Beethoven and Giacinto Scelsi.

In 1825 the String Quartet op. 132 was composed.
During sketching this piece, Beethoven was stricken with an intestinal inflammation, big pain. This body process of illness and recovery affected directly the composition of this quartet. The core of this piece is the third movement, the Adagio. Beethoven wrote a header for it: Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart, or in english A convalescent´s Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode.

This Adagio represents Beethoven´s labor of minimizing the musical expression to its essence; it contains only two melodic ideas. He makes us see the structure, is the opposite of using ornaments, music is bare. Beethoven makes zoom in in music. The music leaves the striated space of the form to explore with the microscope the pure duration of time.

Giacinto Scelsi, another solitary man, didn´t suffer from intestinal inflammation but he got into a deep depression
after his wife left him. As a therapy for this breakdown, and following neurotic patterns that remind us of Hölderlin, he spent his days with the simple task of playing the same note on the piano. Yes: the same note over and over again. This mystical trance, listening obsessively to the same note brought him to experience that sound is spherical. In just one single sound is the entire cosmos. Scelsi brought into his music the last quartest of Beethoven and if we listen to the Adagio we find the door that Scelsi went through: to reduce music into its most minimal essence.

But what happen exactly on this Adagio?
First of all, Beethoven makes unrecognizable the melody. How? The melody almost doesn´t exist because the tempo is extremely SLOW. The length of every single note is dilated, it makes us feel the duration of time sacrificing the melody. Scelsi will take this to the extreme: maintaining the same note all the time.

Indeed, what Beethoven makes in this Adagio is a reduction
process, The phrase is being reduced three times. First from 8 notes into 5. Then from 5 into 3 and finally 3 into 2. Time has no direction anymore, there is no past resent and future, it´s like pure time or pure duration. Music stops, exists as a sphere, there is no where to go.

Beethoven, on this quartet makes a special use of the semitone, or half note what makes the four lines of the four instruments independent but together. A semitone is the smallest musical interval commonly used in tonal music and it´s consider the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. Semitones are in Scelsi the main motif of his microtonality. Suspended time of the most painful illness but also characteristic of the neurotic behaviour. In 1944 Scelsi´s first quartet represents the beginning of the so called Scelsi´s second period. It´s interesting to mention that Beethoven´s Grosse Fuge appears in a highly disguised form in the first and last movement of his this Quartet. Beethoven´s use of the semitone appears mostly on his Grosse Fuge, this is one of the reason of its dissonance, but also in the Heiliges Dankgesang. If we listen to the 4th movement of First Quartet of Scelsi we can listen to the adagios of the late Quartets of Beethoven:

Scelsi String Quartet I by arditti quartet

And now let´s listen to a loop made out of the first notes of the Beethoven´s op. 127 2nd movement:

Loop op.127 2nd mov. by alban berg quartet

Beethoven was a freelance musician and wrote three of his late Quartets, asked by Prinz Nikolas Galitzin, for 50 dukats each. On the contrary Scelsi belonged to an aristocratic family and freed him from financial worries. This makes a big difference also in a compossitional level. For instance, Beethoven´s Grosse Fuge wasn´t accepted by his publisher and he had to write a new finale for the op. 130. The chance to experiment wasn´t so big in the case of Beethoven and this is why his most radical proposals can be found as moments inside his compostions or isolated movements surrounded by more tradicional ones. For instance, the 4th movement "alla marcia" that follows the Heiliges Dankgesang, or simply the finale that replaced the Grosse Fuge, music compossed to content audiences and not to satisfy experimentation. Regarding his op 95 Quartetto Serioso, he declared that is written for a small circle of connoisseurs and is never to be performed in public. This Quartet came to early. Exciting that Mahler had arranged it for use by string orchestra.

No comments:

Post a Comment