"Coversheet of Beethoven's Op. 130 as published in Berlin on June 2nd, 1827." (Caption and illustration via Wikipedia).
By Eric Wagner, guest blogger
This week please read sections 1 – 3 of chapter 10 (pg. 303 - 327) and listen to Op. 130 repeatedly. Please comment on this week’s reading/listening and continue to comment on previous weeks’ readings/quartets.
I hope all goes well. Kerman emphasizes this quartet’s problematic nature due to the fact the Beethoven decided to remove the original finale and publish it separately. Please keep in mind that Beethoven contemplated breaking up the Hammerklavier and the Ninth Symphony in a similar fashion. Beethoven sometimes felt ambivalent about his most radical compositions.
I love how Bob Wilson wrote about the Hammerklavier. Op. 130, with its original ending, seems the quartet analogue for that sonata, ending with an earth shaking, unprecedented fugue.
Pg. 321 – “And the Great Fugue, Schindler’s ‘Monstrum aller Quartett-Musik’ - who would have thought of yoking this giant with a midget like the Presto second movement?” I once saw the Phoenix Suns play the Washington Bullets when 7’7” Manute Bol and 5’3” Muggsy Bogues both played for the team. They would often come off the bench at the same time, and, with their bright blue and red uniforms, I found the visual effect quite trippy.
The Grand Fugue became the first Beethoven Quartet I completely loved and related to upon first listening. Obviously a work of genius, this is my current favorite by far.
In the Fugue chapter, Kerman seems to deliberately introduce a spiritual subtext at times while writing about the music. For instance, he mentions “striving for the supertonic” at one point. I just learned that a supertonic is what they call the second note in the scale, the note above the tonic. Many such instances appear in this chapter that could easily suggest spiritual work and transformation. The last paragraph on p. 295 and the first paragraph on p. 296 especially hit the head on the nail if one considers very basic qabalistic allusions.
This sentence reminded of a central thesis behind Deleuze’s “Difference and Repetition”: “The importance lies not in the number, of course, but in the fact of variation and in the new dimension of feeling that each new chord seems to bring with it.” (p.296) It seemed to me that the concept of the musical fugue made a great illustration of Deleuze’s notion of difference in repetition so I googled it. I didn’t immediately find anything directly related, but did find what looks like a great paper on music and postmodernism:
It had this quote:
“… in some ways ‘postmodern’ philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze argued that tonic experimenters such as Béla Bartók were more successful in creating something drastically new which genuinely broke with the bounds of previous convention (Deleuze and Guattari, “A Thousand Plateaus” p. 349–50).”
At the conclusion of the project with Ludi Van Beethoven Hinrichs, after getting him to sign Kerman’s book with his full name, I asked him what he thought of his namesake’s Quartets. He said he loved the late quartets particularly the one in B flat ( the Great Fugue) - “ it’s very avant garde almost like Bartok.” I went through a period of listening to lots of Bartok some years back. Maybe that explains why the Great Fugue sounds so familiar.
The first movement of op. 131 sounds feminine, to me. It expresses great beauty, softness and delicacy like a larval butterfly’s wings getting ready to fly.
Sombunall of the descriptive writing from the first movement of Chapter 10 beginning with the second paragraph until the end, (p. 303 – 305) could equally apply to “Illuminatus!,” in my opinion. I don’t find “Illuminatus!” problematic though I expect some readers do.
G.I. Gurdjieff, influenced by Pythogoras, also famously used music concepts, in particular the diatonic scale, to illustrate the process of transformation.
Interestingly, the diatonic scale has seven notes and Op. 131 has seven movements. I could associate these with the chakras and/or the first seven circuits. I may have to read Deleuze's book on Proust. I looked it up on Amazon.
Inspired by Oz' post, I sat down and listened to the Grosse Fuge. It is indeed a great work. But I like a lot of the other late quartet stuff, too.
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