Beethoven and Rihm: Part II

This weekend the NOVA Gallery Series presents the 2nd installment of our complete cycle of Beethoven Sonatas for Violin and Piano and solo Klavierstücke of Wolfgang Rihm. While this pairing provides a great deal of musical contrast, the composers themselves each offer us a pair of diametrically opposed works on this concert.

Beethoven composed his opus 23 and 24 sonatas in late 1800 and early 1801 during an extremely prolific period of his career. On three occasions around this time, he wrote to friends, confessing both the symptoms of hearing loss and his resolve to “seize Fate by the throat- it will certainly not crush me completely.” Italianate sensibilities dominate the opus 23 sonata. The precipitous drama found in both the first-movement tarantella and the fiery finale finds respite in a comedic second movement reminiscent of Mozart’s operas. The opus 24 “Spring” sonata (a nickname bestowed long after Beethoven’s death) is a more lyrical work that prefigures a style of music Schubert would embrace 25 years later.

Rihm’s Klavierstücke Nos. 4 and 5 inhabit extremely different spiritual and emotional realms. No. 4 is an introspective and poetic work. Composed in 1974, this piece evokes a sense of mystery and religiosity. Cast as six short movements that run seamlessly together, Rihm’s preoccupation with resonance, bell tones, and repetition invites the listener to a contemplative state.

Rihm composed Klavierstück No. 5 the following year; the work was written for and dedicated to the great German pianist Herbert Henck. Just four years older than Rihm, Henck was responsible for bringing a great deal of American modern music, especially that of Charles Ives, before German audiences. The wild nature of Klavierstück No. 5 is quite possibly indebted to the improvisatory yet structured narrative found in Ives’ ‘Hawthorne’ movement of the Concord Sonata. Rihm adapts the stream-of-consciousness tone of Ives’ music to his own Germanic disposition. References to Schumann, Beethoven, Debussy, Schoenberg, and Messiaen, many of which will be unnoticeable on a first hearing, fly by in cascades of virtuosity. This work consists of three movements; a short and raucous opening that presents material that will later be reprised as a quiet chorale (mvt. 3). The second movement is a chaconne that implodes after six variations, dissolving into a free exploration of the materials heard thus far. A brutal climax in the bass register is followed by a chorale that resolves on “C”, the opening sonority of the work. The word “resolution” here describes a harmonic function that Rihm undermines with a disturbing realization: 7 sffffz iterations of octave “C’s” spaced over irregular intervals of time.

JH, 2.22.14