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David Dalle
Thursday December 17th, 2020 with David Dalle
Beethoven, all too human.

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's baptism, Dec 17th, 1770 in Bonn. He was probably born on the 16th, but we can never know for certain. The classical world had planned many, many Beethoven events and concerts around the world this year, all cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic. Thankfully, Beethoven's prominence in the concert hall is immense in any given year, but as Anthony Tommasini of the NY Times wrote this week: "Beethoven’s dominance of classical programming is a little crazy. Yet he was indisputably amazing." I never tire of listening to Beethoven, I can't contemplate ever being tired of listening to Beethoven. To celebrate this day, we will hear an unusual recording of one of Beethoven's most divine works, yet one whose history demonstrates that Beethoven was still, very much human, his String Quartet in B flat, Op. 130, one of his unparalleled five late quartets. Written in 1825, it is comprised of six movements, the finale being the magnificent Grosse Fugue, Beethoven's most complex and intricate musical structure. It was premiered in this form in March 1826, with a deaf Beethoven in attendance. The first five movements were enthusiastically received, but the audience was bewildered by the finale, reportedly enraging Beethoven as he believed it was the greatest movement. A contemporary critic called it "A confusion of Babel". Beethoven's publisher was very concerned about publishing the quartet. Thinking it would not sell as written, he pressured Beethoven to write a new finale. Surprisingly, he did; despite the godlike image of the stubborn, solitary genius-- who was immune to the opinions of his contemporaries--that has come down to us of Beethoven. Perhaps he did it for money? Or the sting of critics was a bit too sharp this time around? Beethoven was only human after all. It wasn't until midway through the last century that some quartets started playing Op. 130 with the original Grosse Fugue finale, and, even today, very few quartets perform or record it with Grosse Fugue as the finale. Most either perform Op. 130 with the light Allegro as the 6th movement, or after the Grosse Fugue. I strongly dislike both those options. The Grosse Fugue is the ending this large quartet requires. The newer ending is the equivalent of Beethoven replacing the massive fugue which ends his Op. 106 Hammerklavier sonata or the enormous Ode to Joy which ends his 9th symphony with short, light movements. Unthinkable! For today's show, we will hear the Danish String Quartet's recording for ECM records, with a brilliant, tight performance of Op. 130 with the Grosse Fugue ending as Beethoven conceived it. Furthermore, this is their second recording for ECM where they pair one of Beethoven's five late quartets with a fugue by Bach from the Well-Tempered Clavier and a more recent quartet , in their words: "Beethoven was focusing deeply on tradition and the 'old 'days' during the last years of his life, and was especially obsessed with Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, from which he derived many of the melodic motifs in his five late quartets." "What Beethoven did with this tradition, however, was mindblowing. His five late quartets were so extreme and brilliant they changed the game... Beethoven had taken a fundamentally linear development from Bach and exploded everything into myriads of different colours, directions and opportunities-much in the same way as a prism splits a beam of light."
Fugue in b minor BWV869
Johann Sebastian Bach/Danish String Quartet - Prism II - ECM
Schnittke's 3rd string quartet, composed in 1983, quotes the main theme from the Grosse Fugue and has the ghosts of Shostakovich and the Flemish Renaissance composer Orlando di Lassus haunting this spectral work.
String Quartet No. 3
Alfred Schnittke/Danish String Quartet - Prism II - ECM
String Quartet No. 13 in B flat Op. 130
Ludwig van Beethoven/Danish String Quartet - Prism II - ECM
It can be very hard to follow music like this. I often find what works best is to move in a completely different direction. We continue with the reissue of Analog Africa's 2nd released over a decade ago, a compilation of the Hallelujah Chicken Run Band with music from 1974-75. The reissue is very welcome to those like me who prefer their music on CD or vinyl.
Tamba ZImba Navashe
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One - Analog Africa
Chaminuka Mukuru
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One - Analog Africa
Ngoma Yarira
Hallelujah Chicken Run Band - Take One - Analog Africa
Hakurotwi Mude, Cosmas Magaya, Ephraim Mutemsango - Shona Mbira Music - Nonesuch
Cherie Kabisa
Wendo Kolosoy - Amba - Marabi
Zal Sissokho - Kora Flamenca - Analekta Canadian
Interactive CKCU
David Dalle (host)
Listening along!

2:02 PM, December 17th, 2020