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Beethoven Is In Capable Hands

The MHS Review 371 Vol. 10, No. 11 1986

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Paul Kresh

Beethoven is so sacred among us by this time that it is as if not only his name but every note he ever put down had been chiseled in granite.


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Beethoven is so sacred among us by this time that it is as if not only his name but every note he ever put down had been chiseled in granite. The truth is that it took many years for Beethoven to emerge from the shadow of Mozart and become the mighty titan of music whose genius we worship today. Nor were his works committed full-fledged to paper-let alone to granite-in the way Mendelssohn is said to have written out his scores, complete with or­chestration, from the first note on.

The three early piano quartets, which Beethoven wrote in 1785, are a case in point. He was working as an organist in the city of Bonn when he wrote them, and they are clearly influenced by both Mozart and Haydn. Yet these early works already show a mastery of form and a stunning sense of innovation along with the natural exhilaration of youth; indeed, Beethoven returned to these very piano quartets later and borrowed many musical ideas from them in the days of his maturity. How old was he when he wrote them? Fourteen!

The most interesting of the three, with its shift of moods from brooding melancholy to laughing joy, is the Quartet for piano and strings in C major, which makes up one half of this new Beethoven program. The other work on the program is another example of a Beethoven piece evolving into its final form rather than springing full-blown from the mind of its composer. What we know today as the breathtaking Quartet in E-flat major for piano and strings appeared first in 1797 as a "Grand Quintet for the Fortepiano with Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn." By the time it was publish­ed four years later, in 1801, the music had been rescored for "fortepiano, violin, viola and violoncello." Later it metamorphosed into a string quartet without piano. Finally, as op. 16, this brilliant score was bequeathed to the world in its present piano-quartet form.

All these changes had less to do with the way Beethoven heard this music in his head than with such practical considerations as whether there were more string players on hand at a given time than masters of wind in­struments. It wasn't so m11ch Beethoven who made these decisions as his· canny publisher, who kept track of what scoring combinations happened to be in demand at a given moment.

In this flexibility as to instrumentation it was Mozart, once again, whose practical approach to things Beethoven was emulating. In any case, the op. 16 Piano Quartet is one of the most winning works in the whole Beethoven canon, moving from the subtle grace of its quiet opening, marked grave, to the humor and high spirits of the boisterous concluding Rondo.

The group which has recorded these Beethoven works calls itself An die Musik, tak­ing its name from the poem in praise of music by Schober and made immortal through Schubert's famous setting of the text. An die Musik was founded in 1976 by Constance Em­merich, the pianist--who carries the heaviest performing burden in the quartets--along with violinist Eliot Chapo and oboist Gerard Reuter. Emmerich has won many a piano competition and performed widely in both the United States and Europe; Chapo, Professor of Music at Florida State University in Tallahassee, is the former concertmaster of both the New York Philharmonic and the Dallas Symphony. Cellist Daniel Rothmuller has also toured the Western world and served as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Violist Richard Brice was principal violist of the Munich Chamber Or­chestra before he joined the group.

Since forming An die Musik, these gifted musicians have been heard in many major con­cert halls here and abroad; they offer an annual series in New York City and have attracted ad­miring attention at both the Lincoln Center

Summer Festival in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. They also have of­fered open rehearsals and master classes at universities and colleges and have received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs of the Ci­ty of New York. All the while they offer sen­sitive performances not only of time-honored masterworks but, with the encouragement of the organization Meet the Composer, contem­porary compositions by American composers--a number of which have been written especially for them. With An die Musik Beethoven is in capable hands.

Review of Members of An die Musik play Ludwig van Beethoven

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