. You know, there's an organization that I just learned about myself that connects people on the Internet. It's an organization that only talks about composers working under oppression. And it has a lot about the composers working under Nazi Germany, composers working in the Soviet Union. And it has history before that.

And it has history since. It's very interesting. And still, whether it's Shostakovich or Schulhoff or any of these people who suffered or died in various ways under oppression, the the deep message of a composer is still going to be personal, because that's how you write. And with Beethoven, yeah, there was the French Revolution and there was Metternich and there was politics and there was Prince Lichnowsky and Razumovsky and all of these people whose lives impacted everything he did every moment of the day, Archduke Rudolph, all of the aristocracy who had complete power. They were probably less than 1% of the population who had complete control over everybody in Europe.

But when it comes down to it, the deafness is probably what he's writing about. Okay, so here's the first movement of Opus 59 Number Three. (music)

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