Damn the critics. In no time at all this quartet changed its status from virtually unknown to among my top ten chamber music works. But let’s hear the critics first. The reviewer of the “Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung” denounced in 1811 the “gloomy spirit” of the piece, the “lack of melodic coherence”; he called it an “unnecessary hodgepodge of hard dissonances”. In autumn 1809 Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his String Quartet No. 10 in E flat major (Op. 74), underrated up to this day. “De la classe et de l’esprit après la fureur des canons”, I am tempted to say. French is appropriate in this case, for shortly before Beethoven started to compose this quartet, Napoleon’s troops were advancing on Vienna and the composer suffered greatly from the bombardment by French artillery in May 1809.
Writing about Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor – is that a good idea? Probably not. All has been said about the sonata commonly known as the “Pathétique”, one of the most performed works of music history. You most likely know this work, you most certainly like it and you probably have your own ideas about it. What possibly could I tell you that would be of any relevance? Nothing. Unless…
I don’t trust politicians or so-called statesmen. They are – by profession – in the manipulating business. I keep a safe distance from politics and my creative mind does not have to bow to anyone’s wishes, however mighty he might be. Ludwig van Beethoven was less fortunate. At the beginning of his career, he was vying for the favour of King Frederic William II of Prussia. In May and June 1796 he stayed in Berlin and met the cellist Jean-Louis Deport, who had been asked by the king to join the court orchestra. The king himself was an excellent cellist and he asked Beethoven to write a couple of pieces for cello.
Angry young man, proud young man, what is it that you are trying to hide? Your fierce demeanor will not delude me for I have felt what you feel. The anger, the revolt, the tension – and the arrogance. And over the years I have learned to control these emotional outbursts. Because behind the rage lies the feeling of vulnerability. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9 in A major, Op. 47 fascinates me for the simultaneity of the violence and the fragility it expresses.