Lugwig Van Beethoven can be held responsible for a lot of things… making music more emotional than cerebral, elevating the status of the composer from a roto-rooter employee to a rock star, that paint-peeling stench in the restroom that no one will claim. Yes, Beethoven was an innovative musical genius and a dirty blaggard, all wrapped up in a pint-sized, coffee-swilling package. Should you wish to hear the fervor of a 19th century caffeine junky mark your calendar for Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30 or Sunday February 3 at 2:30 and scuttle yer gluttacious tissues to the Museum of Art for a performance of Beethoven's String Quartet in B flat, opus 130, commonly called "Roger." For those who don't give a wombat's pituitary gland about classical music and are only reading this column because you've already finished Jacob Jabits and forgot to consume your metamucil, a string quartet is an intense musical conversation between four instruments and their respective lawyers. Many who know more about classical music than I and aren't afraid to make sure everyone knows it consider the string quartet to be classical music's most refined form. Beethovens string quartets, especially those from his "late period" (I promise to refrain from making a childish joke if you'll promise likewise… um, boobies), which includes the B flat, are said to be the highest pinnacle of this paramount form. But don't let the snobby pinheads scare you away for there's a lot to this quartet that appeals to modern audiences, but more about that after this station break. This quartet was one of the last pieces Beethoven wrote before his heart literally exploded from a caffeine overdose (he liked his coffee thirty beans to the cup, no sugar) and additionally, he was stone deaf when he composed it. He referred to this quartet as "liebquartett", which translated means "beloved quartet", a kind of forbidden love available to certain non-prurient interests on web sites restricted by my employer.
Beethoven completed "Roger" late in 1825 as a six movement string quartet (always an innovator, Beethoven threw in two extra movements before every local band on the planet conceived of the ubiquitous "hidden" bonus track). Although the piece is quite listenable and two movements gained instant popularity, the finale was as controversial as forcing northern spotted owls to scuba dive in frigorific waters for leatherback turtles, all for the sake of a tasty stew to be eaten by Howard Stern and Pat Robertson as they take a respite from drawing Hitler moustaches on statues of civil rights leaders. After a light, gentle and playful German dance movement and an aching, lyrical cavatina (smothered in a zesty tomato sauce and imported goat cheese), Beethoven ended the piece with a brusque fugue full of choppy rhythms and psychotic moods swings. Audiences at the time were none too pleased by this abrupt dousing in icy cold water, which is exactly what Beethoven intended. After much arguing, Beethoven agreed to publish this extended finale on it's own (named "Grosse Fuge", which means "Big fugue", an apt title because this single movement was nearly as long as the rest of the quartet) and to compose a new finale for "Roger", hence the first "radio mix". Sparse and intense, Beethoven considered this massive rejected fugue movement to be the high point in his entire chamber music repertoire. The wide melodic leaps and "impossible" technical demands were such that the original performers complained like a redneck forced to attend a taping of Oprah and refused to play it, to which Beethoven allegedly remarked "What do I care about your f***ing fiddles?" An in-depth discussion of the Grosse Fugue would send most readers spiraling into a comatose state so I'll resist, but readers with masochistic leanings or curious minds can hobble over to member.nifty.ne.jp/continuo/Midi/Stg_fuge/Stgf-e.htm to find a detailed analysis and a nice MIDI version of the quartet. In addition to El Grosso, Three percussion pieces will be provided by the Percussion Trio (which always does things in threes), including such well-known K-Tel hits as Kendhang Kalih by Gareth Farr and 5 Cirandes Brasilerias by Rosauro. The Philharmonic will jump on the local original music bandwagon by playing A Quiver Full of Arrows composed and percussed by our very own percussionist Brian Prechtl. See him now before he dies and becomes famous.
Ending a multi-movement work with a fugue was not Beethoven's original idea… Mozart did it in his Symphony #41 (Jupiter). The health of certain family pets would be endangered if I did not appease the Fort Wayne Mozart Appreciation Guild by mentioning that this Saturday at the Embassy Centre will be an entire evening of Mozart tunes, including Overture to "Don Giovanni, Piano Concerti Nos 20 and 21, and Symphony No. 30 (Dewlaps). A good time will be had by all and station manager Neil Carr will give a brief Bible message.
Copyright 2002 Jason Hoffman