Saturday, February 20, 2010

Late Beethoven

That Beethoven continued to develop as a composer after his great "heroic" middle period is one of those truly miraculous events in the history of civilization. He tends to do the impossible in these late pieces: become stricter in form while stretching its very boundaries. The most radical example of his late period - with the possible exception of the fugal finale of his Hammerklavier sonata - is his Grosse Fugue, which, especially in the first section, rattles the bars of tonality. A dissonant double fugue, the Great Fugue liberates the great visionary Beethoven in a way not even his greatly introspective and intimate late piano sonatas can. This thoroughly modern work is anguished, yes, but also triumphant over incomprehensible suffering. The late works of Beethoven are of inestimable spiritual and visionary power and - it should be noted - composed in a void of total silence.

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