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"He had a theory that musicians are incredibly complex, and know far less than other artists what they want and what they are; that they puzzle themselves as well as their friends; that their psychology is a modern development, and has not yet been understood." – E. M. Forster

Monday, 30 November 2009

Beethoven is listening

Recently I realized that I did not have any Beethoven string quartets on CD, or really, much of his chamber music. Last week, I consulted my music list to see if there was something I could start with. (Every time I hear something I like but don’t recognize it or have a recording of it, I add it to an ever-growing, never-ending list of music.) I saw an entry for a Beethoven “Adagio” from a chamber strings piece (no piano). It was something I’d heard on Last.fm but, as is the unfortunate case for many instances of classical music digital meta data, there was no performer listed nor a reference to the original larger work. There was an album associated with the piece, but it was incorrect (Complete Symphonies and Piano Concertos — not exactly where you’d find chamber music for strings only).

Many of the classical pieces I hear on Last.fm are from the Naxos label, so I started my investigation by looking through current Naxos releases of Beethoven string quartets and quintets, one by one. I slowly eliminated all of the string quartets, moved to the string quintets, and discovered that the recording I’d heard was actually the second movement from a string quintet arrangement of Beethoven’s Clarinet Trio in B-flat major, op. 11 (“Gassenhauer”), by the Metamorphosis Quintet. Yay! It was like finding and solving the jackpot — a jackpot of lovely music so I could listen to more of it.

The find made me curious about the original work. I like clarinet, and Beethoven, IIRC from my music courses in college, was one of the first composers to include the clarinet in non-liturgical settings. So I’d successfully identified the mystery “Adagio,” but now there was this bonus of learning about the Clarinet Trio in B-flat major, for piano, cello and of course, clarinet — something I wasn’t even aware existed but was happy to find. I ended up doing some searches for it and found a few good candidates to extend my music list (there’s even a recording with Barenboim and du PrĂ©). Listened to some clips and, wow, another jackpot of beautiful music! I went to sleep a happy camper.

Sometime the next morning at work, I realized I needed some music and switched on the radio. Usually I don’t listen to live FM radio during the day, but Last.fm had been playing some recommendations multiple times, so a few days earlier, I had tuned in to the local classical radio station during the afternoons — the only FM classical station remaining in the L.A. area, KUSC. So anyway, I switched on the radio, and immediately I heard a piano and cello. “Hey, chamber music, nice,” I thought. Then I heard the clarinet. “Wow, this is cool. What a minute…could this possibly be…nah…” I finally went over to the KUSC site to see what the piece was.

“Ludwig van Beethoven: Clarinet Trio in Bb Op 11.”

Yes, really! I re-read it to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. (Here’s the playlist from that day. Check what host Alan Chapman played at 11:17 a.m.!)

Okay, so it wasn’t one of the recordings I’d added to my music list, and I’d turned on the radio a little too late and missed the “Adagio” movement (it would have been much weirder if I had turned on the radio during the second movement), but still! It was one of those wonderful, simpatico musical moments that happens every so often and never fails to amaze me each time. Thank you, Alan Chapman, Last.fm, musicians, Beethoven, and Musical God of the universe. Wherever he is, I’d like to think that Beethoven can hear, and he’s listening.


Related post: “Someone is listening”

Posted at 11:36 pm | Filed under Music to help keep me sane & healthy, Musings & everything else, Radio, NPR, etc.

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