By Mark Goodman
The music of Beethoven exercises an equal hold over audiences and performers alike.
Audiences love the drama and epic scale. The opening notes of his Fifth Symphony may be the most famous and recognizable four notes in history. Performers love the depth of emotion and technical challenge. I still remember crying, as a young piano student, when my teacher told me I wasn’t ready to play the Pathetique Sonata. (I eventually prevailed, but can’t vouch for my performance!) And as human beings, we are drawn to Beethoven’s spiritual journey and triumph over the hardship of deafness to go on to compose his greatest music.
Although Beethoven is arguably the most well-known and popular of all composers, he is not easy to describe or categorize. His life spanned the end of one stylistic period and the dawn of another, and his music evolved constantly to reflect this. As a student he studied with Haydn and Czerny at the culmination of the Classical period, and he lived to see the younger generation of composers, such as Schubert and Weber, usher in the early Romantic style. His creativity was so tremendous that, like Picasso, he continually reinvented himself, and his early works bear no resemblance to his late ones.
Next month, in honor of Beethoven’s upcoming birthday, we at South Shore Conservatory are presenting The Music of Beethoven. Our concert presents three works written six years apart, each of which has its own unique identity – two trios, with a piano sonata sandwiched in between.
The Clarinet Trio, Opus 11, is a spirited example of Beethoven’s early style. This piece is sometimes called the “Gassenhauer” or “streetsong” trio, because its last movement is based on a theme from an opera of the time that was so popular it could literally be heard whistled in the streets of Vienna. The work is sunny throughout, with nary a dark cloud passing through. The unusual scoring of clarinet, cello, and piano is unique in Beethoven’s work, promoting the popularity of the clarinet at the time, and highlighting young Beethoven’s athletic prowess as a pianist. Our faculty clarinetist is Peter Bianca, whose beautiful performance of the Mozart Clarinet Concerto at last summer’s Evening Under the Stars concert will be remembered by those fortunate enough to have heard it. The cello will be played by Jan Pfeiffer, a veteran of the Boston chamber music scene, and I will be the pianist.
Next we have the third and fourth movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata, Opus 31, No. 3, played by Paul Hoffman. With this piece we can already hear the beginnings of the Romantic style starting to appear. The third movement is a minuet, showing Beethoven at his most gracious and elegant. Following that is rollicking tarantella, whose non-stop triplets and headlong pace have earned this piece the nickname “The Hunt.” The boisterous energy of this movement certainly goes beyond anything Haydn ever imagined.
Our final piece is the well-known Ghost Trio for violin, cello, and piano. This piece is a study in contrasts, with the two steely-bright outer movements flanking the dark night of the slow movement. It is this movement that gives the work its nickname with its hushed glacial opening, its ominous low rumblings, and its terrifying climactic moments. The “Ghost” will be performed by our respective chairs of the string and piano departments, Amanda Roberts and Jon Roberts, and faculty cellist Sassan Haghighi
Last but not least, with Beethoven’s birthday around the corner on December 16, we will end with a special birthday surprise. (You’ll just have to wait!)
The Music of Beethoven will be performed first on November 12 at our Duxbury campus, and again November 19 at One Conservatory Drive in Hingham. Both concerts are at 4 pm and are free and open to the public. I hope you can come to experience this music which we love so much and are excited to share with you!
Pianist Mark Goodman is a Hingham resident.