Catapulting into Classical

A headlong leap into music, history, and composing

Beethoven’s Cavatina-The Universe in the Palm of Your Hand



I was returning from a winter’s journey alone, driving, thinking.  I needed some music.  I reached without looking into the box of CDs on my front seat, and popped a disk into the player.

It turned out to be Beethoven’s late string quartets.  Perfect.  I couldn’t stop at that first disk; I ended up playing the entire 3-disk set recorded by the Takács Quartet.

I recently wrote about Beethoven, and how his late piano sonatas are a wonder.  The late string quartets no less so.

They are personal, confessing, exploring.  They look inward, and outward to the universe.  Lost in thought, yet trying to express that thought to the listener.  And modern.  I was struck by how modern they sounded.  I don’t mean like 1905 modern.  I mean, it sounds like they were written last Thursday.

I became fascinated by the cavatina movement in Opus 130, the Quartet in B-flat Major.  I listened to it again and again.  How did he do that?  What is he telling me?  It is beautiful.

I found an essay on Opus 130 written by a member of the Brentano Quartet that you may find helpful.  The website also contains more short essays written by quartet members on various late string quartets and other works—they are very interesting and elegantly written.  More essays can be found on The Beethoven Project website, where a variety of performers discuss the quartets.  Here you can find an essay by pianist Jonathan Biss.  Essays by other performers may be found on that same page in the Explore column on the right.  Reading these essays, you will learn more about what Beethoven did, how it works, what it may mean.  You will find that the artists are also awe-struck by the amazing achievements embodied in the late string quartets.

But what you take away in the listening is solely yours.  See what Beethoven can say to you.  He offers a universe like small gems in the palm of his hand.

The cavatina continues to defy time and space in a way that you might not expect.  It is the final music selection on the golden records affixed to the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft.  Beethoven has entered interstellar space, a noble representative of what it means to be human.

And now, the Cavatina, performed by the American String Quartet.

Postlude: Need more Beethoven? You can get free access to the Naxos Music Library through the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven On Demand program by signing up for a free account. [Sorry, this is no longer available]


Image attribution:  Photograph by C. Gallant, Copyright 2016.

5 thoughts on “Beethoven’s Cavatina-The Universe in the Palm of Your Hand

  1. Ancient neurons fired, and then I checked them. An image of a violin and the musical score for the Cavatina also appeared on the Voyager golden records (

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What it means to be human. We keep forgetting. Last Thursday. Where was I? What was I thinking? What time is it? How much time do we have? It all depends. All the time. Wonder how long those golden records will be hurtling. It’s a good thing that Beethoven took that into consideration.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks so much, Chris. Evergreen music- all the late quartets, of course are beyond anything we had had in music before them (though I’d also want to go back at least to op. 59, if not op. 18- those are already mature works). Beethoven gets to this extremely spare, elegaic, hymn-like place only rarely, but when he does it’s above and beyond; only he, Handel and Schubert, to my ear, get there often. Great readings too, and the American Quartet video is very fine.



    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful post. I read on the Brentano link that they played this for Carl Sagan’s memorial service at St. John the Divine in NYC. Whoa, would that be a service or what?

    Liked by 1 person

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