Living and Music: Beethoven 127, movement 2 and Solidarity

I know in my last post, I had mentioned I would write next about the 3rd movement of 130, but I can’t help but write about the slow movement of 127 instead. It all started last month when my brother was trying an instrument. He just played a stepwise scale from the movement, and I was all “what just happened” ..I went home, listened to it again and haven’t really stopped.

Some of the things that move me about this movement:
The parts really respond to each other the way I think great friendships and societies would. I’m also moved by the main gesture; so much of this piece is quarter-eighths moving in small steps in (depending who is playing) a slow-ish tempo. This little gesture is an interesting rhythmical paradox because every single quarter-eighth feels like it collapses in rhythm, though the line is not collapsing, but usually rising. It is also paradoxical in the feeling of struggle it gives, as well as the slight lilt you get with most quarter/eighth parings. It just unhinges the scale slightly, and makes whoever is playing sound incredibly brave, fighting against the gravity of the figure. It is also amazing to see how the instruments are written to navigate this gesture and its problems together.

The most moving thing about this movement for me I think, is listening to it having heard other Beethoven Quartets, I know what it could have been…and have a gratitude for what it is instead.

The very beginning… cello, viola, and violin II set the up an incredibly mysterious sonority which doesn’t become clear until the violin I starts moving. And when the violin I moves with seperate notes, the other instruments pulse the same rhythms though they don’t change notes, almost as a way of sending him off. (Listening to Hagen, so yeah, violin I is going to be a boy) This happens repeatedly in the movement- this movement always threatens to collapse into some darker place…possibly because the motivic gesture is so fragile in its desire to continue. Something unique about this movement is the almost lack of a divine love key. In Beethoven’s work, (at least this is what I have been taught), flat-VI is the key for divine love. He uses it sometimes when he’s written himself into so much trouble and there isn’t any way of getting out- suddenly we will be in the key of flat-VI and it won’t have made any sense…but you don’t care because flat-VI is amazing. A good example is the slow movement of 59-1 or any places of respite in the Grosse Fugue. It is really moving for me to hear flat-VI in his music, having learned this tidbit. Divine love, like these cadences and arrivals aren’t earned and I’m so grateful for these saves. But equally moving for me is the (except for one measure) lack of a divine key in this movement. Whenever any of the voices get in trouble, they are dependent on the others for help. Even as early as the 6th bar, the 1st violin cadences and almost collapses but the cello line rushes in with a rising scale of his own and in the next measure, the 1st violin leaps a minor 7th, having been supported by the cello. And then the cello starts the melody while the 1st violin is in the middle of his. This means that when the either is going down, the other is going up. This kind of thing in music always makes me a little sad because it makes me think of starcrossed lovers haha. Eventually they end up on the same gesture, and even thought the range increases between them, with the added voice, it sounds deeper in connection instead of the opposite. Little things like that are happening constantly in the movement, but there are 2 or 3 major sections where we don’t just worry about the melody losing self-confidence, but we actually worry about darkness.

This reminds me of Beethoven’s op. 130 and 133- 130 starting with those eerie descending unison halfsteps that rupture into something personal and tender….the outcome of withholding what’s really going on for 5 movements eventually erupts in the Fugue. Here, after a particularly casual and noodly (and very cute) variation of the theme, (measure 59) we are suddenly interrupted with eerie unison halfstep (and one third)…before it can get any more serious, the second violin rushes in with a G#…from then on, it doesn’t just get personal and tender like the first movement of 130…it gets incredibly beautiful and rich. This happens another time after a particularly dejected cadence, (measure 77)…they are all on a unison E which slides down to Eb, the cello starts tiptoeing into the stratosphere which gives the 1st violin the confidence to start singing again. We run into trouble again in measure 96; the first violin alone starts to be in c# minor…viola comes in making them Ab major for a bit, but it degenerates as the second violin becomes plagued by violin I’s c# insecurity. The whole group lapses into c#m until an accidental accident causes them to find themselves in Ab major again. (c#m section is uncannily like one of the iterations of the 1st subject in the Grosso Fugue)

Probably the most incredible instance of this struggle for beauty in this movement is measure 119. Later on, these exact notes, figures, instrumentation, will become the “beklemmt” or “choked” in the Cavatina of op. 130. In the context of this piece, this section is not in the divine love key, though in the Cavatina, it is. The violin 1 uses the tiptoeing arpeggios he picked up from the cello earlier to keep going higher …they isn’t quite right. They cadence again quietly, in the divine love key…the violin 1 either gains confidence from the key or defiantly refuses to accept the divine love key by holding on and getting louder until everyone joins in on Ab Major.

So yeah- basically, I think this movement is a beautiful expression of friendship and I have learned a lot about how to be a friend from listening to it. It was interesting to me that the places that seemed really troubled were unison…I’m never sure if in Beethoven Quartets things are in unison for a solidity in sound to make things more ominous, or if it is some message about how individuals as a collective can be dangerous, or maybe the unison was meant to show how dangerous one viewpoint or one person could be…how we need each other, etc. I mean. It could be anything. I’m so excited to hopefully play this piece one day- it would mean so much to play this movement with my quartet, who also happen to be some of the closest friends I have ever had in my life. And I would be so excited, I think, to perform it. I mean, isn’t this part of why we perform this music? Shouldn’t the relationships in any given ensemble tell us how to communciate with one another? I would love for people to go to concerts to learn how to better express themselves to one another. So much of the time, when I perform, I am just interested in “getting things.” High notes, fast notes, right rhythms, being together with who I’m supposed to be together with…but this mindset acquisition is so selfish, and probably not unlike how I must interact with people socially. Instead, I would want to focus on um…just anything else. What shows solidarity more than the repetition of motives in music by different instruments? To repeat means you listened and you agree or commiserate or just something, any interaction. What I would want an audience to feel after hearing this movement would be wow…the cello sure saved violin 1 from sinking into a depression a lot of times…and not only do they save one another from darker times, they totally encouraged violin 1 to keep going up with those quarter-eighths! And in the case of the c#m section, violin 1 went somewhere dark and violin 2 followed…and eventually, they were all affected. This is friendship! I would want an audience to feel..this is the friendship I have, want, need in my life. Great friends are hard to find…and if we can’t find them, at least we have solidarity with humanity in history via Beethoven. I mean, we can’t know why he wrote this movement the way he did, but the sentimental sap in me can’t help but wonder if he was sad and wrote himself friends who knew just how and when to be there for him. Musicologists and theorists are turning over in their beds disturbed while I write this, but a part of me really could see that as a possibility. So obviously. it’s late now. Today was the last day of exams, and I got sick so I slept after for the whole day, hence the not sleeping now. Thanks for reading…especially to those who made it this far! You a trooper

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