The Tender Side of Beethoven

“How could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?”

~ Beethoven (1770-1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven, born on this day in 1770, is often typecast as the fiery composer, whose works are drenched in fury and passion. That may be true of some of Beethoven’s works, but it is certainly not the whole truth. One only needs to listen to the sublime slow movement of the “Emperor Concerto” or the well-loved first movement (“Adagio Sostenuto”) of the Piano Concerto No. 14, better known as Moonlight Sonata, to experience the intimate side of Beethoven. The adagio sostenuto in particular, has made a powerful impression on many listeners. Berlioz said of it that it “is one of those poems that human language does not know how to qualify. The work was very popular in Beethoven’s day, to the point of exasperating the composer himself, who remarked to Carl Czerny, “Surely I’ve written better things!.

For day, I’ve compiled a playlist of some gentler pieces by Beethoven. I’ve arranged them in ascending order by duration of each work. They include the abovementioned Emperor Concerto (Movement II) and the Moonlight Sonata (I), as well as other intimate pieces such as Cavatina from the late Quartet in B-flat, Opus 130, which brought tears to Beethoven himself, and the Molto Adagio movement of the Quartet in A minor, Opus 132, which Beethoven wrote in gratitude to God after he recovered from a serious illness. Legend has it that it was this work made him finally understand that his suffering is necessary to his unique musicality.

Violin Sonata #5 (“Spring”), 2nd Movement (5:50)

Esther Abrami, Violin
Iyad Sughayer, Piano
Recorded live at the Royal Northen College of Music

Cavatina, from the String Quartet in B-flat, Opus 130 (6:07)

Violinist: Maureen McCarthy Draper

Piano Concerto #5 (the “Emperor Concerto”), 2nd Movement, Adagio un poco mosso (7:57)

Pianist: Jan Lisiecki
Orchestra: Academy of St Martin in the Fields
Conductor: Tomo Keller

Violin Concerto, 2nd Movement, “Larghetto” (9:41)

Violinist: Itzhak Perlman
Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra London (Carlo Maria Giulini, conductor)

Symphony #6 (The Pastoral) Movement 2 (14:27)

Orchestra: The Royal Philharmonic

Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, 3rd Movement, Molto Adagio (the “Thanksgiving Hymn”). Duration: 19:04.

Artemis Quartet, Copenhagen

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