Saturday, December 16, 2017

Happy Birthday, Ludwig von Beethoven!

Ludwig von Beethoven
Beethoven remains the single most influential figure in the history of Western music, having composed some of classical music's most lasting and popular pieces, including nine symphonies (in particular the Eroica, the 5th, 7th and 9th (with it's famous Ode to Joy), the opera Fidelio, Missa Solemnis, many of the greatest string quartets ever written (including the classic String Quartet No.14), five piano concertos (capped by the popular Piano Concerto No.5), Piano Sonata No.30, the Coriolan Overture, Violin Concerto in D, the Kreutzer Sonata and many more!

Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany on December 16, 1770. His father was a court musician who had hopes of making money by exploiting his son as a child prodigy. At the time, Vienna was the place where any German or Austrian musician had to go to acquire a reputation, and it's where Beethoven landed, just a year after Mozart's death.

Beethoven had previously visited Mozart in Vienna and had hoped to study composition with him, but ended up studying with Haydn. Beethoven's music has become a testament to the human spirit in the face of cruel misfortune.

His 32 piano sonatas, which he wrote in bursts throughout his career, experiment with form in all directions, using the full expressive range of an instrument that was itself changing rapidly, growing louder and with an ever greater range of notes. 

Benjamin Appl sings "An der ferne Geliebte":

His songs have not gained the popularity that his other works attained, possibly because his emotions came out in the piano parts rather than the vocal lines. Nonetheless he left us the glorious An die ferne Geliebte song cycle, the six Gellert settings, folksong arrangements and, perhaps his greatest song, Adelaide.  

Adelaide was composed in 1794 or 1795 and was the composer's favorite song, which he played  in an 1815 concert in celebration of the Empress of Russia's birthday.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau sings Adelaide:

Adelaide is structured like a sonata in miniature, with a middle passage that goes through several keys. The first verse of the setting, for example, in which the poet describes wandering in a garden during a spring night, is tranquil; in the second, when he describes seeing the face of his beloved in the grandeur of nature, the music is far more stately; in the third, the piano vividly depicts both rushing waves and the song of the nightingales. Throughout, however, the overall tone, one of ecstatic contemplation, is the same. One of the song's most important unifying elements is the tender repetition of the name "Adelaide." 

The quartet from Fidelio:

Fidelio, Beethoven's only opera, dates from the heady days of revolutionary idealism, but its cry for freedom has echoed through the centuries.  The opera premiered at the Theater an der Wien in November 1805, only days after Napoleon and his army had occupied Vienna. Fidelio seemed to have all the ingredients for success, but the initial performances were a disaster, attended by sparse crowds, which included the composer’s friends and a handful of stray French soldiers. It is best remembered for the Prisoners' Chorus ("O welche Lust" - "O what a joy"), an ode to freedom sung by a chorus of political prisoners, a glorious vocal quartet, Fidelio's magnificent aria "Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin?" and Florestan's aria "Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!," which he sings from deep inside a dark dungeon.

Walter Berry sings Ha! Welch ein augenblick:

Fortunately, Beethoven also left us the sinister aria "Ha! Welch ein augenblick," sung by the evil bass-baritone Don Pizarro, who orders that Florestan be killed.

ONLY 15 DAYS LEFT TO ORDER our 2018 Barihunks Calendar, which includes 20 of opera's sexiest men is now available for purchase HERE. In response to reader demand, we've also added a Barihunks Photo Book this year, which includes additional photos that don't appear in the calendar. You can purchase that HERE. The New Year is approaching faster than you think.

1 comment: