Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Haiku Wednesday: Beethoven



Vienna; morning.
He counts 60 coffee beans
For the perfect cup.

Sipping, he looks out.
The city hums, church bells ring,
But he can’t hear them.

Writing, scratching out,
Writing again, he pours out
His soul in music.

We listen now and
Wonder, how can this be so?
How did he do this?

Transcending all time,
Through him we feel we almost
Touch infinity.

Beethoven.  Pianist Artur Schnabel said, “Mozart is a garden; Schubert is a forest — in sunlight and shadow; Beethoven is a mountain range.”

A mountain range.  Imposing, a little scary to amateur climbers.  Yet perhaps irresistible.  Everest beckons; better find a Sherpa.  Fortunately, there is abundant help available, and I include a list of links to some resources below.  In this post I focus on the piano works; covering all of his compositions in one post would be impossible.

This post was prompted by Igor Levit’s superb recording of the late Beethoven piano sonatas (rave reviews by Gramophone, Sinfini Music, and The New Yorker, among others).

After listening to Levit’s interpretation, I needed to listen to other recordings to hear how other pianists scaled those heights, and stared down those precipices.  These are just the last five of the 32 piano sonatas.  And yet they are overwhelming.  I’m sure string players feel the same way about the late quartets.

There is something so intimate, so personal, in these works.  You might feel like you had walked in on a private conversation.  Yet Beethoven draws you into the introspection.

Here is an example, an excerpt from sonata 28 (Op. 101).

Brahms and other composers who followed Beethoven might have felt as though they were peering up at that formidable mountain.  They stood in the shadow of a giant, and had to find their own way to approach his legacy, the expectations placed upon music in the AB era—After Beethoven.  They had to find their own way to reach the summit.

Here are some Beethoven links

Foothills (for musicians and non-musicians alike)

A collection of articles on Beethoven on

Beethoven’s Pianos

Boris Giltburg on recording Beethoven

Posts about Beethoven on Catapulting into Classical

Pianist Jonathan Biss presents a Coursera course on Beethoven piano sonatas

Pianist Lief Ove Andsnes presents a video guide to the Emperor Concerto.

A steeper climb (musical knowledge helpful)

Conductors discuss the relevance of Beethoven’s music

Andras Schiff on Beethoven’s piano sonatas

Music links

Spotify fan?  How about all of Beethoven’s works on a playlist in chronological order? (Bach and Mozart too!)

Beethoven On Demand via the Naxos Music Library, provided free by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra [sorry, no longer available].


Jan Swafford’s recent biography Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (here’s a review in the NY Times by pianist Jeremy Denk)

Charles Rosen’s books, Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas; Sonata Forms.  These are intended for more advanced musicians.

Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s assistant, Life of Beethoven.  Warning: there is some controversy about Schindler’s credibility.  Free via Project Gutenberg.

Alexander Wheelock Thayer’s comprehensive and well-respected The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven in three volumes.  Free via Project Gutenberg.


Image attribution: Painting by Carl Jäger (1833-1887), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons,


3 thoughts on “Haiku Wednesday: Beethoven

  1. Beethovan’s art was an amazing phenomenon. Nice to see a poetry on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wealth of info. Love the Schnabel quote — he nails it!


  3. This is wonderfully well done, Chris- a really fine more-than-intro into the music, including some important biblio. sources and some great performances. Yes, Schindler is unreliable, but there are some good stories, apocryphal or not. There’s an unfortunate tendency to deify Beethoven which I think doesn’t help us understand him – composing was very difficult for him- a glance at the sketchbooks will show that; there are some fine studies of his working process that de-mystify it; very consciously mastered and applied techniques, learned slowly over the years- he’s been rather covered over by romantic bullshit. Like Mozart and Bach, a master craftsman, very aware of what he was doing, and always pushing the envelope. The corpus of work is, IMO, about problem-solving, and about a kind of Germanic mania for structuring and organizing- the Gestalt is ever-present. The worshipful attitude toward him did the Romantic composers who follow him no good at all, I feel- especially poor Brahms, who felt terribly intimidated (well, Schubert too).

    Thanks- great work!


    Liked by 1 person

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