I’m now making it a goal to share some music every day on the blog, as a break and mental boost during these unsettling times. Hope this will brighten your day and help you stay well. 🙂 If you’d like to check out earlier posts, you can start here.
Today’s piece is one of my favorites, by my favorite composer: the second movement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 13, “Pathetique.”
The “Pathetique” is one of the most beloved and most often performed Beethoven sonatas. Even if you don’t think you know this second movement, you’ll probably recognize the tune. Beethoven wrote the sonata at the start of the major watershed time in his life, when he had to accept that his hearing was failing and none of the medical treatments he tried so desperately were going to reverse the problem. For Beethoven, his impending deafness felt like a death sentence. How could he keep making music, which was the only thing he’d ever wanted to do, the only thing he felt he was made for? And what was the point, if he couldn’t do that?
We know now, looking back, that Beethoven’s deafness was the gift that changed the course of music history. Feeling that he was working against time, Beethoven pulled himself out of his initial despair and spent the rest of his life laser-focused on creating all the music he could, and doing it his way: creating his own musical language to say only and exactly what he wanted to say.
Soon after writing the “Pathetique,” Beethoven had to accept that he couldn’t premiere his own piano works anymore, because his hearing let him down too much. This piece, written on the edge of his shift away from performance, was still a showcase for him, with its heroic and flashy first movement. In the lyrical second movement, though, we see another side of Beethoven’s personality. I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine that this quieter movement let Beethoven express some of the deeper sadness and uncertainty he felt at this period of great change in his life, and that in it, he was reaching out for peace.
As you listen, let the music help you get at some of your own feelings during these confused and frightening times. Where do you look for peace? As always, if you’d like to share your thoughts, you’re welcome to leave a note in the comments.
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