The slow movement starts like this:
It’s very beautiful…and it has this character of “looking up”. What I mean with “looking up” is a little hard to describe, but it has a character of a certain humility, some hope, some confidence in a good world…
Here is a theme that for me is “looking down”:
All this would come from the world of opera, there are countless situation when an aria (song) is sung with someone on their knees, looking up, either lamenting their situation or being very happy, or here, as in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where the giant statue of the Commendatore (being large and looking down at Don Giovanni) is finally bringing bad boy Don Giovanni to justice, asking him to have supper with him, which is just a disguise for bringing him down to hell:
And now I just HAVE to put in the part where the statue keeps telling Don Giovanni:
“Hear what I say, my time is short”
Don Giovanni, not afraid of anything, tells him back:
“Speak then, I am listening”
All while Leporello, who is the more human bystander, is scared to death:
“Oh my Lord…we are all dead men. I cannot keep from shaking”
Anyone wants to call Mozart’s music “cute”? Didn’t think so.
Back to our slow movement. when playing this, Shan-shan heard it and said “it’s like someone praying”. Whoa. That unlocked many things for me, listen again:
After a few days, I thought of something else. This theme is actually what is called a Cruciform theme (or cross-theme), that is, a theme which goes in a way so that if you draw a line between the notes, it will resemble of a cross (well, with some imagination):
The above theme is a fugue by Bach, and it really does seem to describe the sorrow of Jesus on the cross, or him carrying the cross to his own execution:
Bach used cross-themes a lot, on purpose, and in general used quite a few symbolic formulas in his music, describing specific things. It is an incredible and amusing thing that Bach’s own name, if you play it…is a cross-theme!
The beginning of the slow movement of the op.2 no.2 is actually a cross-theme, but here the character is more of gratefulness…
Of course, this is all speculation. Sometimes those things hurt more than they help, in that you corner yourself into a certain thinking. So, take it or leave it, it’s just a personal take on it.
I should also add that in no way do I try to paint a story or a program into the music…it’s just ways of finding certain emotional keys where the music is built upon and circling around.
A certain contrast, which sounds more down-to-earth (or should I say BACK-to-earth?), a certain suffering involved, a kind of “reality check” follows our “prayer”:
Towards the end, something amazing happens: the first theme turns into an threatening, dramatic persona, in fact almost Commendatore-like!
What follows after this is another example of Beethoven’s incredible capacity to transport the music into different states seamlessly, without “corners”.
First comes a kind of victorious feeling, going up:
then an operatic moment with two persons, one serene and pure in the upper register, and one with a more dramatic response moving down in steps, but the serene part refuses to follow…
the serene and upper wins and transform itself to the main theme, in a glittering sound:
So we went from this:
in a VERY short time. Amazing, no?
And here is the whole thing, all through to the end…note how, after all the turbulens and contrasts, he knots the end and the beginning together, and just as the movement started in peace, it ends in complete peace. So beautiful.
And to end…with not a great sound, but…this is some heck of a drama. As so many pieces of art, this is built on the Don Juan legend: Don Juan is a rogue and a libertine who takes great pleasure in seducing women and (in most versions) enjoys fighting their champions. In a graveyard Don Juan encounters a statue of the dead father of a girl he has seduced, and invites him to dine with him; the statue gladly accepts. The father’s ghost arrives for dinner at Don Juan’s house and in turn invites Don Juan to dine with him in the graveyard. Don Juan accepts, and goes to the father’s grave where the statue asks to shake Don Juan’s hand. When he extends his arm, the statue grabs hold and drags him away, to Hell.