String quartet op. 131
Beethoven’s last string quartets make us look down into the deepest human abysses and perceive the greatest tragedies. But there are also gratefulness, healing and an enigmatic joyfulness in many of the movements which touch our heart. Beethoven’s dualistic spirit can be seen particularly well in the quartet op.131. If you ask yourself what it means to turn within, you can experience a stupendous example of inwardness. The music never stays in one particular place or sphere. No fixation on melodies disturb its movement and liveliness. Beethoven himself said that his quartets of the late 20ies of the 19th century were not composed for the audience of his time, but for a future audience. And even today the thought may arise: ‘’Yes, these works might have been composed in the 20th century, they are so new, so modern’’. Or ’’are we still not ready for them?’’
Like many of Beethoven’s other works, the op. 131 belongs to the heritage of humanity. The human being lives in the relentless multi-dimensionality of this world community, of globalization, greed, fate energies and moral questions. The string quartet op. 131 states the reality and it leads and consoles us. Only later, with the string quartet op. 135, will the human being finally step into the light.
Recommendation: Leonard Bernstein, Wiener Philharmoniker, Streichquartett op. 131 für Streichorchester (DG)
Piano sonata op. 111
No, this is not Beethoven’s last piano piece. It seems, however, as if it carried the listener away into the purest spheres! -
There it is again, this cry from Fidelio: “God, how dark it is here!”
And what darkness of this world the first movement dramatizes, as if it wanted to capture all the highs and lows, all the sadness, depressions, ecstasies and chaos, all the horror. There are instability and crisis elements, but in between there are also joyful outlooks: There is another world! And then again there is the excessive heartbeat, the auricular fibrillation, the hypertension and the premonition of death.
There are signs of aging, arthrosis, pain: The kinds suffering are incomparable.
I want to get out of here!
Then there is the second movement, which is the last movement of this sonata: The first chord in the arietta touches our heart:
This is where I want to go!
Time is standing still!
It is the inwardness and the end piece of perfection!
It is the ascent to lighter heights, into the starry spheres – it is a cosmic nirvanic super-world journey through the open gate between the clouds – it is transfiguration.
Richard Strauss asks in one of his four last songs: “Is this death?” – There is no polarity any longer– there is the outermost and the purest of the pure.
Igor Stravinsky writes about this final movement of the sonata op. 111: There are sounds like “the heavens themselves and the planets, like our own midst, which heed the measure and the place. His power of music becomes a power of and over time. Thus, there are states like a time vacuum, a practical standstill, slow motions and the unexpected becomes the expected.”
Richard Wagner exclaims: “This is heavenly! This is my whole teaching! This is the development in a non-violent person of his will, dialogue and behavior: No death, so that he may live!
In this piano sonata with two movements, and five years before his death, Ludwig van Beethoven mapped a path of development out of the sphere which in Buddhism is called “the wheel of birth and death”, to a pure, spiritual and heavenly existence.
The ascent leads us through unknown territory into the seemingly “bottomless”.
Illumination radiates above humanity.
There it is: the security in the spiritual haven of unthought-of salvation.
Odes of joy!
Uniqueness of the expression! Enormity of form!
Departure, escape, protective zones behind all the borders, a look back on the serpentines below, peace, freedom and love!
The abandonment of the ego!
The end of the circle.
A good-bye full of hope for humanity.
The final accord: the form wafts away. -
Recommendation: Igor Levit (Sony)
Many spiritual and religious currents recommend an “inward journey”. In our normal consciousness, the I-personality, with its energies of will, dominates us and wants to maintain and cement its appearance on the outside if possible.
A spiritual work, the search for the spiritual, consists of breaking up and penetrating the armor of our normal self consciousness. On this inner path, there will then be a spiritualization and the recognition of the powers of our ego and will. New dimensions of consciousness can be opened.
Beethoven’s late work is prototypical for this process. This effort is manifested in many places in his music. With his compositions, he draws from spiritual sources and leads the listener away from futile situations such as abysses, illnesses and death, to consolation, illumination, fulfilment and spirituality. Beethoven’s revolutions in art and culture are almost innumerable. He succeeds in doing what was impossible before, he creates the whole energy of a piece from one single tone without needing a melody to do so.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote to his wife about Beethoven: “I have never seen an artist that was more concise, energetic and profound. I can imagine how the world must see him as someone strange.”
He was well aware of his task in this world. Beethoven writes:
“Music is the only non-physical entrance into a higher world of knowledge. Music is the devotion to the divine and the possibility to isolate a manifestation of the spiritual for the human being and to make him aware of it. Music is a higher manifestation and it is more than wisdom and all the philosophy in the world. Music has a very intimate and inseparable relationship with the totality of harmony, of unity.”
The writer Franz Grillparzer, in his funeral speech about Beethoven, said: “Until his death, he kept a humane heart towards all beings - a fatherly attitude toward his family and the whole world. Thus, he was, thus he died, thus he will live forever. You have not lost him. You have gained him. No living being steps into the hall of immortality…. He is amongst the great ones of all times, untouchable forever.”
Huch, Felix: Beethovens Vollendung, 1931 (Langewiesche-Brand)
Kaiser, Joachim: Beethovens 32 Klaviersonaten, 1975 (Fischer)
Konzertführer Ludwig van Beethoven, 1988 (Schott)
Lockwood, Lewis: Beethoven. Seine Musik. Sein Leben. 2009 (Bärenreiter)
Leitzmann, Albert: Beethovens Persönlichkeit, 1914 (Insel)
Said, Edward: Musik ohne Grenzen, 2010 (C. Bertelsmann)
Muthmann, Klaus Derick: Musik und Erleuchtung (Hieber)
Briefe Beethovens an Bettine von Arnim/ Brentano
Rosen, Charles: Der klassische Stil, 1983 (Bärenreiter)
Grillparzer, Franz: Rede am Grab Beethovens