A C R O S S _ T H E _ E X T R E M E S
The late period of Beethoven

What is Glenn Gould doing on this video?

Whoever walks in darkness is less lonely if they sing.

The challenge is not how one´s own life becomes paradoxical but how the own contradictions are the gears of a machine appealing enough to still producing harmonic resonances

We usually read about Beethoven´s deafness but it´s not so common to read that Beethoven was speechless. Silence is the language that corresponds to the tragic hero. What does it mean?

Don´t throw away the ladder.

If talking about music is already a difficult task, what makes this task even more difficult in Beethoven´s late period?

In 1770 Beethoven, Hegel and Hölderlin were born.

Is it art a way of being in silence? Is music a way of silence? Is it silence the language of the artist? Tractatus 7: Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen. But what does Wittgenstein understand by sagen and sprechen? Was Wittgenstein a frustrated musician? Schumann asking himself: Should I become a poet or a musician?

Tractatus 6.522 There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.

Robert S.Kahn on his book about the Grosse Fuge op. 133 asks what in God´s name is going on here? Why would anyone write something like this? He collects adjectives that have been given to the Grosse Fuge since it was compossed: atonishing, incomprensible, abstruse, bizarre, unharmonious, extravagant, inconsequential, unplayable, surpasses the bounds of musical performance, tiresome, waste of sound, impracticable, cerebral, repellent, unintelligible, impenetrable, pathological eccentricity.

The Grosse Fuge received only three public performances in the seventy five years after it was written.

Adorno perfectly knew that the late period of Beethoven doesn´t allow to talk easily about it, there is an unusual difficulty to say precisely what is about.

Beethoven moved house 27 times.

Beethoven late period as the paradigm of the mystical in music, the incomprehensible in music, what we can hardly grasp, almost 200 years is still a mystery. Why so few people dare to write about Beethoven late period? How many artist made a creative response to that period?

The music of the Beethoven´s late period inhabitates the limits of the world. He not only drew the limits of the language of tonal music but also pushed them and expanded them without going beyond them, without being atonal, This is an example how a musician can undermine a system from inside the system, using tactics, not strategies. Not to suppress tonality but to turn it loose.

Wittgenstein knew that to define the limits of the language is a difficult task, however, this task should be perform from inside the language, never from outside, basically because the outside means the nonsense and only in case you have a ladder.
What we cannot speak about, must we play music?

When Beethoven stopped playing on the piano, someone asked him about the meaning of what he had played. Beethoven´s answer was to play again on the piano the same music. Words are only mediations. Stendhal on his book about Rossini wrote: the domain of music begins when we are not able to speak. Is music the limit of language? But which language? which music?

Glenn Gould is dancing.

The late string quartets are no longer a dialogue between two reasonable people but rather an internal dialogism. Beethoven translates a microcosm.

To talk about the late period on Beethoven demands to bring into play the solipsism. Tractactus 5. The limits of the language means the limits of my world. 5.62.
For what the solipsist means is quite correct; only it cannot be said , but makes itself manifest. The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world. 5.621 The world and life are one. 5.63 I am my world. (The microcosm.) Some of the last compositions of Beethoven are still considered as solipsim.

The question of the late period of Beethoven is the question about the limits of the world. It´s all about limits, how the limits are drawn. When somebody says: I don´t understand this, means that there is a incompatibility between the limits of this person´s world/language and the limits of what is to be understood. Being more precise, is not about expanding, the limits were already there, but rather lighting a little further. In this sense music can be a mirror if there is symmetry in the limits but much more better if music is rather a lamp that irritates your retina and demands a dilatation of one´s own limits.

They are well known the Joseph de Marliave´s words referring to the Grosse Fuge: the attitude of mind in which people listen to chamber music must undergo a radical change. Indeed, Beethoven is demanding from the audience another attitude, as Immanuel Kant and the Sapere aude (Dare to know), Beethoven says Exaudio aude (Dare to listen) and therefore to know.

Nietzsche and Adorno were musicians. Can we philosophize without words? Can music be philosophy?

But how do we understand music? in the same way as when we say the proposition It´s raining? Music is not true or false, music can not lie. If I say: It´s raining while I see the rain out of the window, someone could say: that´s true! But if I go out and immediately I step on the street and a cold drip drills my head before I can say that it rains I will know because my body feels the thrill of raining on my head. I think music is like this, music is much more precise than verbal thought. We can understand music without being able to talk about music.

Nietzsche: the ear is the organ of fear. Beethoven wasn´t afraid at all.

Beethoven was a survivor. Humility, poverty and chastity were the effects of his life in isolation. What´s the price? The audacity to deepen one´s own spirit, the introspective journey, the inner wealth. Philosopher and musician share the same solitude and both can not integrate in a social environment. Own´s body becomes battlefield and space for research. The artist is the one who experiences dangers, risks.

Art affects us as life affects us.

Art intensifies our experience. Art teaches us, makes us see what before we didn´t notice that was already there producing effects. Art is a tool to approach reality and get certain knowledge reaching parts of the experience that without art we could never reach.

Beethoven and Debussy.

Of course this ideas about suspended time demand to make a connection between the spheres of Scelsi and the bubbles of Pierre Boulez (See the text I wrote in 2003 about Memory and Perception in Pierre Boulez)
Beethoven introduces in music the suspended present and years later a tradition in french music will constittude a thread: Debussy-Messian-Boulez.

The problem of music from Bethoven becomes the problem of memory.
Beethoven late period went beyond romanticism. Beethoven has been considered the most crucial figure in the transition from classical to romantic, but in fact his music went far beyond that. There is an indubitable bridge between Beethoven´s late period and anti romantic movements of the end of the XIX century.
Beethoven draws the end of modernity
Beethoven´s late period critizies Beethoven second period. Beethoven was aware that classicism became fictitius and artificial, too ornamental. That was the indecorum of Beethoven.

The late period is not about memory but about perception and liberating the imagination, not about depicting a story but producing suggestions, atmospheres rather than linear progressions, music doesn´t move but spins around itself. Time, like ocean waves, doesn´t go anywhere, but it moves, it oscilates rejoicing the tension of the non resolution. What later in the music of Schumann it has been called suspended present, probably the musician that most hated the develops in music.

Beethoven and Debussy, time seems to be suspended, the ambiguity of Debussy and his floating chords, the so called emancipation of sound, Beethoven drew already the possibility of music to become transformation, to emancipate from the sonata form.

Waves of time, the music becomes myterious oscillation, is not static like in the op. 132, music moves, not as an sphere but as waves of sound. Here Beethoven foreshadows Debussy.

Sonata 30. op 109 first movement (John Lill) by john Lill

Sonata 30. op 109 3rd movement by John Lill

Sonata 31. op 110 last movement by john Lill

Beethoven foreshadows Mahler dissolving already the Tonality. Beethoven and Bartók, Beethoven and Shostakovich and, why not, Beethoven and Messiaen (specially from the attack of the piano and how music becomes a machine with gears), Beethoven and Scelsi. Beethoven against the ability to memorize.

Sometimes free, sometimes strict

1920´s: first performance after Beethoven´s death (1827) of the op 130 with the Grosse Fuge as final movement.

Seemingly unrelated outbursts
. Assertive, sforzando. The cello trills. Zig Zag. Vigour. Excess of tension. Fortissimo. Frenzy. Bustle. Hurried development:

Proust and Beethoven. Both translate the inner book in the proximity of death, what makes to say only what is important to be said and in the only way it could be expressed: rushing and forgetting the ornaments. When there is a need to rush, fragments appear to be the best way of composing. The subject can not be expressed in a simpler way than through fragmentation

Beethoven creates parallel centers of gravity, intensities, disjointed play of forces. The Grosse Fuge is a big question mark. The Doubt is brought in: music is folded, between two, a critical junction, the themes are broken into pieces. Beethoven opens all the possibilities of certainty.

We should consider the Fuge in its organic articulation as a texture in uncessant transformation of shapes. Is there a thread?


- Overture: presentation of the 2 main themes
: Theme 1 (unison fortissimo followed by a variation in legato=Theme 1a), Theme 2 Meno mosso e moderato followed by a variation of the Theme 1, Theme 1b.
- PART 1 Fuge: presentation of the 3rd main theme (counter subject) + variation of Theme
1b as subject. Development, fragmentation and manipulation of subject and counter subject.
- PART 2 Meno mosso e moderato
: as a counter subject + Theme 1 as subject
- Allegro molto e con brio
: Theme 1a, scherzo
- PART 3 Double Fuge
: develop of the Theme 1. Develop of the Theme 3 + Theme 1 + Meno mosso e moderato. End: odd progression of chords
- Allegro molto e con brio
+ fake end
- Summary: recapitulation + Allegro finale of the Theme 3.

The fuge as dance. There is something that plays the a constant rol: the rhythm, even if it´s cross-rhythm or syncopated, we still recognize perfectly the determination: the fortissimo and sforzando. It´s a static maniacal dance, an inner violent hurried dance. What creates a certain thread are no longer the subjects or counter subjects, niether the thems or melodies but rather a specific determination on the music, a Will to Power.

Beethoven´s biggest experiment: he burst the conventions of clasical music proposing new statements that will not be followed for the next generations, they will not be social accepted until the XX century.

The difficulty of the Grosse Fuge is just a matter of time: it requires time beyond any superficial approach. Beethoven is pointing the conventions to make us realize that it´s all about re-organizing the limits of our perception, taste, comprehension. It demands time to get access, requires an effort. It is a process of knowing each other and Beethoven is demanding again an effort from the audience to redefine the limits of what we call perception or understanding.

I don´t think the clue to approach the Grosse Fuge is to decipher the form or structure but rather to focus on three concepts: Simultaneity, Fragmentation and Dissonances.

The Grosse Fuge brings in the following idea: simultaneity of subjects in continuous variation and fragmentation without harmonic requirements.

The simultaneity can be understood as a competition or an inner struggle between non complementary elements that Beethoven brings them together. But also as a co-existence of the differences. This differences or contrast create the appearance of chaos but it doesn´t, it´s just a complex world.

The Themes are not only transformed and disguised under multitude of different appearances creating a kind of perspectivism but also undergoing a process of fragmentation. Melodies become paintbrushes, no longer recognizable as a line, they are cut and delocalized.

Beethoven opens the doors to the dissonances as Samuel Beckett will allow chaos to enter because is the truth. Beethoven´s music becomes less accesible and is not anymore music to please the ears but rather to challenge them. Within tonality, without abandon tonality he expands the limits of understanding music. It´s not that dissonances can also be music but rather there is no music without dissonaces.

Semitones: harmonic and melodic tension

The message in the finale of the ninth Symphony, composed one year before said: let´s put aside the dissonances and let´s be friends: agreement and concord. But the Grosse Fuge proposes a different message: let´s integrate dissonances because they are the truth. The consequences of questioning the harmony are not to have anymore the impression of an agreement. And sometimes there will be moments of comming together in a certain concord: the unison passage of meno mosso a moderato or Adagio con brio. In Beethoven the Weltanschauung (World view) is actually dictated by a logic of Stimmungen, a logic of affects.

How to understand community accepting dissonances and differences?

The gentle and soft section meno mosso e moderato (lyrical section) brings a peaceful mood, because there is no longer a competition and brings some relief after the long Fuge .

But is later when the meno mosso e moderato is introduced inside the Fuge, simultaneously with the main theme, with the instructions forte , the gentle becomes assertive and loud because this time there is a competition on going.

After the meno mosso e moderato part suddenly we arrive in a series of odd progression of chords, each followed by a moment of silence: Uncertainty, expecting the resolution which is abruptly interrupted by the Allegro con brio.

Quick summary, recapitulation and final section with the Theme 3.

Beethoven brings together the opposition death-life, depression-will of power, yes, dialectical but he brings them simultaneously, showing that one need the other to exist. And the Grosse Fuge is the expression of that simultaneity (to relate with the Heiliges dankgesang)

The Allegro molto e con brio at the ent after the trilling section of the end of the moso e moderato: Negociating moods, bipolarity.

Disonances (existencial despair) against triumph of joy. The Grosse Fuge doesn´t express the disonances of the world (war, illness, proximity of death, depression) but the possibility of the Will to exist inside these dissonances. The Grosse Fuge is a fight.

What is the difference between a string quartet and and string orchestra? 4 musicians or 12, 21, 60.
It´s interesting to listen to the orchestral version of the Grosse Fuge, how the music becomes crowd and to realize how the music becomes more accessible in its orchestral dimension. There is a difference if we isolate 4 single elements than 4 groups of elements.

Grosse Fuge ORCHESTRA by klemperer

But if we put the two long fuges sections parallel we find a perfect symmetry in terms of length . This track brings both sections together:

Grosse Fuge x2 by alban berg quartet

Why have I done something like this? If we double the fuge, if we bend the fuge is not only to find a symmetry but to get a certain experience of how a crowd in fuge would sound like. This case is very different from the string orchestra. Now we have 8 instruments, actually 2 groups of singular elements in fuge. The result is the opposite than with the orchestra. An orchestration of the Grosse Fuge makes the fuge more accesible because each line becomes a choreography for many instruments that repeat the same line. This makes easier to identify and recognize every single line because it has been multiplicated. It´s easier to identify ten pepole moving exactly in the same way than one single person moving on its own way. But the fuge folded on itself makes the chaos bigger and reproduces accurately how a crowd in fuge would sound like. And not only that, if I have increased the chaos was to make more visible that still the fuge keeps an amazing unity. Of course the number of dissonaces are bigger but doesn´t make the whole more dissonant, it´s just a matter of quantity and not of quality.

Animation machine of the Grosse Fuge

The center is abandoned, the action is moved to the periphery, a hole appears across the extremes
Adorno and Deleuze together?

It´s usual to read about the differences between Deleuze and Adorno: for Adorno, reality is necessarily dialectical and irresolvable contradictions, while Deleuze denies the notion of a correct rendering of objective reality and introduces the notion of univicity of being , no dialectical but rather an absolute leap of perception.
But is it possible to find a common denominator for both philosophers?. First of all, they both invoke the kind of art which resists or defies representation. But going further I will try to show how to apply in the late Beethoven the Deleuze and Guattari´s ideas about music and to connect them with Adorno´s ideas about the late Beethoven.


Adorno talks about impropriety and unsuitability: what appears in the late period isn´t simply what appears to be. Adorno means appearance of the non appearance: either because its curious inauthenticity or because excessive simplicity, the themes and melodies no longer appear as themselves but as signs of something else. They are cut, disturbed, they are only sketches, possiblities. Understanding themes as subjectivities, in the late period the themes are disturbed, they are in inmanent distant respect themselves.
Beethoven becomes fragile
Tonality is withheld and at the same time broken.
Alienation and schizofrenia.

The deterritorialization of the refrain (Ritournello) happens for the first time not in Schumann but in the late Beethoven
To relate with the the concept of Inadequacy in Deleuze (chapter 8 of Logic of sense), about the floating signifier in Levi-Strauss. Deleuze describes this Antinomia: having two series which are related to each other in continuos imbalance or distance, that implies continuos readjustments.
This continuos imbalance or distance is represented by the idea of Asymptote.

DISAGGREGATION of the central principle. Disintegration, dissociation and dissolution of the form. The classical burst into fragments, says Adorno. Actually Beckett used also the same image of something that burst out to refer to Beethoven´s Ghost trio:
a hitherto unkown art of dissonances, a weavering, a hiatus, a punctuation of dehiscence,a stress given by what opens, slips away and disappears, a gap that punctuates nothing but the silence of a final ending“

What does burst mean? Dehiscence, premature open of a wound or a plant to release its contents.

The voices are wrapped around each other.
Harmony becomes a forgotten convention because it produces the ilussion of unity.

Deleuze and Guattari in Thousand Plateaus, Postulates of Linguistics, in opposition to the arborescent type, Beethoven prepares the disaggregation of the central principle, replacing the centers forms of continuous development with a form that constantly dissolves and transform itself. When development suburdinates form and spans the whole, variation begins to free itself and becomes identified with creation. (...)

Beethoven introducing variations without center in music approach the idea of rhizome that Pierre Boulez will bring into the limits, making audible nonsonorous forces through placing all sound components in continuous variation.

1819-23 Diabelli Variations op. 120

Instead by Form, the matter is organized by forces, intensities , the center is disseminated in a net or weave of forces.

op 132. 2nd mov. Allegro by alban berg quartet


Against decoration and ornamentation, the late period is excessive simplicity, bare. There is not anymore question and answer, is just one single thing but displaced from itself. It´s not anymore important to exhaust fully the themes. This is what Adorno calles Principle of condensation, forms are rarely consumed, it´s enough to mention/enunciate to exhaust.


Beethoven turns out the hollow space of the sonata form, concave becomes convex.
Adorno also talks about interruptions, hiatus, silences, ruptures, pure tension between the extremes. The technique, instead harmonic transitions, is to JUMP. There are no mediations, only, like in Hegel, through extremes. Music has holes.

Deleuze in Critical and Clinical describes Beethoven´s Ghost trio: there is a kind of central erosion that first arises as a threat among the bass parts and is expressed in the trill of wavering of the piano, as if one key were about to be abandoned for another, or for nothing, hollowing out the surface, plunging into a ghostly dimension where dissonances would appear only to punctuate the silence.

On the other hand, the floating signifier needs emptiness to emerge.

If now we visit Deleuze and Guattari about Holey space in Treatise on Nomadology:The war machine, we are tempted to think that Beethoven was a smith, inventing a holey space within the striated space of the sonata form. Beethoven produces the emergency of the rhizome in the striated space of the classicism.


Beethoven wasn´t atonal but polarizes the tonality. Dissociation into two extremes: monody and poliphony, with the exception of the fuges.

Deleuze Guattari: Refrain: Not to supress tonality but to turn it loose.


Adorno means pure tension across extremes, when unity is just an illusion and the whole a self deception.

Deluze about Proust will demand to have the right to incompliteness and to patches: the fragmentation means to exclude the logic unity and organic totality, there is no previous unity but they are an EFFECT, they come afterwards, a posteriori: but the unity appears as a fragment (paintbrush) inside the sistem. Transversality is what makes that allows each part to keep its difference and at the same time to be connected and to communicate.

- Adorno: the late period speaks about the language of the archaic, of children of savages and God. Deleuze: only children artists and schizofrenics can inhabitate the inadequacy because there are displaced towards themselves


Beethoven remains.

I will never die.

This text is dedicated to Miguel Copón.


Aristoteles: Poética
Adorno: Beethoven
Proust: À la Recherche du temps perdu
Benjamin: Literarische und ästhetische Essays
Wittgenstein: Tractatus,
Deleuze and Guattari: A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schyzophrenia
Deleuze: Proust and the signs
Deleuze: Critical and Clinical
Deleuze: Spinoza, Practical Philosophy
Deleuze: Cinema 2. The time image
Nietzsche: The Gay Science
Leonard B.Meyer: Emotion and meaning in music
Anthony Storr: Music and the Mind
Robert S.Kahn: Beethoven and the Grosse Fuge
Michael Schneider: Musiques du nuit
Peter Kivy: New Essays on musical understanding
Antoine Hennion: La passion musicale
Max Steinitzer: Beethoven
E. Fubini: El Romanticismo: entre Musica y Filosofia
Robert P. Morgan: Twentieth Century Music
Patrick Donnelly: Grosse Fuge

Beethoven and Adorno
Beethoven and Deleuze
Beethoven and Scelsi
Beethoven Grosse Fuge
Deleuze and music

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