Beethoven Sonata op. 96 Program Notes/Poems

Beethoven 10, op. 96 in G Major

Consider the first gesture, simple, yet profoundly philosophical. This beginning gesture sets the tone for a work that is uniquely intimate and subdued in expression for Beethoven up to this point in time. The opening gesture of op. 96, almost reminiscent of a bird call or a recitative motive, is beautifully self-contained, turning in on itself, completely lacking in the obsessiveness of other beginning motives (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony comes to mind, and even his String Quartet op. 95, which starts with an aggressive f minor motive.) Though the first movement is in sonata form, the most popular structure at the time, it differs from other movements of the time (as well as his other first movements in a lack of self-generating drive. No inner demons or psychological states flog this movement to continue. In fact, there is a quality of contentedness in all the movements except the third, which displays some of the obsession of his earlier works. The first movement is also beautifully symmetrical, with the violin and piano courting each other, exchanging the same loving gestures or mirroring each other in the same motives. This symmetry adds to the feeling of the sublime. The second movement begins with a tender hymn in the piano, but the violin doesn’t reciprocate immediately, entering instead with accompanimental figures. The movement, also in sonata form, warms up slowly from there, gaining depth and eventually becoming extremely vocal. Notes held for long periods of time are juxtaposed with sung melismatic lines that take flight from their cage of rhythm. Similar to the exquisite unending and almost unendurably long lines of the slow movements in his late quartets, this movement has a breathless quality which demands a mastery of bow control. There are moments of poignancy that cripple the zen of this movement, offering a window into the kind of pain that leads someone to achieve this kind of tranquility. The third movement is the exception to the rule in this piece (or peace!) With a focus on repeated notes and accents, it is obsessive and insistently so. The stubborn Scherzo is interrupted by a beautiful and linear Trio which is unable to escape from the clutches of the repetitive notes which end the movement. Beyond a few moments of emotional ambiguity, and a mystical variation which once again, serves as a window into an inner sanctum of intimacy and depth, the last movement is an amiable theme and variations which ends joyfully.

1.
what a lark!
world generous with
pleasant ruffling of
feathers alighting and
plastic grocery bags in our hands
crinkling, of eyes
as we exchange pleasantries
the shop windows offer
a glimpse inside
to ourselves

2.
each slow and solemn step
around the scoured, the purified
wound in the heart
waiting patiently
for for subtle changes
in topography
watching the heart alight
breaking open, breaking wide
accepting new forms, steep
mountains and deep lakes
the sun gently sloshing in

3.
the unexplainable need
to pursue, to bite at each heel
agitation and
flinging of fur
respite of leashes tangling
mingling in a ribbon song
before freedom, which
in this case is just a
cage of instinct
to bite at each heel, pursue
until picked up and brought home
howling

4.
trees lining the street
nod and wave to each other
children play hopscotch
their joy spreading
like a wide smile across
the neighborhood
dogs bark, exchange
pleasantries with each other
I drop into
trance-spun reverie,
song of self
in the sundrunk street
children and dogs
chasing each other chase
me to the present
as I yawn and head home—
what a lark!

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