Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet in B Flat Major, Opus 130

In the fall of 1973, one of my heroes died. Pablo Picasso had just hit something like his 90th birthday and then popped off. I got word of his death while watching the news in the basement rec room of the college residence where I stayed. I am not sure it was on the same broadcast, but the bigger news story of the time was the publicity tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King. Riggs had bragged that no woman could beat him, and stupidly enough acted like a championship wrestler thumping his chest and boasting of his prowess. It seems to me that the item about the tennis match provoked more of a reaction among my house mates than the passing of the artists who revolutionized the way we look at the world.

The world’s fascination with sports always puzzled me. Why do men sit around drinking beer and watching sports? How did that get to be one of the officially sanctioned way for men to come together? Watching guys hyped up on steroids who look like Greek gods seems a bit homoerotic if you ask me. Their dislike of gays also seems a bit paradoxical as they watch these gladiators prance around in tight athletic pants and slap each other on the butt.

At the time, I was embarrassed by the whole Riggs-King match. My embarrassment came from posturing of Riggs. I did not like being associated through my chromosomes with this chauvinist pig. I certainly felt that he was an idiot for expressing these views. And then when it was over and he had lost, I didn’t hear him make any great mea culpa and recanting of his views.

Thinking back on it now, though, I almost see him as having done more to advance the cause of women in sports than almost any bra-burner of the day. I now wonder whether he might have engineered the whole thing to show that women could indeed compete. Look at the results–women’s tennis is the only sport in which females reach the same level of super-stardom as men.

Here is another irony. At the time, I rued the passing of Picasso. However, biographies since his death have portrayed him as a philanderer, a bad father, a shameless self-promoter and a lothario. If you want more ironies, apart from Georgia O’Keefe, few women have managed to break into the male dominated world of art. And what is more male-dominated than the domain of composers, conductors, and opera impresarios? We tend to think of artists as being more liberal, and the Christian right is so fond of attacking the NEA for giving your tax dollars to artists producing blasphemous works. If you told them that the arts are quite partriarchal, maybe they would support PBS more.

Enough for my rant. How about some music? It looks like I am going to have to put all six of Beethoven’s late quartets on this site. It is kind of shameful to admit that I’ve neglected them a bit over the past 15 or 20 years. What amazes me, however, is how every time I put another one on, I remember almost all of it. That means I either have a good musical memory or else I just played these recordings countless times. Knowing what an obsessive and addictive personality I have, the latter is probably more accurate. Don’t even ask me to try to take a guess at how many times I’ve listened to Carmina Burana, for example.

It is futile to describe every movement with any kind of depth, because they all possess such incredible variety and complexity, and I am no musicologist. The second movement, the Presto, which is short and fast is quite perky and uplifting. Stravinsky said that the Glissando that Beethoven wrote out could have been straight out of some of the modern a-tonal and serial works that Igor’s contemporaries were churning out in the early 20th century (and even today).

I like the last movement a lot, but then I am a sucker for pizzicato. The third movement, marked Andante (walking) does have a nice travelling feeling to it, as well as some beautiful romantic passages. Stravinsky said that while on the surface it sounded “insouciant” it actually is more expressive than the fifth movement, which was supposed to be “full of feeling” Adagio molto espressivo. To me it at times sounds like how I imagine how it would feel to be alive in Vienna during the 18th century. The fourth movement, called “at the German ball” sounds even more like that.

This quartet strikes me as immensely alive, maybe because it profoundly combines what we in the west call masculine and feminine elements. How anyone could exclude either those two fundamental human elements from their life, or proscribe and prescribe behaviors based on sex (as do the Taliban and, say the Religious right), is beyond me. How funny that Jung, who advocated embracing these two strains, is not as well known as Freud, who really missed the mark on female sexuality. Oh well, it’s a funny world.

Here’s a little something that’s also in honor of Pablo Picasso


Beethoven Biography

Download MP3 or buy CD of String Quartet Op. 130 on Amazon


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

5 Responses to Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet in B Flat Major, Opus 130

  1. G.H.Bone says:

    I’ve been enjoying all your posts about the Late Quartets, but I was struck by something else in this post. I, too, have always been baffled by how fascinated so many people are by sport. For my part, sport almost always bores me. And yet, I’m in a tiny minority in this. And people can talk about it endlessly. What can there possibly be to SAY about a football match, or an athletics competition?

    Beethoven’s string quartets on the other hand are a topic worthy of endless discussion. Op 130 is a particularly fine piece. There’s no movement in any composer’s work more exquisitely heart-rending than the Cavatina fifth movement. I also find it particularly touching to know that the last movement was the last piece that Beethoven ever wrote. Increasingly these days, quartets are choosing to play the piece with the original Grosse Fuge finale, which is fantastic … but it would be a dreadful shame if the enchanting shorter finale was completely relegated!

    I was fascinated to hear of the remarks that Stravinsky made about this piece. Where did you come across them? I’d love to hear more of his thoughts.

    Thanks for a great post!


    • kurtnemes says:

      Dear GH. Thanks for the comment. I agree they shouldn’t dump the shorter finale and they really should play both. I moved a while back and can’t find the volume by Stravinsky where I got this quote. I think it was something like “Memories and Commentaries” but it could have been “Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures).” It was a collection of a lot of essays, letters and articles he wrote. Quite amusing. Take good care and keep avoiding watching and talking about sports!


    • kurtnemes says:

      Hi again. The book by Stravinsky was called “Themes and Conclusions.” I believe my British ex-father-in-law gave it to me: Very well written and insightful and sometimes even catty.


  2. adambosze says:

    Reblogged this on Adam Bosze and commented:
    Although I prefer other artists and not Picasso I truly admire this quartet by Beethoven. Thanks for sharing it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: