Béla Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin
The CSO’s own Beyond the Score series is an astounding resource on The Miraculous Mandarin. Here’s the first part:
- Amanda Bayley (ed.): The Cambridge Companion to Bartok – google books – amazon – Get any book in the Cambridge Companion series and you will be richly rewarded.
- Peter Laki (ed.): Bartok and His World – google books – amazon – Includes an excellent and thorough chapter on “The Miraculous Mandarin”.
Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 in D
Heiligenstadt (map) was once a remote country village and spa – now now it’s a cozy Viennese neighborhood. Here is the cottage where Beethoven did the better part of his work on the Second Symphony in 1802:
It’s also where he wrote the Heiligenstadt Testament – a heartfelt document that Beethoven hid away in a secret drawer in his desk for the rest of his life and intended to be read upon his death. I’ve copied the famous opening lines below; the full text is here.
Oh you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn, or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you. From childhood on, my heart and soul have been full of the tender feeling of goodwill, and I was even inclined to accomplish great things. But, think that for six years now I have been hopelessly afflicted, made worse by senseless physicians, from year to year deceived with hopes of improvement, finally compelled to face the prospect of a lasting malady (whose cure will take years or, perhaps, be impossible).
As classical music enthusiasts in the 21st century, we are (perhaps unfortunately) accustomed to thinking of a composer’s music as a soundtrack to his life. Sometimes, that is what he has intended (Mahler and Shostakovitch are prime examples). However, with most composers, the relationship is much more complicated than that – an artist can often try to escape into his work and avoid the torments of everyday life. Perhaps that’s what Beethoven was trying to accomplish in his cheery second symphony:
- Edmund Morris: Beethoven: The Universal Composer – google books – amazon – If you’re shopping for a classical music lover this season, look no further – this little book is wonderfully written, thorough, and keenly perceptive. It’s great reading for the casual listener and a useful resource for the connoisseur.
When it comes to the Beethoven Symphonies, I find Abbado hard to beat. He’s recorded them all with the Berlin Phil and the Vienna Phil. Take your pick:
However, for only $8, you can get a very respectable set of recordings of all 9 Beethoven symphonies by the London Symphony with Joseph Krips – that’s less than $1/symphony!! –Amazon MP3–