Week 4: Mozart, Beethoven, and the Art of Facing Death
Conversio- Root of both “conversion” and “conversation”: “Con”, with and “ver”, truth. One definition is “ to be with the truth and to accept things as they really are”
The mystic path includes the embrace of paradox: simultaneously to admit the incredible complexity of life and return to childlike wonder and simplicity.
Mozart: In the last year of his life, his major works include: The Masonic Cantata, K.619. This piece was written for use in the Masons where he was a member in the 33rd degree. The lyrics include the lines:
You who revere the Creator of the boundless universe, Call him Jehovah or God, Call him Fu or Brahma. Hark! Hark to the words Of the Almighty’s trumpet call! Ringing out through earth, moon, sun Its sound is everlasting
Side by side at the end of Mozart's life are his very darkest piece, which open in abject terror (the Requiem in d minor) and his silliest, most playful opera, The Magic Flute, a fairytale which celebrates optimism, childlike naivete and innocence.
Ludwig van Beethoven Imitative Period- In Vienna, as Beethoven was assimilating the influence of his mentors Franz Joseph Haydn and Antonio Salieri. Includes Piano Sonatas 1-10 (though we could debate about the Pathetique Sonata, Op. 13), String Quartets Op. 18 and Symphonies 1 and 2.
Heroic Period (1802-1815)- Includes piano concertos 3,4 and 5, the violin concerto, most of the string quartets and Symphonies 3-8. Here, life is a battle to be fought and one’s will is to be asserted. Amost everything you hear on the radio or in the concert hall is from this period
The Late Transcendent Period (1816-1827)- Ninth Symphony, String Quartets, Piano Sonatas. Here, life is a process of deep surrender and an embrace of the wild and radical paradoxes it contains with sometimes bizarre juxtapositions.
Piano Sonata Op. 109 in E Major
String Quartet Op. 130, “Cavatina”, with beklempt (choking sobs) in the middle
String Quartet Op. 135, “Must it be?”, with intense dissonance and childlike tunefulness juxtaposed and interwoven
Recommended Reading and Recordings:
The Lexicon of Musical Invective, Nicholas Slominsky- a collection of truly terrible reviews, especially contemporaries’ thoughts on the Ninth Symphony
Carl Jung’s Red Book, written as a way to reclaim his soul after he had achieved the pinnacle of success but found that life had lost its meaning, describes the ultimate hollowness of the way of the Hero and the need to reclaim the Spirit of the Depths.
Falling Upwards, Richard Rohr. Written by a Franciscan monk in Christian language, this is a wise guide to spiritualities for the two halves of life: the first half where we build the Ego, the second half where we are called to let it go. Falling Upwards provides a powerful mirror of Beethoven’s Compositional process. as Rohr describes a process of spiritual maturation that moves from Imitation of others to Heroism to Surrender and Vulnerability.
The Late Quartets of Beethoven, Alban Berg Quartet