b Riding East: December 2017

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Adagio Cantabile from Beethoven Sonata Op. 13 in C minor, “Pathetique”

After spending more time with Brahms and Bach this past year, I'm coming back to the early Beethoven sonatas, including Op. 7, Op. 10 No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, as well as this treasure. I was probably inspired by my friend Andrew Rangell's new CD, a Bouquet of Beethoven.  BTW, do we still call them CDs?

I spent some time on this piece this week.  I didn't realize how fast I was playing until I listened to the recording.  Hardly an Adagio, it's difficult to "sing" at this tempo, but unfortunately, so is life for me.  I've been trying to slow down for the past few decades and haven't yet succeeded.  I dream of not rushing one day-- while playing Beethoven, while walking to Caltrain, while spending time with my children...

When I think about the frenetic pace of my life, I'm reminded of the time in 2005 when I stepped down from job/career and focused on composing full time.  One of the first pieces I wrote, before formally beginning my graduate studies at Stanford, was an orchestral set based on Dante's Purgatorio, which allowed me to explore this theme of life and time.  Lacking an orchestra, I used Cubase and "virtual instruments" to create recordings, which didn't seem so awful back then (oh might was I wrong).  Here are a couple pieces from that set, including "Calliope Arise" and "Femmina Balba II", which I more or less improvised on a keyboard that was plugged into Cubase to synthesize the cellos.

The Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, I, 1:12

    Per correr miglior acque alza le vele
To run its course through smoother water
omai la navicella del mio ingegno,
the small bark of my wit now hoists its sail,
che lascia dietro a sé mar sì crudele;
leaving that cruel sea behind.
    e canterò di quel secondo regno
Now I shall sing the second kingdom,
dove l'umano spirito si purga
there where the soul of man is cleansed,
e di salire al ciel diventa degno.
made worthy to ascend to heaven.
    Ma qui la morta poesì resurga,
Here from the dead let poetry rise up,
o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
O sacred Muses, since I am yours.
e qui Calïopè alquanto surga,
Here let Calliope arise
    seguitando il mio canto con quel suono
to accompany my song with those same chords
di cui le Piche misere sentiro
Whose force so struck the miserable magpies
lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.
that, hearing it, they lost all hope of pardon.
PurgatorioXIX, 10:14

    Io la mirava; e come 'l sol conforta
I looked at her, and as the sun revives
le fredde membra che la notte aggrava,
Cold limbs benumbed by night,
così lo sguardo mio le facea scrota
so my gaze gave her a ready tongue
    la lingua, e poscia tutta la drizzava
And then in very little time
in poco d'ora, e lo smarrito volto,
straightened her crooked limbs