I’ve always enjoyed listening to Beethoven symphonies and piano concertos. About a year ago I was given CD boxed sets of the whole lot and as I worked my way through I enjoyed listening all over again. But recently I’ve had a whole new Beethoven experience.
Have you ever listened to Beethoven’s string quartets?
There are a lot of them and they’re all absolutely amazing. For Christmas I was given a CD boxed set of all the Beethoven String Quartets. The set goes to seven discs and I’ve loved listening to every one.
There are sixteen quartets altogether divided into Early, Middle and Late. The Early Quartets (Nos.1 – 6) were composed when Beethoven was in his late twenties. Beethoven wrote the Middle group (Nos. 7 -11) when he was aged thirty five to forty and the final group (Nos. 12 – 16) in the final three years of his life.
Starting at the beginning and working through each quartet one after another is like accompanying Beethoven on the journey of his life. In places the Late Quartets are tortured. At the end of his life Beethoven knew that he was dying, his deafness was total, and he’d quarreled with his nephew. The raw emotion of his life is exposed with passion and anguish. But elsewhere the music is lyrical, serene and totally uplifting.
Beethoven was a mature composer before he started to explore the form which had already been established by Haydn and developed by Mozart. The Early Quartets are perfection with a range of emotions and some unexpectedly modern elements. Three of the Middle Quartets were commissioned by the Russian ambassador to Vienna, Count Razumovsky, an accomplished violinist who played in his own string quartet. Beethoven incorporated Russian themes into their complex, intricate structure. But the final, later quartets are something else. I’ve never experienced Beethoven like this. If I’d just turned the music on, I would never have identified Beethoven as the composer. I would have said Stravinsky in some parts; or Mahler; or Bruch or even Benjamin Britten. I’m completely blown away – I didn’t know such wonderful music existed.
My CD boxed set was played by the Alban Berg Quartett.
The Quartett was founded in 1970 by four young professors from the Vienna Academy of Music. They named themselves after the Austrian composer Alban Berg with the permission at the time of Berg’s widow. Their repertoire focused on Viennese classics and contemporary music often composed especially for them. The group retired in 2008 with a huge reputation including my boxed set of CDs.
You might think it strange that in this age of streamed music I still listen to CDs. The reason is that I use my Sony Walkman which has a great sound. I can get straight to the music I want without having to navigate my way through a load of playlists and other obstacles that seem to overwhelm streamed music. And, yes, I know I can ask Alexa but I don’t have her plugged in all the time and usually forget that she’s there.
I can’t bear background music.
I have a sacrosanct music half hour almost every day when I plug myself into the Walkman and pace around the house or garden listening to whatever is my music interest of the moment. I started doing this as a post-operative means of building up my energy and stamina.
In the first few weeks after surgery I built up from 100 paces on my step counter to about 1500. This coincided with the first lockdown and as a clinically vulnerable person on the shielding list I was confined to the garden for my exercise. Soon walking round and round the garden (which is a small garden!) became boring so I added in the Walkman for variety. That’s when I started listening to all the Beethoven symphonies.
As my strength returned and the distance increased, the music became an essential part of my recovery. And since then the habit has stuck. In 30 minutes of listening I can walk about 3000 paces so I get the exercise and enjoyment of the music all in one go. The great advantage of this is total immersion in whatever is playing.
After I’d finished all the Beethoven string quartets, I had a complete contrast for my music walks. You may recall that in my Blog Update post a few days ago I mentioned starting to use the Reader part of WordPress Blogs. One of the blogs I discovered had a post about the Beatles For Sale album. I recalled that we had a CD of this which I’d hardly ever listened to so I gave it a spin.
Wow! What a brilliant Beatles album.
I listened to Beatles For Sale three times and really enjoyed it. This must be the album where the Beatles are at their Rock ‘n’ Roll best.
Rock and Roll Music,
Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.
(But not Roll Over Beethoven with which I titled this post. I just couldn’t resist but that’s actually on With The Beatles.)
And some beautiful Lennon and McCartney. I’ll Follow the Sun, What You’re Doing and Baby’s in Black stand out for me.
And a lovely arrangement of Mr Moonlight.
Beatles For Sale was originally released in December 1964, the Fab Four’s fourth album. We bought our CD of Beatles for Sale within the last three or four years although it’s been available since the late 1980s.
The only Beatles record I ever bought at the time it was released was the Twist and Shout EP in July 1963. I sold it on a few years later to a boy working alongside me in an agricultural holiday job. I bought the White Album a couple of years after it’s release in 1968 and we bought Sergeant Pepper in the late 1970s. I’m sorry to say that when we moved house in 2000, all our vinyl went in a skip. As we no longer had any means of playing records they were just more clutter. But we do have five Beatles albums on CD and I’m definitely going to listen to some of the others after enjoying Beatles For Sale so much.
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Image from WikimediaCommons Public domain