Tag Archives: Beethoven

Aspects of cinematic love (and their soundtrack)

There are of course countless films that deal with love, romantic or otherwise. Some, however, have managed to capture this so popular and overused of themes in a completely new light, utilizing both image and sound in an original and captivating way.

Here are some of my favorites:

I. Silent love: Kubrick meets Schubert

Never has the art of seduction been so skillfully delivered on the big screen as in this scene from Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Barry Lyndon. Shot by using actual candlelight, not a single word is exchanged between the two lovers throughout the whole scene – some meaningful looks are enough for the romance to be born. And no other music could fit the sequence more perfectly than Schubert’s sublime piano trio with its haunting theme.

Film: Barry Lyndon (1975), directed by Stanley Kubrick
Music: Franz Schubert, Piano Trio in E-Flat, Op. 100 – II. Andante con moto

II. Wise love: The rabbi meets the airplane

There are many brilliant moments to be found in the Coen brothers film A Serious Man, however the scene where Danny meets senior rabbi Marshak is by far my favorite. It has suspense, philosophical and religious undertones, pop culture references, subtle irony as well as that unmistakable, dark Coen humor. When 60s hippie idealism meets disillusioned religious skepticism, you better find somebody to love!

Film: A Serious Man (2009), directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Music: Jefferson Airplane, Somebody to Love

III. Religious love: St. Paul meets Beethoven

I kept the best for last. Anyone who has watched Sono’s 4-hour long epic Love Exposure knows that this is no ordinary film. And this scene is perhaps the best proof: Two Japanese youngsters on a remote shore grappling with each other, releasing their sexual frustration while arguing about metaphysics. A truly explosive mix of religious fervour, existential agony and adolescent tension building up to a dramatic climax masterfully synced to Beethoven’s awe-inspiring music.

Film: Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi, 2008), directed by Sion Sono
Music: Ludwig van Beethoven,  Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 – II. Allegretto

Concertgebouw

125 years of sublime sound

On April 11, 1888 an orchestra of 120 musicians together with a chorus of 500 singers performed works of Wagner, Handel, Bach, and Beethoven in a new building in what was then called Nieuwer-Amstel. It was the beginning of the story of the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam’s famous and much beloved concert hall. And no doubt it’s been a long, fascinating story…

This year, the city’s oldest and grandest classical music venue celebrates its 125th birthday. Due to its remarkable acoustics, the Concertgebouw is considered one of the finest concert halls worldwide – and for good reason. Anyone who’s been fortunate enough to attend a concert in the magnificent Grote Zaal (‘Big Hall’) is familiar with the unique aura and enchanting atmosphere of the venue.

The Concertgebouw in 1902

The Concertgebouw in 1902

Throughout its long -and at times turbulent- history, the Concertgebouw has been host to an astonishing string of world-renowned composers who came along to present premieres of their works, such as Gustav Mahler, Sergei Prokofiev, Richard Strauss, Maurice Ravel and Béla Bartók.

But by no means is the list confined to the classical genre alone. Legendary figures from the world of popular music have also performed in Amsterdam’s historic venue. Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Shirley Bassey have all been guests of the Concertgebouw, along with rock giants such as Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

Personally, I always regard a visit to the Concertgebouw as a kind of pilgrimage to one of the world’s unique music temples. Along with Vienna’s Musikverein or London’s Royal Albert Hall, it ranks as one of the most beautiful concert halls I have ever visited. But more importantly, it is a place where music can be experienced most fully and intensely, and thus I think the word ‘temple’ should not ring too much out of place.

In all my years in Amsterdam, I’ve had the chance to see some truly amazing performances at the Concertgebouw. I was there for a solo piano recital by Daniel Barenboim for the celebration of Chopin’s bicentennial. I saw Earl Wild performing shortly after his ninetieth birthday, attended recitals by some of the world’s greatest pianists (Evgeny Kissin, Alfred Brendel and Grigory Sokolov to name a few) and saw celebrities like Chick Corea, Yo-Yo Ma and Lang Lang showcasing their extraordinary skills and virtuosity on stage.

One of the most-visited concert halls worldwide, the Concertgebouw seems to have not only a glorious past but also a promising future. And I look forward to being part of the experiences it yet has to offer.

moon

Blame it on the moonlight

The moon has been a source of awe and admiration since times immemorial, and the fascination of man by its mysterious nature and changing phases can be shown by the multitude of lunar deities identified in mythological accounts all around the world.

It was the same fascination that would inspire the art of Romanticism, which placed new emphasis on the intense emotions arising from the confrontation with the sublimity of the natural world. Captivating depictions of the moon can be found in several romantic works, as in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) or the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822).

“Dovedale by Moonlight” (detail), by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797)

In music, the most popular composition associated with the moon is most probably Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, written in 1801. The composer, however, would never get to know it by this name (its original title is Sonata quasi una fantasia); the nickname ”Moonlight” only came about some five years after Beethoven’s death, thanks to a description by Ludwig Rellstab, a German poet and music critic, who referred to the composition in terms of “a vision of a boat on Lake Lucerne by moonlight.” Even though Beethoven did not necessarily share Rellstab’s vision, the sonata would be thereafter associated with moonlight and its mesmerising first movement would serve as a prototype for many nocturnes during the 19th century.

It was in 1890 that Claude Debussy started to compose his Suite Bergamasque. Its third and most famous movement was inspired by Paul Verlaine’s poem Clair de Lune (French for “moonlight”) and carries the same name. Originally written for the piano, Debussy’s suite has been orchestrated by many composers including André Caplet, Lucien Cailliet (whose arrangement was used in the closing scene of Ocean’s Eleven), and Leopold Stokowski.

Stokowski’s version was actually meant to feature in Disney’s Fantasia, however the scene was eventually deleted due to length limitations.

The mystique and magical quality of moonlight have continued to inspire and fuel artistic creation up to modern times.  One of the most beautiful examples can be found in Paco de Lucía’s album Fuente y Caudal, which brought him international fame. It is the wonderful granaína Reflejo de luna (“reflection of moon”), a true gem that reveals the seemingly limitless capacity of flamenco guitar for expression and color. It is, after all, no accident that the strings of the guitar have been called the “six silver moonbeams”…