Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vikram Seth vs. Berlioz: Op. 1 no. 3

In "An Equal Music," by Vikram Seth, one of the major figures in the book, the pianist Julia, loves the Opus I No. 3 piano trio in C minor.

"She particularly loved the minor variation in the second movement, though it was almost as if the cello and violin were, in that calm melancholy, robbing her of her own prominence. Whenever she would hear it or play it or even read it in the score, she would move her head slowly from side to side. And she loved the unflamboyant close of the entire work."

(Amelia Piano Trio )

The "unflamboyant close" refers to the ending of the finale, worthy of attention because Beethoven has so many triumphant endings. An unusual figure [Db-C] sounds restlessly [5:12], and we are deflected into a picardy ending in the major with a series of rising scales in the piano part [5:21]. It is an eerie and somewhat unresolved ending. Julia favors design above technique. She is a likable character.

Hector Berlioz reported his reaction to this piece in the quasi-fiction of "Evenings with the Orchestra." But it is amped-up prose; passion bent to the point where it is louder than the music:

“One evening I heard Beethoven’s Trio in C minor: I open wide the door--come in, come in and be welcome, proud melody! Heavens! How noble and beautiful it is! Where, oh where did Beethoven find all those thousands of phrases, each more poetically characterized than the rest, each different, each original, and without even the family resemblance one finds among the melodies of masters that are known for their fertility? And what ingenious developments! What unexpected turns! How swiftly the indefatigable eagle flies! How he hovers poised in his harmonious sky! He dives into it, loses himself in it, soars, swoops again, disappears; then returns to his staring place, his eye more brilliant his pinions stronger, intolerant of rest, quivering, thirsting for the infinite!”

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