Monday, March 9, 2009

What must be?: A poll on the topic of our old friend, Ludwig Van

So, I must confess that there are string quartets out there that bore me to tears. However, as I type this, I'm listening to Beethoven's string quartet No. 16 in F, Opus 135, and it does not bore me to tears. It's too much fun.

And now, stand back, because I'm going to tell you why. :o)

At the top of the score of the last movement of this quartet, Beethoven wrote the words "The Difficult Decision" (except he wrote them in German). Then, he wrote the words, "Muß es sein?" ("Must it be?"). The cello and viola open the movement with three notes that seem to be asking that question: "Must it be?" As the movement continues, you can hear the violins and the cello/viola repeating the question, sometimes passing it back and forth to each other. All the instruments sound very worried about it, very full of angst.

Then, a bit later on, right where the piece jumps back into happy, cheerful F major, Beethoven seems to have made his decision, for he wrote the words "Es muß sein!" into the score. ("It must be!") The whole sound of the movement changes, and you can hear the two violins answering, yes, "It must be! It must be!" Yay!

If you listen to it here on youtube, you'll hear the "Must it be?" at the very beginning, and then listen for "It must be! It must be!" at 1:52 exactly.

This was the last string quartet Beethoven ever wrote -- in fact, I believe it's the last composition of any kind he ever completed, though if I'm wrong about that, please correct me -- and he died before he ever got to see it performed. I wish he could go to a performance today, his hearing restored, and hear what a beautiful thing he did. The first three movements are also wonderful, of course. I'm particularly partial to the second (I tend to like fast movements, and this is one of the most fun ever). Here are one, two, and three by the same performers, the Hagen Quartet. (What I like about whoever filmed this performance is that you can really see the way Beethoven has all the instruments talking to each other.)

The funny thing is that no one knows what Beethoven was talking about with all that "Must it be? It must be!" stuff. What did he insist so passionately must be? Angst? Suffering? Unicorns? Beef and barley soup for dinner? What must be?

No, really, I'm asking you. In your opinion, what, in life, must be? (If you're reading this post somewhere other than my actual site and don't see the full poll below, please click here.)


Finally, a friendly reminder that I don't see comments posted in LiveJournal, on Amazon, or anywhere other than my blogspot.

And extra points today if you recognize what movie I'm referencing in my post title :o)

29 comments:

· Alba · said...

It's late, so I'll just say hi ;)
Thanks for your funny entries!!
I discovered you, your hilarious bio and your book last week ^*^
Tomorrow I'll start Graceling. When I eat the novel, I'll tell you!
Good night and kisses!

PD: Here at Spain it is 5:18 a.m xDD
PD: You can see my englisth is not so perfect, sorry ^//^

See you!

rustmoon said...

Clockwork Orange, Clockwork Orange!

~rustmoon, via LJ.

A. Grey said...

Firstly, I love Beethovan. Any sort of musical creation that can provoke me to lap the yard wildly, pausing only to pretend to conduct the irises is amazing. As far as what in life 'must be' I would have to say for my answer, that dreams must be. After all, dreams have helped create the world around us. They aren't always a good influence, sometimes they're compulsive or unhealthily obsessive and what is spawned from them causes more harm than good. But other times, dreams provoke greatness and instill lasting impressions and beliefs. Dreams can create entire OTHER worlds, escapes from our own realities and visions of a better world here, a future that might yet come to pass. Without dreams, I think we'd still be making piles of dried fruits and nuts, grumbling about our drafty caves. Without dreams, nothing would ever change, no one would ever utter the phrase I cherish most: What if?

tinkandalissa said...

I am feeling dark today, so I say death must be. Cant escape it. It's always there, waiting...I even have a tattoo of an old Renaissance painting of the Angel of Death taking a woman's hand. Because death is such a part of life, you should always remember to live it to the fullest.
So, I must add how impressed I am that you are so knowledgeable about music. You must play an instrument of some sort. What is it? I LOVE music of all kinds and always wanted to learn the piano when I was little but never did. So sad.
PS I love A Clockwork Orange. My best friend and I watched that movie when we were probably 14 or 15 under some crazy circumstances. Oddly enough, my mom is the one who recommended it to us. Whenever anything is drilled into us to the point we just cant stand it anymore we use the reference "to be clockwork oranged".

Q said...

I voted agony, but only because I'm of a mind that suffering must be. No one has ever lived a life without suffering to some degree.

Jazz said...

A Clockwork Orange! Booyah! I chose death because that is the only thing I knw that cannot be changed.

mrmorse said...

Alyssa, it's never too late to learn. There's no reason why you can't start taking lessons now.

The meaning of "The Difficult Decision" is tricky. The music behind the question has a sense of dread, almost as if the person asking doesn't want to know the answer. But when the answer comes, it's a positive affirmation. Yes, it must be, and that's a good thing. What would you dread coming, but celebrate arriving?

The thought that comes to mind is that the Brahms Requiem is also in F major. It's possible that "it" is death, with the Lutheran understanding of death as a release from the suffering of life.

Videos of music have a major advantage over audio recordings because you can see the interactions between the players. You can clearly see the members of the quartet reacting to and playing off of each other, which goes a long way toward making the music easy to follow.

Kelly H. said...

Spring must, please, be (on its way). ( I say, nay plead, this because our snowdrops poked the tips of their heads up Friday, only to be snowed on today. And the lilac buds look so delicate and barely there . . . .)

Rose said...

What must be? Apparently he likes that it is because the music is so uplifting. It's a wonderful thing that must be. The music then seems to dance to more than "It Must Be!" But there seems to be more words there that can't be described in words.

Perhaps what must be is an indescribable form of happiness or life or love?

Melina said...

I've been feeling really dark and sad, what seems to me like all the time, so I voted agony.

Great things, inventions, ideas, all come from agony. Greatness comes only after suffering. I don't think anyone has ever created something beautiful without suffering through pain first. That's where it all comes from because you wouldn't see some beautiful work of art dealing with happiness, you need conflict and tragedy.

Charly said...

I feel, that if I was a kid, it must be: Time to go potty!

It's something you always put off, but then feel better after going.

Hahaha. :D A little less serious than all the other comments, but it applies!


I love the way the players move when they play. I used to think it was weird, but now I do it too. (Oh no, I'm becoming a musician..)

tinkandalissa said...

I cant watch video's or listen to stuff on my work computer, so naturally when I come home I have to check it out...
To me this song sounds like an on again off again romance. Like young, fickle lovers. Who knows. For some reason that is the visual I get when listening...
Thank you mrmorse for the words of encouragment! My husband bought me a keyboard for xmas about 2 years ago so I could try to learn some of the basics, but then "borrowed" it for his band and I havent seen it since! Hmph! :)

Angie said...

After reading everyone's remarkably well though-out posts, I'm not sure I should post what I originally voted for in the pole! LOL

I think the answer is love. What must be? The difficult decision? To love something, someone, somewhere unselfishly and expecting nothing in return but hoping for it nonetheless.

I voted a brass quintet! :-D
I agree with tinkandalissa - you must play something to know so much or love someone who does.
Who else here plays an instrument?

kristin cashore said...

Hi everyone! Love the responses!

Alba, your English is great, and I'm thrilled to hear from someone in Spain!

rustmoon gets the points! :o)

Alissa, I studied piano for 9 years when I was a kid. But the reason I know about the Beethoven piece is that I took a class on Beethoven in college -- and then went to concert a couple of weeks ago where it was played, reminding me of what I'd learned! I vaguely remember that the whole "Must it be?" thing makes an appearance in Milan Kundera's gorgeous book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, too, though I haven't read that for 10 years.

Kelly, living in Florida, I dread spring (because really what spring means here is the beginning of the unbearable 7-month-long summer) -- but next winter, after my move, I'll definitely be thinking that spring must be! :o)

Charly and Angie, lest you think everyone is very solemn on the question of what must be, imo, in my life right now, what must be in about *checks watch* 12 minutes is How I Met Your Mother and a chocolate chocolate-chip cranberry cookie. And I voted for strawberry shortcake -- but could have easily voted for a brass quintet. (Or a pastrami sandwich! Dammit, where's a pastrami sandwich when you need one?)

itdependsontheday said...

its none of those things.
its himself.
beethovan, that is.
remember, he became crazy (and died) of lead poizoning.
i think.

that was interesting.

Anonymous said...

Watching a performance (or a vid) goes a long way to internalize the emotions--even performing it doesn't necessarily mean you get it. You have to live and breathe it. You have to be able to hear three notes of one of the parts and know what your instrument would be playing when those three notes come. You have to feel the vibrations of the instrument in your hands or on your shoulder.

Only when the musicians have fully lived the music and the piece bursts into life can those listening or watching get something from it. When performed like this, each member of the audience should be able to find their own lives woven into the melodies.

Secret Violist

Laura Lutz said...

Kristin, I can't thank you enough - this has been such an uplifting way to end my day, as I sat here listening to the quartet with a glass of Riesling and unwinding. Fantastic.

For the record, I voted for strawberry shortcake. But you know how I feel about food... You can't get more seasonal, delicious, and pure than strawberries. It's like you whittle life down to its basic beauty and you have...a single red strawberry. Add cream and shortcake? Bonus! 8-)

Cucumber said...

I think Arizona summers will beat your Florida ones. Although you get all the humidity.....Arizona is hot and dry. We can hear the weatherman say "110 Degrees today folks!" without flinching. Gotta love those AZ summers!

Bingham Family said...

I said death only because it is the only thing in life that is a set thing. So what must be is death. But I am also of the mind that while we are alive we must live :). So strawberry shortcake, cheese cake, and all other confections of your hearts desire must be also!

mrmorse said...

I went and looked up other music by Beethoven written in F major, wondering if there is a significance of the key to the question and answer. It was a key that he wrote in regularly, and the two other most significant works in that key are the Sixth Symphony (Pastoral) and Eighth Symphony. So perhaps what must be is nature. That would fit with the answer as expressed in the music, but not necessarily the question.

Angie suggested love. Given Beethoven's difficulty with his love life, that also strikes me as a plausible answer, particularly if it is taken as unrequited love. The question could contain the resentment that love is not reciprocated, but the answer could be that the act of loving is its own reward, even if the recipient is indifferent or even hostile.

renie oxley said...

most definitely, he is speaking about death or grief and the moment of denial to .. it must be.. that there is more to come from the loss or the change or the moment of acceptance.

dac said...

FLYING SQUIRRELS CONQUER DEATH

Natasha said...

I voted strawberry shortcake. Have you seen the strawberries in your grocery lately? They're luscious and juicy and sweet and red - so yummy! I've been buying them like crazy because they're easy for dessert, or breakfast, or a snack, and my 2 1/2 year old lives for them and he's absurdly adorable when he finishes one gigantic bowl and asks for another in his sweet little voice.

Pastrami was a close second except I don't like pepper so I would have preferred a good corned beef on rye. But I think strawberry shortcake would still have won.

Of course, I'd also say "love" must be. Whether it is love for strawberries, or love for a cute 2 1/2 year old, or love for the smell of rain or of wrinkles in time.... take your pick... it must be. But it wasn't an option so I'm sticking with my shortcake. Damn, now I'm hungry.

mrmorse said...

I take back everything I've said about the meaning of "Es muss sein." I suddenly realized that I completely overlooked an obvious musical reference that clarifies what Beethoven was referring to. I've included a representative excerpt below. It makes all of my previous commentary superfluous.

When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, it must be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, it must be.

it must be, it must be, it must be, it must be.
Whisper words of wisdom, it must be.

kristin cashore said...

Laura, that's exactly the effect your blog always has on me -- helps me unwind :o) Except that I'm more of a fine beer girl (there's such a thing, right?) than a fine wine girl (and a baker instead of a chef -- appropriate? I go for the grains, whereas you go for the, um, non-grains? I think my analysis falling apart, so I'll stop now...)

Dac, aka Apocalyptica, no one is more delighted and astonished than I am to see flying squirrels pulling away from the pack! Of course, *I* knew that flying squirrels must be, but I didn't realize that it was so obvious to the rest of the world! (Please give my regards to Best Friend.)

I think things have gotten to the point in the comments that I actually need to go *find* some strawberry shortcake, or at least some strawberries. Or cheesecake. Or, mmm, corned beef.... :o)

A. Grey said...

Everyone keeps talking about food that must be so I figure I'll put my two cents in. Chheeeessse MUST BE. The world would stop revolving if we were suddenly unable to make cheese, at least, MY world would. As for fine beer Kristin, there is SO such a thing as fine beer, and it goes VERY well with fine cheese.
Oh delectable, piquant, lusciously sinky CHEESE, the sort that makes your mouth water and causes your jaw to clench slightly where your tongue is attached!!!! Ahh cheese...

tinkandalissa said...

Really...there IS such a thing as fine beer! Asheville has lots of little micro breweries that you can go around to and "sample" from. Some are just their own bars. Some also sell to the grocery stores around here and surrounding areas. It's fabulous!
PS I've totally got some Apocalyptica songs on my iPod.

Cathy Yen said...

I would have loved to vote flying squirrels... but I will say Starbucks' Green Tea frappucino with Honey, chocolate, and vanilla sprinkled on it..

It must be.

Anonymous said...

It is a phrase from the collection of letters to his "immortal beloved" the last line of the first one. Amazing that such a great musical composer could also write so well. Thank you for reminding me about it.
Olivia