Beethoven Pastoral & Tempest Sonatas - Cultural Context, Analysis & Performance
Beethoven is one of the giants of our time. The Ode to Joy (set to a poem of Schiller) has been chosen as the European anthem because of the universality of the humanitarian message which Beethoven passed down to us. We know him as the anti-establishment revolutionary artist, constantly administering stern condemnation on all reactionary governments and imperial tyranny; as nature's bard prophesying the pantheistic message of Goethe, and possessing an almost indigenous spirituality which considers the environment as sacred; he is the Child of the enlightenment, illuminated by the readings of Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Goethe and Kant; a pianist of epic proportions; a hero for the ages in having to live with a disability which meant that he could not hear with his ears that which his mind was creating; and all the while, his music - for all its radical discoveries and sonic revelations - evolved to embody the summation of the Classical Viennese tradition!
It is particularly significant that his music is always acknowledged as a force for good, as a beacon of hope, and the ode to joy had been sung during the Second World War by all nationalities, whether it be by prisoners in Terezin or Japan.
In 1905, the Secessionists of the then-reactionary artistic milieu in Vienna, joined forces to push-back against the imperial regime to create an epic memorial to their hero, and the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt together with Max Kinger's Beethoven statue, both integral exhibits at the Secessionist museum in Vienna, remains an iconic representation of Beethoven as visionary.
Beethoven spent 40 years of his artistic career in Vienna, and his 1802 testament in Heiligenstadt is remarkable, if we consider that the majority of his output was made after coming to terms with his impending deafness.
During the onset of the Pandemic in February 2020, I had the immense experience of listening to the Paris Philharmonie perform Beethoven 9th at the Cité de la Musique under the direction of Riccardo Chailly, and the impact that that performance had on me continues to resonate in my being. The research that I am doing with Franz Liszt has also crossed over into a Beethoven legacy, in light of the fact that Liszt was on the forefront of championing Beethoven's music and using his superstar status to raise awareness about his music.
Lecture-Recital series for the Mazurka Music and Art Society, June-July, 2021, virtual edition of 6 episodes
Part 1: Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata in Cultural Context: Pastoral Art, Natural Philosophy, Ecological Impact
Part 2: Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata in Analysis
Part 3: Beethoven Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28 in Performance
Liszt as Visionary
In many ways, Liszt epitomizes the ideals of the Renaissance artist, in the tradition of Leonardo da Vinci; he is “a universal artist, cosmopolitan in nature.” A virtuoso pianist and a prolific composer, Liszt was the radical precursor of modernity with his Zukunstmuzik (music of the future), anticipating impressionism and even an ascetic form of expressionism – “was he not one of those who started the battle against tonality?”. In early years, Liszt revolutionized the piano recital and became the first pop sensation - “Lisztomania.” In his music of maturity, Liszt developed a religious outlook encompassing Christian-socialist-utopian theories, and a visionary mysticism which permeates even his most Mephistophelian works. As the chosen representative of the New German School, Liszt established an important music culture in Weimar, and was a devoted supporter of composers and pianists of the younger generation including Saint-Saëns, Grieg, Borodin, Smetena, Zarębski, Anton Rubinstein and even Brahms. Liszt was also of seminal influence on the rise of Richard Wagner, and developed critical relationships with Berlioz, Chopin, and Schumann. In compositional spheres, he pioneered omni-tonal and omni-rhythmic techniques, formal synthesis and thematic transformation. An ardent proponent of inter-disciplinary associations of music with literary and dramatic arts, Liszt nevertheless succeeds in transcending the categories of “program” and “absolute” music. Liszt: “My sole ambition is to hurl my javelin into the infinite space of the future”.
 Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924): Italian pianist, composer, scholar, pedagogue.
 Selected writing of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951): Franz Liszt’s Work and Being, 1911
Lecture-Recital at the University of Saskatchewan, Music as Visionary Conference, September 29-30, 2019
The Liszt - Clara Schumann dialectic
The eventual outcome of meeting Clara Schumann (1819-1896) in Vienna in 1839, resulted in Franz Liszt dedicating his Paganini Variations to her. Both pre-eminent concert pianists of their time, Liszt maintained friendly relations with Clara from his early years as a travelling virtuoso and later as the kapellmeister in Weimar – the two pianists even performed Liszt’s Hexameron Variations for piano duet during a concert in Weimar in 1841. Although Liszt’s playing had initially made a profound impact on Clara, she gradually became disillusioned by the theatrics surrounding the “Lisztomania” episodes which transpired during his visits to Leipzig. Notwithstanding their affiliation to opposing trends in German music (Weimar vs Leipzig), Liszt responded to Clara’s pleas for support in arranging an all-Schumann concert in 1854 – dedicated to her ailing husband Robert – in which Liszt conducted and Clara performed as soloist. During this difficult period, Liszt published a glowing article about Clara in the columns of the Neue Zietschrift, with the intention of helping her relaunch her concert career. Clara eventually came to reject Liszt’s compositional style and neglected to include Liszt’s Sonata in B minor in her repertoire. Liszt, however, would continue to be inspired by Clara’s talents not only as a pianist but also as a composer, transcribing three of her Lieder to the piano in 1872. As pianists, both Liszt and Clara Schumann were dedicated to championing the works of their predecessor Ludwig Van Beethoven. Clara had performed Beethoven’s Appasionata Sonata since 1838, whereas Liszt had introduced the little-known Hammerclavier Sonata to European audiences. Both Liszt and Clara were also personally associated with Frederic Chopin and performed his works throughout their performance careers. Chopin himself held both virtuosos in the highest esteem, saying of Clara, “sie spielt, wie man es besser nicht kann.”
Lecture-Recital at Cornell University, NY, Performing CLara Schumann: Keyboard Legacies and Feminine Identities in the Long Romantic Tradition, November 16-17, 2019
The piano cycle Métopes, Op. 29 (1915) by Polish composer Karol Szymanowski
As a result of his voyages to the Mediterranean in 1914, the fascination with classical antiquity and eastern cultures led to the creation of Szymanowski’s unique compositional idiom in the works of 1914-18. Alongside the profusion of musical influences within the European milieu before the First World War, Szymanowski draws on a variety of ‘exotic’ sources. Szymanowski was particulary fascinated by Sicily, and the inspiration for his Métopes, Op. 29 came from the famed reliefs (Métopes) from the temple of Selinunte (an ancient Greek archaeological site) in Sicily. The three piano pieces are intended to outline stages in a history, in this case based on Homer’s Odyssey: L’isle de Sirènes, Calypso, and Nausicaa.
Much of the difficulty in analysing the harmony of the Métopes stems from the fact that Szymanowski made a unique synthesis of very different stylistic worlds. The polarities expressed in the music of Debussy and Schoenberg, seek a resolution in the expression of Szymanowski’s Métopes – in this work, the ‘impressionist’ aesthetic is developed within a higher harmonic complexity found in Debussy, resulting in a highly intractable density of dissonance bordering on Schoenbergian provenance. By virtue of the subtle integration of the various musical currents in Europe leading up to the First World War, Szymanowski successfully defies classification in adhering to any one of the prevailing musical trends. Szymanowski’s blending of musical styles is analogous to his new philosophical perspectives in regards to his awareness and appreciation of the influence of exotic cultures.