Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: An Exhilarating Motivic Journey

“Short, short, short, long…” The four notes which open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony outline what is perhaps music history’s most iconic motif. It’s a motif which has been subjected to pop culture cliches and dubious superimposed poetic associations, such as “fate knocking at the door.” This motivic kernel, perhaps derived from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Panthéon, is the seed out of which the entire Fifth Symphony develops. Preceded by a …

Read more

Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto: Youthful Charm

Of Beethoven’s five piano concertos, No. 2 in B-flat major is the least well known. Written primarily between 1787 and 1789, it is some of the composer’s most youthful and vibrant music. In terms of scoring and structure, it follows the model of Mozart. As with Mozart’s concertos, the solo piano and orchestral lines blend together into a sublime musical conversation. The premiere took place in March of 1795 at a charity …

Read more

Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 12, Op. 127

Completed in February of 1825, String Quartet No. 12 in E-Flat Major, Op. 127 is the first of Beethoven’s late quartets. These are the strange, mysterious, and revelatory works which emerged in the final three years of the composer’s life, following the completion of the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. They seem to leave behind all that came before, opening the door to music which transcends style and time period. These six …

Read more

“Là Ci Darem La Mano” from “Don Giovanni”: Mozart’s Most Seductive Duet

Don Giovanni (or Don Juan) is one of literature’s most infamous seducers. In Mozart’s two act 1787 opera—a sublime blend of comedy, melodrama, and supernatural elements— the character takes on a new and intriguing complexity. As the cultural historian, James H. Johnson writes in his essay, Sincerity and Seduction in Don Giovanni, Mozart and the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, “deliberately employ a tone of sincerity that keeps to the surface in conveying Giovanni’s …

Read more

Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis: A Cosmic Expanse of Space and Sonority

The late works of Beethoven are filled with mystery and revelation. They leave behind historical style and convention and assume a timelessness which speaks to posterity. This is the strange, spiritual landscape of the Ninth Symphony, the late string quartets, and the Missa solemnis, Op. 123. While the Ninth Symphony takes an outward journey, culminating with the Ode to Joy’s declaration of universal brotherhood, the Missa solemnis (“solemn mass”), completed around the same …

Read more

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, “Appassionata”: A Turbulent Drama

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor is filled with volatile mood shifts, turbulent drama, and revolutionary fire. It was completed around 1805, during what is now known as the composer’s “heroic” middle period. Beethoven did not provide the familiar and apt nickname, Appassionata. It was added in 1838 when the German publisher, Cranz, created a piano duet version. The pianist Carl Czerny, a student of Beethoven, called this Sonata “the most perfect …

Read more

Beethoven’s Third Symphony, “Eroica”: Music of Revolution

The music of Beethoven, perhaps more than any other composer, embodies the spirit of revolution. It is music filled with ferocious struggle and ultimate transcendence. Heralding the dawn of Romanticism, it signifies the ripping apart of an old order and the emergence of something new. Genteel, aristocratic elegance is replaced by edginess, disruption, and pathos. We hear the music of the court transitioning to the music of the public concert hall. An …

Read more

Send this to a friend