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The Beethoven Experience I: Bor-Romeo: Beethoven & Shakespeare Beyond The Tomb

June 30 @ 7:30 pm - 8:30 pm

While our live concert series and symposia at the American Shakespeare Center’s Blackfriars Playhouse are on pause, our exploration of the complete string quartets of Beethoven in celebration of the composer’s 250th birth anniversary will shift to the digital realm, with gripping performances by the Borromeo Quartet, along with newly-produced recordings, discussions, and commentary led by Heifetz Institute Artistic Director Nicholas Kitchen.

Our first program revisits the kickoff of the series, captured in HD audio and video at the Blackfriars Playhouse from Feb. 24, 2020, and Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory in Boston on March 8, 2020.

String Quartet No. 1 in F major, Op. 18, No. 1

String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1 “Razumovsky”

The Beethoven Experience series on Rubato: The Heifetz Virtual Concert Hall is generously sponsored by Chris & Betsy Little.

(From the Program Notes by Benjamin K. Roe)

Arms, take your last embrace! And lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
– Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet (Tomb Scene)

How, exactly, is Beethoven, the Rude Boy of Bonn, connected to the Bard of Avon? That Beethoven was an admirer of Shakespeare’s works is well-documented; in one contemporary account a visiting dignitary recalls long hours discussing ‘philosophy, religion, politics, and especially…Shakespeare, his idol’ with Beethoven, who just happened to own two complete volumes of Shakespeare’s works in German translation.

As you will hear tonight and throughout the series, Shakespearean scenes and themes crop up with some regularity in Beethoven’s music. One scholar has identified no fewer than 19 Beethoven works in that category, none more overtly than the aching second movement of the String Quartet No. 1 in F Major, Op. 18, No. 1. “I was thinking about the tomb scene in Romeo and Juliet,” Beethoven told a violinist friend. Indeed, Beethoven scholar Lewis Lockwood summarizes the affettuoso ed appassionato movement at “the two conflicting principles of Romeo’s despair and Juliet’s beauty.”

Beyond the literal, this series will also have broader, structural and philosophical connections between Beethoven and the Bard. An obituary for Beethoven upon his death in 1827 place him side-by-side with Shakespeare for their “original sublimity, profundity, strength, and tenderness with humour, wit, and…constant, new fantastic variation.” The String Quartet No. 7 in F major, Op. 59, No. 1, heralds a new landmark in Beethoven’s development, and contains all those descriptive elements,with “overt power and often violent affect…opening musical structures to greatly expanded spans,” as author Victor Lederer puts it. “At nearly twice the length of his Op. 18 quartets, the expansion of scope and size is entirely new and revolutionary, after which Western music has never been the same.”

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