“Pure Musical Transcendence”

Beethoven’s very last piano sonata, the two-movement only opus 111, is on my “works to learn” list. Where to begin? Maybe on a lighter note: Eighty years before jazz, boogie-woogie and ragtime came along, Beethoven is the one who first wrote in those styles. I kid you not. Listen to the second movement, variation number three. It’s startling when you first hear it, and you wonder, if only for a second, whether you just might be the first person to have ever noticed that. But there is waaaay too much going on here to dwell on that, or any, single passage. Regarding the second movement, Alfred Brendel says “What is…expressed here is distilled experience. Perhaps nowhere else in piano literature does mystical experience feel so immediately close at hand.” Another pianist, Robert Taub, calls the sonata “A work of unmatched drama and transcendence … the triumph of order over chaos, of optimism over anguish.” What Beethoven conveys in this sonata, to me, is inner peace, the wisdom that comes from a life led to its fullest, and the inner calm to accept what lies beyond for all of us. How music can possibly convey all of that is something that continues to astound me.

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Gregg R. Baker

Humanist, social scientist, pianist, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Tenured/Commissioned U.S. Foreign Service Officer and knowledge seeker.