The first series concert of the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival on September 9th includes Hummel’s arrangement for flute, violin, cello and piano of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony. Tim Summers has written an excellent program note for that work in which he discusses the 18th/19th-century practice of making smaller chamber arrangements/transcriptions of orchestral works.
In demonstrating the respected position Hummel held among his contemporaries as much more than a minor composer-arranger, Tim mentions that Hummel was a friend of Goethe. In fact, whether prince or poet, philosopher or scientist, anyone who was anyone at this time in Europe was either a friend of Goethe or aspired to be. Well, almost anyone ....
Beethoven was never really a friend of Goethe even, or especially, after they finally met. Certainly he admired and respected Goethe immensely, set much of his poetry to music, and wrote incidental music to Egmont. For his part Goethe admired Beethoven’s peerless gifts as a composer, but found his music disturbingly untamed.
But the two kept missing opportunities to meet in person. Beethoven especially wanted this meeting so he would have a chance to convince Goethe of music’s place as the pinnacle of the arts. Their contact was held to occasional correspondence until, in 1810, a certain brash young woman took it upon herself to act as a mediator between these two giant egos. In the past some have suggested that she was Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," but most now agree that she was not.
The following account[i] is scene one of the opening act in a drama of three generations. While several versions have circulated over the past two centuries, I’m convinced the story as told here is “roughly accurate.” The protagonists are Beethoven, Goethe and, “between” them, Bettina von Arnim née Brentano. In 1810 they are living the interplay between three generations at the crossroads of "Two Ages" – the Enlightenment and the Romantic.
Märchen, noch so wunderbar,
Dichterkünste machens wahr.[ii]
May 1810 – Spring in Vienna
She had heard one of his sonatas which had overwhelmed her.
In 1810 Beethoven was forty. His increasing deafness notwithstanding, he had just composed the “Appassionata” and “Farewell” Sonatas, the “Harp” Quartet, and the “Emperor” Concerto. He was currently writing the overture and incidental music to Goethe’s drama, Egmont. He was eager to meet and talk with Goethe face to face, but that was not to happen until the storied meeting in Teplitz two years later in 1812.
When Bettina walked into his life, Beethoven was still madly in love with Theresa Malfatti, and he was smarting from her rejection. Bettina’s unexpected appearance was to him a deliverance.
She bends over him –
In 1810 Bettina [Betty] Brentano was twenty-five and looked much younger. She was born in Frankfurt in 1785, the daughter of the beautiful Maximiliana La Roche, whom the young Goethe once loved. Her mother died when Bettina was eight, and her father when she was twelve. Educated first in a convent and then among Protestants, she had always a mystical tendency, without, however, being able to connect it with any religion. Her brilliant gifts of art, poetry and music were encouraged by one of her brothers, Clemens.
After reading Goethe in 1806 at age 21, like countless others she fell under the spell of his poetry and ideas. She succeeded at last in meeting Goethe in 1807, adding the power of his presence to his reputation. We can assume, given Goethe’s liberal sexual proclivities and the passion voiced in their correspondence, that Bettina and Goethe were physically intimate during these years, but the relationship turned “filial” after she met and married the poet Achim von Arnim[iii] and later ceased altogether (outside of occasional correspondence) after a scandalous public incident in an art gallery between Bettina and Goethe's wife Maximiliana (see pp.40-41 in the mini Book Reader below). But however it was realized, Bettina’s affection for Goethe lasted the rest of her life.
Bettina’s contemporaries called her Schwärmerin – dreamer, visionary, sentimentalist, zealot. She called herself Mignon, after the orphan girl in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.[iv]
She was immediately captivated by him.
In 1810 Goethe was sixty-one. In 1806 he had at last married Christiana, with whom he had been living for eighteen years. His son August was seventeen. Four years later (1814) he was to meet Marianna von Willemer and a new spring blossomed in his heart, immortalized in the Westöstlicher Divan.[v]
But in 1810 Goethe did not appreciate sharing Bettina's affections with Beethoven, even – or especially – intellectually and spiritually. During this period he seemed enveloped in an ironic distrust of the younger generation and the new spirit of an age that he, perhaps more than any other individual, brought into existence.
He called the generation that followed unheimlich– unfamiliar, sinister. As mentioned above, he recognized Beethoven’s genius in music, but the composer’s brash, fractious nature put him off. He was still engrossed in the official order of things, and in the tenets of respectability.
She later writes to her friend Prince Pückler-Muskaux
“... just written a fine song for you”?? Beethoven is teasing. Certainly he would have immediately recognized Bettina’s family name, Brentano, when she uttered it. And surely he knew of her relationship with Goethe. That is possibly why, on this occasion, he chose to sing that particular song – one that he had composed a year before to the poem “Kennst du das Land?” – Mignon’s song from Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship.[vi]
“He asked, ‘Well, how do you like it?’
Bettina’s account of Beethoven’s voice is surely on the mark – “harsh,” “far beyond cultivation.” Other accounts say his singing voice was a deep bass. But according to his friend Louis Schlösser, as he became deaf it “lost its sonority.” His laugh was a kind of yelling and his voice was proverbially the voice of a lion. It’s difficult to imagine such a “harsh bass” singing his moving setting of Mignon’s song.
Two years pass. Bettina's fondest wish was to bring her beloved Goethe together with Beethoven – for the two giants to finally meet. It just didn't happen.
Then in July of 1812 all three happened to be in the Bavarian spa town of Teplitz at the same time. The meeting was not arranged by Bettina. It was sheer coincidence. Bettina was not present when the two began to talk.
Goethe, learning that Beethoven was there, made the first move. Bettina did not realize the meeting had occured until Beethoven gave her his version of it. The result was what is now known as "The Incident at Teplitz." You can read the details according to Bettina in Romain Rolland's 1930 essay, Goethe and Beethoven, beginning on page 44 with the words, "Teplitz was then full of emperors, gorgeous archdukes and court ladies."
On pages 50-51 Rolland gives Bettina's account of the famous walk Beethoven and Goethe took together:
At this moment
"The Incident at Teplitz" by Carl Rohlig
[i] This account is a loosely rendered synopsis that freely mixes quotation and paraphrase from the 1931 English translation of Romain Rolland’s 1930 essay, Goethe et Beethoven (Open Library: https://archive.org/stream/goethebeethoven00roll#page/n7/mode/2up) and English translations of the correspondence of Bettina von Arnim from various sources. While (believe it or not) I’ve toned down the purple passages more than a little bit, I couldn’t resist keeping some of the character of Rolland’s – and especially Bettina’s – account, as it seems to me to capture the flower-child spirit of Bettina herself and, with it, a whiff of air from an age irretrievable but for its art.
[ii] “Fables, so full of wonders / Made true by the poet’s art.” Goethe. Motto from Balladen.
[iii] Achim von Arnim was a poet and novelist who, together with Bettina’s brother Clemens Brentano, edited the collection of German folk poems and songs known as Des Knaben Wunderhorn [The Boy’s Magic Horn] which provided texts for lieder by Weber, Loewe, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Zemlinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, and most famously, Gustav Mahler.
[iv] There is a helpful summary by Clive Paget about the significance that the fictional Mignon had to artists and other intellectuals of the Romantic Age (Review: “Malcolm Martineau Traces 100 Years in the Life of Mignon.” Limelight, May 30, 2017). “After Wilhelm buys [Mignon’s] freedom from a brutal circus-troupe director, who had abducted her in Italy and used her as an acrobat [dressed as a boy], she devotes herself completely to her savior whom she grows to love in secret and unrequited. What shaped her reception as a larger-than-life figure is her mysterious background, her poetic existence, .…”
[v] Westöstlicher Divanis available in English translation by Edward Dowden at Open Library: https://archive.org/stream/westeasterndivan00goetuoft#page/n7/mode/2up (The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said, was named after this anthology of poems by Goethe.)
[vi] After Beethoven, “Kennst du das Land?” was set to music by Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Wolf, and others.
Since no one has guessed yet what is atypical or unusual about the recording I posted previously ,
here is a hint:
And here is the recording once more:
Beethoven String Quartet Op.59, No.3/4
Performed by ???????
CCMF artistic co-directors are not eligible for this contest (don't feel bad - I can't afford a prize for a winner anyway.) If no one guesses it over this weekend, I'll post one more hint on Monday or Tuesday. If no one gets it by then, I'll post the answer on September 3rd, three days before the Festival opens.
(Note to musicians & musicologists: the answer has nothing to do with a first-inversion Bb-major triad.)
By Nancy Summers, guest blogger
As in the West, the 20th Century was one of dreadful violence and suffering in Asia. In the midst of these ongoing tragedies, three of the composers whose work will be performed this year in the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival found music, as world traditions of music found them.
Toro Takemitsu, Isang Yun, and Tan Dun lived through the most horrific upheavals and yet came away with music, the universal significance of which cannot be destroyed…
Toro Takemitsu (1930-96) is widely recognized as the first great Asian composer whose work reached an international audience. Born in Japan in 1930, he experienced Total War. At the age of 14 he was forced to work in a labor gang assigned to build an army camp. He was a youth while every major city in Japan was being destroyed by bombs. During this period most Western music was forbidden, and Takemitsu at first associated Japanese music with the bitterness of war. Takemitsu worked with the US army of occupation after the war, and he heard Western music – of all kinds - on the radio! And he loved it all.., Duke Ellington, Olivier Messaien, Debussy, John Cage…And then he returned to his native traditions. and he sought harmony…For Takemitsu, it was not Nature that was his inspiration – which he knew too well could be red in tooth and claw – but the Garden, the harmonies of nature tended by the Gardener (to whom he compared himself) a secured place for birds, not bombs…
[Image: Toru Takemitsu "Study for Vibration" - Etude 1 from Corona for piano - graphic score]
Isang Yun (1917- 95) was born in Korea when it was a colony of Japan, and after Japan entered World War II he joined the Korean independence movement. In 1943 he was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese. Isang Yun was so moved by the suffering he saw during the World War that he established an orphanage for war orphans as well as teaching music. The Korean War is not so present in the historical consciousness of most Americans, but for Koreans, the death and destruction that occurred between 1950-1953 cannot be forgotten. In both his music and his life, Isang Yun, wished always for reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula and reconciliation between East and West. In 1956 Isang Yun moved to Europe where he completed his musical studies and began his career as a composer, one in which he combined Western avant-garde music with traditional Chinese and Korean music.. But the violence of a divided Korea followed him to the West….While living in Berlin in 1964 he was kidnapped by the South Korean Secret Service, brought back to Seoul, accused of espionage, imprisoned and tortured, forced to confess, and sentenced to death. His life was saved by a worldwide petition of artists; the South Korean government let him go…though, they tried to recapture him! Today, Isang Yun is a musical icon in both North and South Korea…This may seem an irony, but it is the kind of end to division that Isang Yun hoped for….
[Image: Isang Yun Autograph from a postcard - work unidentified]
Tan Dun, (1957-) who lives today in New York is perhaps the composer most deserving of the title “world musician”. And yet the beginning of his life in Maoist China could hardly have been more difficult and more limiting. When he was a boy during the Cultural Revolution, his parents were sent away for “re-education”, and he was raised by his grandmother in rural Hunan province. He described himself as “a wild child…living alone, running up mountains barefoot – and being intoxicated only by music”…And then, Tan Dun himself was sent to be “re-educated”, to do backbreaking labor in a rice paddy Even as he worked in the rice paddies, he continued to live his life through music. He listened to all the folk music, wrote it down, arranged it, (using what ever he could find that made noise!) and he became the musical leader of his village…Indeed, today Tan Dun’s music is enriched with the sounds of the shamanist culture he grew up with..
The Cultural Revolution came to an end in 1978, and Tan Dun found himself, “standing on the ruins. Everything's been destroyed. Family's been destroyed, culture [has] been destroyed. And nobody [was] allowed to touch anything Western or ancient. And suddenly you heard Bach. It's like a medicine curing everything you were suffering." When the Central Conservatory reopened in 1978, Tan Dun won one of the coveted spots for composition. And in 1983 he received international recognition, winning the Weber Prize in Dresden for his String Quartet. Tan Dun is today one of the most renowned composer in the world.. His life story, and the life stories of Isang Yun and Takemitsu are indeed tributes to the resiliency of the human spirit, expressing itself in music…
[Image: Tan Dun "Sound & Visual Sketch on Nu Shu's Characters"]
Composer Toru Takemitsu begins his essay “Nature and Music”[i] with these words:
This summer , walking through the fields of Hokkaido, I could not help thinking
This is a fascinating sentence. Like a “good theme” in music[ii], it holds a potential composition like a seed holds a potential plant.
It’s tempting to take the first half of the sentence,
This summer , walking through the fields of Hokkaido,
I could not help thinking ...,
as colorful but superfluous – a kind of grace note attached to the real theme expressed in the rather gray analogy,
... my own thoughts have come to resemble the sidewalks of a city:
rigid and calculated.
But the seemingly superfluous “information” in the antecedent – season and location – actually offers a perspective helpful in understanding Takemitsu’s genius (in the ancient sense of “generative power”) and perhaps the Japanese cultural genius as well.
Take what has become the most famous of all Japanese poetic forms, the haiku. If we ignore the supposed technical requirement of seventeen “on” arranged as three lines of 5, 7, and 5 “syllables,”[iii] we might arrange our superfluous grace note into a free-form haiku:
Walking through the fields of Hokkaido
I could not help thinking
The hallmarks of haiku are here without having to count to 17: a seasonal reference, “summer”; a reference to nature, “the fields of Hokkaido”; and “this summer” serves to “cut” the apposition of “walking” and “thinking.” OK, that’s far-fetched, but not nearly as much as any attempt to do the same to the sentence’s consequent. For example,
Rigid and calculated
My own thoughts –
Sidewalks of a city
No matter how you put it together, it’s prosaic. Nevertheless, both antecedent and consequent, poetry and prose, occupy the same world, and that's the point. It's how Takemitsu deals with the problematic human element – “the tawdry and seamy side of human existence” – in Nature and Music.
... Standing there in a field with an uninterrupted view of forty kilometers, I thought that the city, because of its very nature, would someday be outmoded and abandoned as a passing phenomenon. The unnatural quality of city life results from an abnormal swelling of the nerve endings.
Toru Takemitsu died February 20, 1996. On March 24, a letter to the editor in the New York Times gave the following personal remembrance:
Paula Deitz's article "A Creator of Gardens in Sound, He Looked Only Ahead" [March 3] brought to mind my favorite memory of Toru Takemitsu. It dates back to April 1992, when he was in Seattle as the guest of honor at a weeklong festival devoted to his music.
[I] “Nature and Music” is the first essay in Confronting Silence, selected writings. Toru Takemitsu. Tr. & ed. Yoshiko Kakudo and Glenn Glasow (1995)
[ii] “’A good theme is a gift of God,’ [Brahms] said; and he concluded with a word of Goethe: ‘Deserve it in order to possess it.’” – Arnold Schoenberg, “Heart and Brain in Music” (1946)
[iii] The notion that a haiku must have 17 “syllables” corrupts the form in Japanese which often (but certainly not always) calls for 17 “on” which means “sound.” A fairly good non-popularized sense of haiku can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiku. More about the distinction between “on” and “syllable” can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_(Japanese_prosody). Readers who want to do a deep dive (in English) into the form, its relationship to Zen, and surprising connections to western literature can hardly do better than the works of R. H. Blyth (bio & bib at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Horace_Blyth). Blyth was an accomplished violinist and cellist who spent WWII as a “detainee” in Korea and Japan, often playing western chamber music with several of his Japanese guards.
[iv] Goethe to Eckermann: “[R]eality must give both impulse and material. ... Reality must give the motive, the points to be expressed – the kernel; but to work out of it a beautiful animated whole belongs to the poet.”
Below is a recording of the last movement of
Beethoven's String Quartet No.9 in C Major, Op.59, No.3.
There is something "atypical" about this performance.
Some would call it wrong,
even though there isn't a single "wrong note."
Can you guess what it is?
Leave your answer in the Comments box.
We'll announce the answer – and the winner, if there is one – in a future Beethoven post.
Welcome to the CCMF blog, Learn Globally, Listen Locally.
As your blog host, I look forward to sharing stories, opinions, facts, myths – whether significant or irrelevant – from and about the world of music past, present, and future – a world that you are a part of. The blog title, Learn Globally, Listen Locally, especially as it relates to the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival, will become clear as more posts are added over time.
To attempt to define “the world of music” would be as impossible as trying to define music itself. But we might try to understand it indirectly by pointing and suggesting rather than attempting to nail it down with a definition. Here are three suggestions from names you will all recognize:
The first quote is from Thomas Carlyle’s series of lectures, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, the second is from Confucius’ Analects. The third quote, the words of Beethoven, survive thanks to the correspondence, diary, and memoire of a young woman whom, accurately or not, I like to think of as history’s first “flower child,” Bettina von Arnim née Brentano. Her contemporaries called her Schwärmerin– dreamer, visionary, sentimentalist, zealot. She called herself Mignon, after the orphan girl in Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. She had very close relationships with Beethoven, Goethe and other major players in the Romantic Age. If she were alive today, her Facebook page would read, “Family and Relationships: It’s complicated.” Part of her story will be told in a blog post coming soon.