“I hope that Your Imperial Highness will continue especially to practice writing down your ideas straight away at the piano; for this purpose there should be a small table beside the piano. In this way the imagination is strengthened, and one also learns to pin down the remotest ideas at once. It is likewise necessary to write without a piano. Nor should it pain but rather please Your Imperial Highness to find yourself absorbed in this art, at times to elaborate a simple melody, a chorale with simple and again with more varied figurations in counterpoint, and so on, to more difficult exercises. We develop gradually the capacity to represent exactly what we wish to represent, what we feel within us, which is a need characteristic of all superior persons.”
Beethoven writing to Archduke Rudolph, Vienna, July 1, 1823
Our second program of Season 33 sounds, as one, two recent themes familiar to our audience: change and time. Change over time, variation, or metamorphosis lies at the heart of each of our musical offerings.
Bach’s great six-voice fugue, the Ricercar from The Musical Offering is also his richest textured treatment of the theme he was given and commanded to improvise upon by Frederick the Great (King of Prussia and flutist). Even Bach didn’t think he could do it justice on the spot and once at home was determined to do even more. This piece, played in a version for six string players, serves as an invocation to the works that follow.
Beethoven’s “Archduke” Piano Trio, Op. 97 is one of at least a handful of major works dedicated to Archduke Rudolph, who was also a student and a discerning patron. At its heart is a variation movement in which Beethoven, for the first time in history, converts the simple trill–ordinarily used to ornament a melody–into a background rumble in the bass (adding texture) where it functions both as pedal point (stasis) and conveyor of harmony (movement).
(Beethoven’s manuscript of the Archduke Trio. More available from Beethoven-Haus Bonn’s digital archive.)
Following intermission the seven-part arrangement of Strauss’s Metamorphosen concludes the program as it completely embodies the idea of change over time. Written at the end of World War Two by a witness to the folly of absolute power and the utter destruction that followed, Strauss invokes the funereal theme of the variation movement of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (‘Eroica’) from which he had removed the original dedication to Emperor Napoleon. Unlike most variation movements, the full theme is sounded in the bass at the close of the work. Could this be a way of showing order emerging from chaos?
We will meet this same theme again, in a month’s time, at the start of our next concert, quoted within Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom.”