2020 was to be the banner year to honor the 250th anniversary of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s birth, (b. 1770-d. 1827) but the pandemic extended the celebration into 2021.
My earliest infatuation with the composer’s music dated to my violin studies that accompanied my piano learning journey. It was Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, second movement, Allegretto, that drew me into a personally invented violin duet with a whole orchestra surrounding me, that channeled the middle movement on LP.
A melodic subject and 2 counter-subjects played by the strings, builds from simplicity to complex interweaving counterpoint in dynamic intensity with a larger force symphonic orchestra joining in. As I learned each part separately by rote, I enjoyed an immersion through numerous movement replays, alternating voices on my violin. What a monumental world of beauty to inhabit! Would it have its analog at the piano?!
A few years following my exposure to Beethoven’s enveloping symphonic beauty, I found myself auditioning for the New York City High School of Arts. (“P.A.”)–one hand holding a violin case, the other reaching for the score of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, Op. 13. In those years, piano prodigies like Murray Perahia and Kun Woo Paik, were already “P.A.” students so it was unlikely that such a small school with a tight-knit music department needed more pianists. A string player, however, would bolster the high school orchestra so I was destined to be a valuable asset.
After receiving my “P.A.” admission letter, I knew both the piano and violin would be equal musical partners until I otherwise detached from one or the other. Nevertheless, Beethoven’s music was percolating once again during my high school years when I studied the composer’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in B-Flat, alongside Mozart’s Concerto K. 453 in G Major. (By then, I had acquired an amazing piano teacher, Lillian Freundlich who by good fortune saved the day during a lull in my enthusiasm for the instrument.) My prior mentor, a fine pianist, just did not know how to guide me in the technical directions I desperately needed so at that point I was depressed and frustrated.
A Freundlich pupil with a new lease on life at the piano, I auditioned for the Winter H.S. Concerto Concert, missing an opportunity to play the Beethoven but landing a spot on the program with the Mozart. As I recall, Murray Perahia nailed Beethoven 2! (deservedly) However, as an orchestra member, and initially Principle Second Violinist, I recall an incomparably rendered Beethoven Triple Concerto: (Murray Perahia, (piano), Diana Halperin (violin), and Marian Heller (cello) beside a programmed early Beethoven Symphony with Julius Grossman, Music Department Chair, at the podium. In another musical setting, I remember playing Beethoven Symphonies scored for four-hand piano–with my pianist classmates squeezed in pairs into a small room, seated at a bunch of side-by-side studio uprights as we all played the same symphony!
In a fast forward journey to the present, accompanied by more flashbacks to the past, Beethoven’s Fur Elise looms. This piece was my earliest exposure to the composer at the piano, probably dating to my third year of study with Mrs. Schwed at a Bronx Community music school. The shrill teacher who pounded out robotic beats with heavy hands on the top of an old out of tune upright had not a shred of musical sensitivity. Even one of her male students in his teens, literally pounded away at the first movement of the Appassionata Sonata, missing a lot of notes, drowning them in pedal! Still, I was impressed by his playing at the Spring recital because of the preponderance of runs and muddy sonorities.
My Fur Elise offering, smaller in scale, had too many E, D#’s, because I’d never methodically counted them, but my rendering escaped a dead “beat” pulsation, with good musical instincts prevailing. This work became my signature piece for years to come. An entry in my primary school yearbook from Music Appreciation teacher, Miss Geraldine Yudin says, “to the little girl who played Fur Elise the way Beethoven meant it.” (Not sure I would agree!)
This past month I resurrected the over-exposed piece on my You Tube Channel.
Coming in close succession was the last movement (Allegretto) of Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata Op. 31, No. 2 that had been preceded by the middle movement, posted a month before.
My Beethoven journey this year has definitely been in synch with Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary and I hope to expand upon it in the months and years to come. Certainly as my students learn various delicacies from Beethoven’s pianoforte menu, I’ll be a partner to the delicious discoveries that await us.