Anger Management, Beethoven-Style

I’m just going to come out and say it:  EVERYBODY loves Beethoven.  Even people who don’t like Beethoven love Beethoven (Hum the first few notes of Ode To Joy.  See??). His wild genius left a legacy of vibrantly epic proportions.  I could prattle on, fellow Revelers, about his Seventh Symphony (oh wait, I already did that) or the lustrous thunder of his Sonata No. 23 in Fm (“Appassionata”) or how his Overture To Egmont was written to insult Napoleon.  I could indulge in bloviating about how, in grade school, a few friends and I loved to plunk out Für Elise on someone’s grandmother’s benignly out-of-tune piano or when I sang his Choral Fantasy I thought my heart would vacate my chest.  But I digress.

Beethoven composed Rondo a capriccio (“Rage Over A Lost Penny”) in 1795, when he was 25.  But it remained undiscovered until an auction of his personal effects was held after his death in 1827.  Although there was no indication that the work was incomplete, it is said that Beethoven’s publisher Anton Diabelli “finished” the Rondo before publishing it in 1828.  “Finished”, perhaps- “rearranged” more likely.  In 1949, musicologist Erich Hertzmann prepared a new edition.  The subtitle “Rage Over A Lost Penny” had been added by Beethoven’s friend Anton Schindler, although for what reason I’ll never know.  I like to think it really was because of a rebellious penny, rolling into the cracks of the floor in Beethoven’s rattling Viennese apartment.  Oh, would that all the world’s rage could be channeled into brilliant composing!

I first heard this piece on WQXR eons ago, and I never forgot it.  How could you?  It is played at lightning speed and the notes absolutely glitter. It’s wonderfully rhythmic and captivating, spilling all over the keyboard and back again.  I love when the right-hand notes start to get dissonant.  About three minutes in, the piece goes to half-meter and then teeters between crescendoing arpeggios and rapidfire scales and, as classical music experts say, “a bunch of other stuff” before veering back to the primary theme. Watching the prodigious Evgeny Kissin perform it has the added bonus of Kissin actually looking like Beethoven.  Must be the wild hair and brilliance. Treat your ears to this, the most beautiful of rages, from the revolutionary from Bonn.


Good Grieg! Sibling Telepathy

This morning, Sib1 tweeted out a little Grieg for Earth Day. This is of note not only due to her alacrity with our blog, when certain other parties have apparently gone silent in a nuclear sub, but also because, unbeknownst to Sib1’s conscious mind, Sib2 was planning to write on Grieg, having joyously re-listened to his captivating “Lyric Pieces” over the weekend. Watch out for the Crazy Ivan, because Sib2 is surfacing.

I highly doubt I’ll ever need another version of the Lyric Pieces (books 1-10, seemingly randomly numbered opuses…it’s times like these when I understand why some people flee from classical music’s bizarrely byzantine Dewey Decimal System, like octopi slurping themselves into rock cracks) than Leif Ove Andsnes’s 2002 recording. For the record, that surname is 2 vowels, 5 consonants and sounds like when you’re trying to expel a mote of dust from your nostril.

Do qualitative factors matter? Andsnes and Grieg are compatriots, being both Norwegian. What’s more, Andsnes actually recorded the album on Grieg’s own piano, which has a very particular tone, at Grieg’s own villa, Troldhaugen (perhaps villas have special significance for Nordic folk: Sib1 and I fondly remember Pippi Longstocking’s fantastical Villa Villekulla). If the name conjures trolls for you, you’re right on the etymology. The name might also ring a wedding bell for some, as Lyric Piece Book 8, Op. 65: no 6 (ink, octopi, ink!), “Wedding Day at Troldhaugen,” is oft-used among the marryin’ kind.

Whether any of that matters or not, I think Andsnes masterfully and uniquely captured a work that receives very little due, in my limited experience, yet to my ears contains such shades of nuance, stormy emotion, lilting melody, intricate phrasework, etc., that it rightfully belongs among great solo keyboard works. Up there with Satie and Debussy. Maybe even Chopin and Schumann? Well, in the conversation, at least. There’s no small amount of nationalistic bias in the classical world when it comes to determining what is a magnum opus and what isn’t, and suffice to say that Norway’s results in such contests do not exactly mirror their Winter Olympics winnings.

But for me, this album is one that I can listen to on repeat for many days straight. Which I am in the midst of doing. Well, actually my dog (whose taste tends toward slow Bach crafted specially for canines) is doing that at the moment at home, continuing what has already been a 48-hour Good Grieg! Fest.

Here’s to Earth Day, the sun’s birthday, Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan, the wondrous octopus, and of course, my telepathically connected sibling.

An update and postscriptum: here is Andsnes playing one of my favorite of the Lyric Pieces:

Catchy Khachaturian

These days, it is almost impossible to escape the vise-like grip of endless, pointless news about a certain person of Armenian descent whose last name begins with the letter K.  Just the thought of said person conjures bile in my throat and commands eye-rolling of the sort your mother warned you about.

Do you feel the same way, chèr reader?  Classical music has the balm your soul needs. Yes indeed, classical music has its very own Armenian (though Soviet-born, raised and devoted) whose last name begins with the letter K, and I daresay you will not lose precious brain cells by paying him mind.  I am pleased to make your acquaintance with Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) and his catchy, whirling “Waltz“, which is the first movement from Masquerade Suite.  Khachaturian composed the Suite as incidental music for the play Masquerade, written by 18th-century Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov (who at the tender age of 26 met his demise in a duel).

I never tire of listening to this piece.  The color is so rich that it’s hard to imagine that Khachaturian initially had great difficulty writing it.  Two images come to mind when I’m listening to it:  first, Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner waltzing in The King and I (I was fascinated by her satin-drenched hoopskirted ballgown as a child) and second, the Haunted Mansion at that fun little theme park in Orlando.  You know those dancing ghosts are Khachaturian fans!  The three-quarter meter is fun to conduct (which is something I do privately because I am not Leonard Bernstein) and when the secondary theme begins you can sit down and enjoy a vodka cocktail before the waltz resumes.  Right around the three-and-a-half-minute mark, there is the slightest tenuto, which makes you feel almost as though you are at the edge of a waltzy cliff…and then you have the most glorious 40-second fall and the cymbals are your safety net.

So on this Day of Days (National Sibling Day, yippee!) I challenge you, readers and revelers, not to a duel (poor Lermontov!) but to a listen or two or three to this wonderful composition.  I’d love to hear about the imagery it conjures up for you.

Khachaturian conducting publicly, something SibOne is not entitled to do.

Khachaturian conducting publicly, something SibOne is not entitled to do.

Mozart: Brought To You By The Letter “K”

For many years my eyes would skim over the name of a Mozart piece and always the title was followed by “K. 618” (or another number).  It looked very official and not particularly interesting, so I generally ignored it.  Then one day while listening to WQXR, the always-sonorous Jeff Spurgeon perked up my ears when he announced a Mozart piece and then said (phonetically) “KER-shel 618” (or another number).  “Oh!” I immediately thought.  “That’s what the K stands for!  Kershel!”  And so I went on my merry way.

Despite my now knowing the word for which “K” stood, it remained very official and not particularly interesting until some time later when I thought perhaps it would benefit my small trove of musical knowledge to find out exactly what the mysterious “Kershel” meant.

First of all, it is NOT “Kershel”.  Here I hang my head sheepishly.  It is “Köchel”, in all its Teutonic glory with an umlaut over the “o” to boot.

The Köchel catalog is a chronological listing of all of Mozart’s works, compiled by one Ludwig von Köchel.  History accounts for several attempts to catalog Mozart’s compositions, but it was not until the early 1860s that Köchel succeeded.  After spending fifteen years tutoring the four sons of Archduke Charles of Austria, he was awarded a hefty financial settlement which enabled him to live out the rest of his years as a private scholar. And what does one do as a private scholar?  Create the Köchel catalog, of course.  I like to imagine him hunched intently over a small wooden desk, tallow candle lighted and pen paused aloft.  This was not a man whose dance card was full, for he was serving a greater purpose. Isn’t it tragic that there was no way for him to actually listen to each piece as he dutifully jotted and organized?

Köchel died in 1877, but his legacy lives on for those of us who love Mozart and those of us who worship at the altar of Making Organized Lists.


Kochel, captured in a private, scholarly pose.