Uchida on Beethoven, Schubert and Vienna

This week, as you may have seen from yesterday’s post, is going to be a miniature Beethoven week. Actually, I don’t know what’s miniature about it; Beethoven certainly isn’t, and it’s a full seven-day week like any other. Beethoven week.
Nothing terribly special, but I had the amazing privilege to see Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra perform live here in Taipei last week, and Eroica was on the program (we’ll be getting to that piece soon enough, actually), and conveniently enough, we’ve got another piece of his on the program for this week.
But before we get started, I’d like to share another video from the amazing Mitsuko Uchida. I have heard some of her Schubert, her Schoenberg, and Beethoven, and I love her playing style as well as her thoughts on music and how she expresses herself.
Not only is it just thoroughly enjoyable to hear her talk about music, it’s educational, and in this short clip she expresses something very important.
Her point here is at once why it took me a little time to warm up to Beethoven (and Schubert) and why I love them now. That’s not to say that they’re one and the same or that I know their works intimately; no. But I am coming to love them dearly. What is that point?
She uses the word ‘spirituality,’ which I completely understand. It’s nothing to do with
religion or faith, though. It’s an ineffable, almost atmospheric, but yet very tangible gripping sort of undercurrent of emotion.
Mahler’s music (as I’ve been talking about with people lately) is gripping and grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you, then cradles you almost to a restful slumber before jolting you awake. The emotional experience is just as deep, but it’s in a very different way, to me. It’s more… in-your-face.
The depth, the strength, the power, of Beethoven’s music is almost understated. In some of his pieces (well, more than some), for one the piece we will talk about on Thursday, there are those shocking, jarring moments, and they especially would have been for audiences of the time, but there’s something in the lyricism or expression that isn’t just froufrou and delicate and dainty classical music like someone thinks they should play for their infants. There’s swelling undercurrent of emotion, struggle, power, an emotive energy that possesses the listener, and it’s this wholly captivating something that has made Beethoven’s work more and more enjoyable.
While I didn’t get it right from the start for some reason, once that light bulb clicks on, the rest of it all makes sense. How did it not click for the Eroica at first listen? I don’t know, but I’m there now, and this week of Beethoven (as sparse and plain as it is) is a nod to some repertoire I’ve been neglecting, but we are fixing that.
See you soon.

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