Sunday, October 23, 2005

Last Works of Beethovan and Schubert

The local classical radio station is currently airing a series of programmes from Deutsche Welle, Germany's public broadcasters, and earlier on I just tuned in to their Opus Ultimum - a series of programmes that broadcasts the final last works of great composers. The final works of the composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert were featured this week.

This is the first time I've listened to Beethovan's Grosse Fuge, a composition for string quartet. Remember the latest discovery of the piano version of this work last July? Originally written as a final movement for the String Quartet No. 13 (Op. 130), it wasn't well received by the public for the performers and public had expected something of light to conclude the suite. Of course, the radio station played the substitute movement, which was much simpler and more traditional in form as compared to this complex work. Eventually, the Grosse Fuge was published as a separate work, Op. 133. I'm captivated by the complexity of this work, with the disturbing dissonant harmonies and new composition techniques which are unconventional for that time. It just seems to me upon my first hearing that traditional classical composition techniques lie in ruins in this dramatic work, yet at the same time, there is this towering musical picture which is revealed within the work as the creativity of the composer gushed out. Apparently, Beethovan was traumatised by the attempted suicide of his nephew when he wrote this powerful masterpiece.

The next work featured was the last string quartet, the String Quartet No. 16 in F (Op. 135). An enigmatic piece when one compares it to his other late works. Nothing of the drama in his preceeding works. Simple and warm, yet a profound meaning is still present, especially in the last movement. In the manuscript, Beethovan wrote the question Muss es sein? (Must it be?) and answer Es muss sein! (It must be!) in the last movement. Cryptic words without any definite meaning at all. Upon listening to the whole work, it just seems to me that in the midst of writing this piece, Beethovan was questioning the purpose of existance and getting a conclusion before he finished this composition. =)

And then for the next hour, Schubert's 10th Symphony, or rather, Sketches of the 10th Symphony (D936a), song cycle Schwanengesang or Swan Song (D. 957) and sacred works (I couldn't catch their titles) were featured. The recording of the Sketches of the 10th Symphony captured my full attention for its whole duration. I tried looking up for more information online and what I've gotten is that the drafts for this work was discovered by Ernst Hilmar in the 1970s and Brian Newbould was the person who compiled the drafts and realised it as the 10th Symphony. Wonderously poetic music. I don't know what it is but there's just something special in his late symphonies and piano works, especially his late piano sonatas which draws me to them. Now now, if I ever acquire sufficient skills for a thorough analysis of music, Schubert's last piano sonatas will be the first few works I'll start attempting to understand.

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