When Ludwig van Beethoven had one of his string quartets played for a nobleman in Saint Petersburg, the aristocrat was in for a surprise. He had never heard such strange music. He told the composer. The composer shrugged his shoulders.
Muzio Clementi, the one whose sonatinas we have all played if we enjoyed more than two years of piano lessons when we were small, said the same to Beethoven.
‘It sounds so strange,’ said Clementi.
‘That’s because it’s music for later,’ said Beethoven.
But even now I find that, listening to Beethovens beautiful string quartets, the ones he composed later in his life, sound strange indeed. Not dissonant, nor ‘wrong’. Now please don’t argue that he wrote mistakes because he was deaf. He knew what he was doing. Beethoven knew about music theory. It’s a bit like Leonard Cohen who sings ‘It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift.’ Music theory summarized in one song.
You will find the quartets (numbers 12-16) on the internet.
Wait until dark, light a candle, listen.
Beethoven just before his death sounds, well… not of this earth. Perhaps he really meant to show us that this was music for much, but much much later.
Perhaps for a time when we have all transformed to something that is not of this earth anymore.