Beethoven' s Promethean Concerto in C Minor Wo0 by Cindi Sansone-Braff
“In writing my music I’d often ask, “What if two people fell passionately in love, it must be, yes, it must be, and yet they tell themselves, no ... no it cannot be. What happens to that love when it burrows underground?” What is it – to know where the key to the universe is, to know where the love you’ve always wanted is, and to know, so long as you walk this earth, you can never have it again? What is it? It...
“In writing my music I’d often ask, “What if two people fell passionately in love, it must be, yes, it must be, and yet they tell themselves, no ... no it cannot be. What happens to that love when it burrows underground?” What is it – to know where the key to the universe is, to know where the love you’ve always wanted is, and to know, so long as you walk this earth, you can never have it again? What is it? It is pain without end.”
The entire play takes place on a hilltop site known as the ruins of Rauhenstein Castle in the quiet Helenenthal Valley near Baden in Austria. Ludwig van Beethoven spent fifteen summers in this serene spa town. Amidst this scenic splendor, he was inspired to write his (“Pastoral”) Symphony, and much of the Ninth Symphony and Missa solemnis. The action begins late afternoon on August 6, 1826 and continues through dusk, darkness, until the dawn of a new day. Earlier on this fateful morning, Beethoven’s nephew, Karl, (Beethoven was his legal guardian at the time) had climbed up to the ruins of Rauhenstein and tried to kill himself.
Beethoven is 56 years old and gravely ill. A little more than seven months from this day, all of Vienna would watch The Master’s funeral procession making its way through their streets. To the undiscerning eye he looks like a madman, a phantom, a vagabond, but as he speaks and opens up, the audience will come to see his magnitude, his charisma, his energy, his super human gifts and grace, and ultimately his indisputable genius despite all of his clumsiness.
The Maestro came to this sacred site with a flask, a walking stick, a pistol, a pocketful of letters, and exquisite pain, both physical and psychological. Over the course of a day, one in which Beethoven felt as if whole decades had passed faster than this, he expresses his darkest thoughts, deepest betrayals, and his most haunting desires through the poetic language he utters, which emanates from the very depth of his soul. This heightened language is further amplified by the accompaniment of some of Beethoven’s most breathtaking compositions, many of which he created as an antidote to life’s inevitable angst, anxiety, and unrelenting anguish. Throughout this Two-act, two-hour music drama, the audience comes to intimately know the heart, soul, and mind of one of the greatest composers of all times. The whole premise of the play is based upon Hamlet’s rhetorical question “To be or not to be?” Beethoven simply ascertains that, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, that is always the question.” Throughout the play he makes compelling arguments as to how life can be so wretched as to push any thinking person to the brink of suicide, and yet, at the end of the play he has come to state: “What can I say to my Karl...to make him want to live? God knows it was my Art, my music that saved me...I will tell him so long as we have one good deed left in us, then it our sacred duty to live!”
In life, Beethoven’s isolation, due to his deafness, often led him to have many a spirited dialogue back and forth with himself, and this interchange is continued in this play by incorporating a recorded version of his voice. For example:
Why they mock and scorn you. (Imitating a woman’s voice) “Herr Beethoven’s completely insane. We have often seen him walking around in public talking to himself!”
The best kind of dialogue for a deaf man! Communication with others (He walks close to the audience) becomes a dizzying game of “Pass the Damn Notebook.” (He extends his notebook toward an audience member.) You write. I read. I respond. Repeat. You write. I read. I respond. Again, and again, and again, until I can’t stand the crazy conversational carousel another second and scream on the top of my lungs to make it stop!
Many moving monologues reveals the depth of his love for his Immortal Beloved, Josephine, his late mother, and the many siblings he had lived to bury. For example:
(BEETHOVEN’S ARIA – A PRAYER FOR HIS MOTHER WITH THE PIANO SONATA (“Moonlight”) ACCOMPANYING THIS MONOLOGUE)
Memories... haunting memories. It seemed like an eternity as I traveled back to you. Once home, I couldn’t bear to watch you writhe in pain ... witness your delirium ... hear you ask over and over again, “How is Franz?” (Imitating his MOTHER) “Did Franz eat his breakfast?” I couldn’t bear to tell you – your precious son was long dead and buried. In your delusions, or was it in the comfort of your dying dreams that he still lived, still played in the kitchen, still crawled into your bed at night, still called for his mama. How could I put you through those dark days of his dying again? I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I didn’t. And, so, I lied. Lied a thousand times over the course of those wasting away weeks. “Franz is doing fine.” “Oh, yes, he has his appetite back.” “Yes, he asks for you.” “Why can’t I bring him to you?” “Why, the doctor says we can’t risk him catching consumption, now can we?” “Yes, yes, we both know how frail he is.” “Papa, how is Papa?” “Fine. Just fine.” “Is he drinking?” “Oh, no. He knows he must be strong for the sake of the children.” “How is the baby Margareth?” “She’s doing fine too.” Fine. God knows she wasn’t fine. Four months later, the death-knell sounded again. This time for you, my dear, beloved baby sister. Margareth, I swear you died of a broken heart. There was no consoling you. Motherless, you refused to eat, to sleep, to live. Day after day, you lay helpless staring into the great nothingness. Night after night you screamed and cried and raged, but here was nothing, absolutely nothing I could do for you. Helpless. I was utterly helpless to save you ... to save our mother or to save our father from himself.
At the end of Act I, Beethoven reads one of the most powerful letters ever written, his “Heiligenstadt Testament,” in which he talks about his desire to kill himself because of his ever- increasing deafness. A small sample of this soul-searching letter is shown below:
“Born with a passionate and excitable temperament, keenly susceptible to the pleasures of society, I was yet obliged early in life to isolate myself, and to pass my existence in solitude. If I at any time resolved to surmount all this, oh! how cruelly was I again repelled by the experience, sadder than ever, of my defective hearing!--and yet I found it impossible to say to others: Speak louder; shout! for I am deaf!”
At the end of Act 11, after many grueling references throughout the play to how his Immortal Beloved, Josephine, had hurt and betrayed him time and time again, the audience witnesses – firsthand--the great love Beethoven had for her as he reads excerpts from his three infamous love letters. Playing ever so softly in the background is one of the most moving string quartets ever written (“Cavatina,”) which is a musical offering to the vulnerability of love and to our human failing to adequately express and communicate our truest feelings. Below is an excerpt from one of his Immortal Beloved letters:
“Be calm; only by calmly viewing our existence can we attain our aim of passing our lives together. Be calm; love me—today—yesterday—what longing. What tears for thee—for thee—for thee—my Life! My All! Farewell! Oh! Continue to love me-never misjudge the faithful heart of thy lover.
Ever thine Ever mine Ever ours”
Two brief appearances by his nephew, Karl, and the coming and going of the Chorus as they sing portions of the three great hymms from his Missa solemnis, add drama and theatrics to this basically one-man show.
The play concludes with his Immortal Beloved, Josephine, who appears as an apparition, reading a heartfelt excerpt from her journal, revealing to the audience how Josephine loved Beethoven as deeply as he loved her. Here is an excerpt of from her journal:
“I would not have scribbled these words today had I not hoped to honor your request ... your deepest desire -- your heartfelt wish. Oh, your surprise appearance aroused such ethereal feelings in me ... so deep and tender that mere words cannot do them justice. None of us truly has the ability to comprehend why we do what we do -- say -- act upon or deny. When we were as one, the Almighty was in the breast of each of us. The stars and heaven above also a part of each of us -- but once thrust apart ... broken and unhinged, we continually spiraled downward into darkness. Today we stood -- eye to eye
-- heartbeat to heartbeat -- breath to breath witnessing what we had -- individually -- separately -- collectively ... annihilated.”