Op.2 No.2 Part two

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:

to 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.


12 thoughts on “Op.2 No.2 Part two

  1. I read this all with rapt attention and will shortly get out my music to follow the story better. For me, things like this definately help the memory. You have something to attach it to. For others, simply the music. But, you have to admit – after reading a story like this – who could forget it and/or forget the themes and the purposes and characters. There may be less characters in Beethoven – but as you say – they are there and also may figuratively bring in a combo of Mozart’s father and Beethoven’s own father, too. They both had that strange love/hate thing going on and did often think of those who had died and what exactly happened to them. Isn’t the middle movement of the opus 10 #3 very ‘scary’ too. The etherialness – as though one has ‘seen a ghost.’

    1. Yes, yes, I completely agree that it is an excellent memorization help to put the music in a context. It brings in a sort of “emotional memory” or musical memory if one wants.

      Yes, it could very well be Mozart’s father who is the Commendatore…I’m reading Maynard Solomon’s book on Beethoven right now, I think you would like it – he discusses a lot the psychological impact different things in Beethoven’s life brought on him.

  2. Sorry to write so much. I listened to this beautiful ‘Largo’ and marvelled how much feeling is in it, Per. This is really beautiful. A musicologist Kuerti (of San Jose?) suggested that the second theme in measure 20 is suddenly a different softer feeling one – but still in the same key! So…it appears like a coda which is something that Beethoven later latches onto – although here it is also the second theme.

    Do you think the staccatos represent the harpsichord of the time? That it’s almost ‘orchestrated for harpsichord and voice?’ Well, maybe all string orchestra and harpsichord – but I am frustrated as to what tune this is. Surely, someone has come up with some kind of German tune, theme, anthem that it matches.

  3. In terms of coming close to anything else that I’ve heard – it would be Palestrina’s Improperia. The implications of that are not exactly good since it sort of blames the jews for the plight of the Savior – but here is a more moderate description of the theme of that tune which also becomes very loud – but maintains a hymn-like quality:

    These ‘Improperia’ are the expression of a complete desolation and abandonment, the complaint of a son who feels that he’s been abandoned even by his father who for him was his god, the strong, the holy, the unviolable and immortal. Seldom this feelings have been put into words more touching than in these lamentations, and seldom this words have been put in music with such deep empathy as Palestrina did. Even seldom this music has been performed in such a wrinkled performance as this one.

  4. Funny that you mention a fantasy by Mozart. As a teen, I struggled to learn Fantasie D minor by Mozart and yes, I loved it. No, he wasn’t a cutie. He was just incredibly skilled, and he was able to express even very complicated moods in his music – like that scene in Don Giovanni. The characters appear stiff, to say the least 😉 but you can hear an OCEAN of feelings (guilt, anger, defence, agony, fear when finally facing the consequences etc etc etc) in the music and the singing.
    We have to consider that Mozart died young, hence most of his music was the product of a youthful mind. I am sure he would have made grandios, black masterpieces if he had lived some 40-50 years more!
    Well, back to the Fantasy again … I liked it at once, although I normally did not find Mozart’s piano pieces very interesting. Too much di-di-dadada-tralala so to speak. (With some exceptions of course!) I have never deliberately analysed the feelings in it, but I know that I’ve FELT them quite clearly. It starts in a mysterious way, almost threatening and then it goes on – sad, emotional, with some outbursts and finally some directly painful notes. And then, the ending Allegretto! Di-di-dadada-tralala, so “typically Mozart”! It makes me associate to the movie “Amadeus”, where he in the middle of a depressed mood suddenly starts laughing in that silly way again. I think this allegretto is a typical Mozart laughter – like he is saying “hey, it’s still me, you know!”

    1. Sorry, I did not mean that he never achieved to make any “grandios, black masterpieces” during his lifetime. The important word “more” seemed to slip out here.

  5. I can quite follow what you, Per, described as “knots the end and the beginning together”. True, he certainly does that. But – one thought here … I just wonder if a composer like Beethoven, who wrote these rater long pieces, had the whole “idea” in his head from the beginning? Like: “umm, here I want to write a song where I tie the beginning and the end together with a sense of total peace …”
    There is a clear pattern, yes. But question is when this pattern revealed itself to its composer. May look like a strange question, but when I write this happens quite often: I get an idea, I work with it for a while, the story starts to flow in a certain direction and I just go with the flow. And suddenly, when I look back, I see a clear and logical pattern that I did not plan from the beginning. Then, of course, I edit the whole thing in order to emphasize the patterns I like and remover those I don’t like …
    Music composing is a big black hole to me. Probably it is more clear when you already have some well-defined lyrics, or a dramaturgical idea – like in Don Giovanni and other operas – but what is the IDEA behind a movement in a sonata?

    (Like we have not discussed this question already in a million different ways … 😆 )

  6. Not sure if I interpret what you wrt correctly here (sorry about my English) but we must consider the time it took to WRITE a piece, not just PLAY it. Let’s say you have a movement that takes about 4 minutes to play. Let’s say it took a month to compose. Or maybe three months. Or maybe half a day. (I know absolutely nothing about composing.)

    My point is that the mood, or the moods, might shift in a very different way in the movement, depending on the time it took to write it.

    We will never know how much poetical inspiration Beethoven had for his music. Beethoven experts don’t know. His best friends did not know. Maybe he knew by himself, but even that is not 100% certain. Still, I am quite sure that if he had an outspoken intention with a certain composing, he would have … spoken out loud, yes. At least if someone ever had the guts to ask him …

  7. “interpret what you wrt correctly ” – LOL! I meant “wrote” of course!!!

    Some typos are funnier than the others. 😆 You can always give the mistake above a deeper psychological meaning, if you like …

  8. YODELLING? 😯 OK – Per! Where are you? Now let’s hear some of the yodelling, please?

    Oh, I’ve lived with the old cliché that music flowed out of Mozart like water from a spring in the forest, while Beethoven was SWEATNG over his composing, throwing rejected draft papers around him in frustrated anger, or working like a maniac for 72 hours without sleep – yup, the real Artist Cliché, complete with his pucked eyebrows and all.

    Guess I have to get rid of that idea, once and for all.

    Per – a personal question: have you ever got so angry while practicing, that you have hit the piano keys with your fists? Or even your forehead?

    No? Never? My mother said she always knew when that moment would come. It was preceeded with my furious attempts to overcome something that I just could not get right. I played faster and harder every time … and then: BAM! BAMBAMBAMBAM!!! Gaaaah!

  9. As for the staccatos in the left hand in the beginning, I always thought of them as a cello and/or bass playing pizzicatos? We can never know, of course.

    I’m not sure if Beethoven was very much into Masonry. Yes, his benefactors and friends were most of them members, but the lodges were partly outlawed while Beethoven was a young man in Bonn. Apparently they then changed the lodge to being a kind of “reading club”, and widely expanded their memberships. Not even then did Beethoven apply or try to get in.

    As far as we know, Beethoven was not very sophisticated when it came to philosophical or political ideas. He was not the “revolutionary” that history has painted him as, he was in fact a lot more taken by royalties than Mozart ever was, probably because Mozart met so many in his childhood and got used to them.

    Don’t you think that, rather than composing to reflect the composers own feelings, that the composer wants to bring a piece of music which builds its own life so to speak? I think then, we can “attach” our own life and experiences to that music and whatever one feels is…well, “right”. There are instances when you can feel that the music reflects the life situation of the composer, as in Mozarts e-minor violin sonata written when his mother died. And in Beethoven’s later works one feels that you get a glimpse into his inner soul. But I think there are many instances when the composer was in despair, sits down, and writes a very happy piece.

    It’s all very mysterious…we can never know, and…wouldn’t it take away something if we knew?

  10. Sorry, I’m trying to get ready for the recording of 9 (!) sonatas, and sometimes my head is spinning like the finale of op.2 nr.3…

    I did write an answer further up, though, maybe you haven’t seen that.

    No, I could never hit a piano! It would be like hitting a human being for me (sounds overdramatic, but it really is like that).

    How much of Beethoven’s music is from a non-music source…hard to say. I would say a piece here and there, but not in general. There are certain pieces where Beethoven has told friends that this and that made him write a certain piece, but…all those “friends” trying to cash in on their friendship, making stuff up, or dramatizing it…it’s so hard to tell what is true and what is not!

    And yes…reading some Shakespeare probably does not hurt at ALL to get a little key into Beethoven’s world. But those connection probably will come in an unconscious way.

    I like the Palestrina video, thanks for sharing it. It has a little more sadness than our Largo, no?

    I definitely believe Beethoven had a feeling of seeing the movement as one whole thing (heck, even I can after playing for a while!), but from what I understand most composers start with ideas, little motives and themes…then they start playing around with them, developing them, almost seeing them as persons which they put in different situations and enviroments…but through it all, they have a sense of how the end result will be, in a broader way.

    I actually read Beethoven’s own words on this process a couple of days ago, and looked for it today but since I’m reading four different Beethoven books at the same time I just could not find it!

    OK, back to the piano!

    P.S. YES, Susan, that fourth movement is MUCH harder than most people think…

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