Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Ludwig!
PR virtuosi fete composer’s 250th
By Peggy Ann Bliss
Special to The STAR
Devotees of the immortal German composer Ludwig van Beethoven can add another candle to the conflagration this Sunday as Puerto Rican musicians celebrate his birthday almost a year late.
“Joyas Inmortales,” (Immortal Jewels), postponed by the pandemic, will offer a cornucopia of Beethoven’s music, interpreted by four pianists, a violinist and a cellist who began their careers at Ramos Antonini Free School of Music in Hato Rey.
Pianist/educator Rosita Casanova, in an interview for the STAR, said the free concert by Música a tu Alcance (Music Within Your Reach) will feature short recognizable selections.
“He was a musical treasure,” said Casanova, who performed in Beethoven’s territory for years in the Duo Casanova-De la Mata, with Violeta de la Mata, who died in 2014.
The annual concert, which the two women produced together, will also celebrate its own 25th birthday, she said.
The birth of a genius
Born on Dec. 17, 1770 in Bonn, Germany, Beethoven studied piano starting when he was 3 under his taskmaster father, Johann. At age 21, he settled in Vienna, where his career as a pianist and composer took off. There he studied composition with the great Franz Josef Haydn. (Mozart had died the year before.)
The opus count began at this time with Beethoven’s first numbered work: Opus 1, No. 1, “Sonata for Piano and Violin,” known as “Primavera” (Spring), which pianist Theodore Hendricks will perform with Aida Sosa, of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra (PRSO).
At first, Beethoven represented to many a continuation of Mozart and his classicism. But soon Beethoven, plagued by deafness, veered off on his own, ushering in the new era of Romanticism, Casanova said, noting that the program “illustrates the immortal composer’s three stages.”
By his third period, the innovative composer had begun developing his own texture, emotion and melodies, among other new elements to characterize the 19th century, she said.
Beethoven’s most famous piano piece, the bagatelle “Für Elise” (For Elise), will open the program, interpreted by Hendricks.
“I chose the piece which is seldom played by professionals, because it is the most accessible,” he said.
The piece, known to all intermediate piano students, was written in Beethoven’s youth, and therefore never catalogued.
Hendricks will also play the spirited and familiar “Turkish March,” with Zaira Avilés.
“This is one of his small gems, which provides balance to the heavier works,” the pianist said in an interview. “It’s a fun piece.”
“One of Beethoven’s original creations,” according to veteran concert pianist Samuel Pérez, is “Moonlight Sonata” (Sonata 14, Op. 27), of which he will perform the famous first movement, “admired for its intense passion and melancholy.”
He will follow this with a totally different (and very short) work “Rondo a capriccio (“Rage Over a Lost Penny”).
“It is a work of exuberant brio,” said Pérez, citing the words of composer Robert Schumann, describing it as ‘an amiable … unthreatening rage.”
Beethoven’s middle (heroic) period (1803 -1812) also produced two challenging piano sonatas which set a standard for piano in the grand manner: “Waldstein” (No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53), the first movement of which will be performed by Hendricks, who called it “a complete shift in Beethoven’s writing for piano.”
The second was “Appassionata” (No. 23, Opus 57), to be played by Henry Orazi.
Avilés, a teacher at Ramos Antonini, will play the last movement of “Sonata 17 in D Minor” (“The Tempest”), Op. 31, No. 2, inspired by Shakespeare.
Another piece of the period is the “Piano Trio No. 1 in E Flat Major,” Op. 100, to be presented by cellist Harry Almodóvar, Sosa and Hendricks.
In Beethoven’s “late” period from 1812 to his death in 1827, he continued to compose, despite encroaching deafness, but found it difficult to perform — a vital source of income.
A sublime finale
Pérez will end the concert with an adaptation of the uplifting “Ode to Joy,” the choral segment that closes Beethoven’s last major work, “Symphony No. 9, Op. 125.”
“The great composer Franz Liszt transcribed for piano all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, a monumental achievement … [with] absolute fidelity to the original,” said Pérez, an acknowledged expert in the music of the Hungarian pianist.
When “The Ninth” was first performed on May 7, 1824, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, a prestigious music journal, praised the “inexhaustible genius [who showed] us a new world.”
It was Beethoven’s last public concert.
He was 56 when he died on March 26, 1827. His funeral was attended by an estimated 10,000 people.
NOTE: The concert will be presented in the Pablo Casals Symphony Hall, Luis A. Ferré Performing Arts Center in Santurce at 4 p.m. Sunday. Although admission is free, tickets at $3 cover taxes. Donations are welcome. Masks and proof of COVID vaccination with identification are required.