Why November Is Perfect For Ludwig

As storm waters recede, Beethoven comes 'round for a cuppa'

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Growing up in England, "put the kettle on and let’s have a nice cup of tea" is the first line of the famous unwritten Constitution. Brits will swear allegiance to the power of a well-made cuppa. A fix for all sorts of woes, ills, chills and the perfect glue to a social occasion, especially if complaining is required. A Brit really can’t have a good gossip or gripe without putting the kettle on first.

I have lived in New York for 16 years, and have had the pleasure of being the general manager of WQXR for the past two. While I don’t drink half as much tea as I used to, I was really amused and moved to see this comment from a WQXR listener on our Facebook page yesterday:

"On a day like today, how can you not sit back & enjoy a nice cup of tea and WQXR on the radio? Hurricane be damned! More Beethoven."

The writer was in Brooklyn (not England!), but his tea-drinking solution for riding out the storm certainly brought a smile to my face and the faces of many of us at the station. But, then he continued to cite the ultimate in all solutions for facing a storm: "More Beethoven." Mr. Earl Grey in Greenpoint, I couldn’t agree with you more.

Thursday marks the second annual installment of WQXR's self-proclaimed “Beethoven Awareness Month,” where November is given over to all things Ludwig. We have planned for a great mix of superb music on the radio, an all-Beethoven stream from WQXR.org, live broadcasts from Carnegie Hall, two magnificent concerts from The Greene Space and much, much more. As we planned the month, we tried to find the perfect balance of excellence and whimsy. We believe the great man can take a little fun being sent in his direction, as his music will always stand up and take it on the chin and send a musical punch back enough to knock you over.  

But Sunday night, Sandy arrived and honestly, everything feels a little different right now. Someone even said to me today, "It all feels a little like after 9-11 right now." The city and the whole Tri-State area is adjusting to a very new normal that seems to be changing each minute. Uncertainty flows and questions go unanswered.  

Since Sandy delivered her one-two punch, we have done our very best to keep the music flowing from our FM transmitter and from our streams and mobile platforms. Our hosts have been utterly magnificent, giving us the most beautiful music on earth combined with relevant news and updates.  There were many hurdles, but none we didn’t move heaven and earth to overcome.

Beethoven himself was a man faced with incredible challenges that, at moments in his life, threatened his creative and his human existence. Deafness arrived when he was in bloom of his work. He didn’t know if he could ever overcome the pain, the ringing, the altered world he now lived with daily.  But, we know how the story ends. With the Razumovsky Quartets, the last three piano concertos, the last six symphonies, and the list goes on.  

As this week continued in the wake of the Superstorm, we didn’t think for a moment of cancelling our plans for our celebration of Beethoven's music, life and power. He didn’t shrink from a challenge and neither did he shrink from conceiving the most spectacular sounds, rhythms and melodies. If it worked for him, it works for us and we really hope it works for you.  

Whilst the next few days and weeks roll forward, WQXR promises you the best of Beethoven and many many other reasons to keep the radio on. You might be drawn in by Bill McLaughlin’s daily Beethoven Moments, or hearing Q2 Music’s updated take on Beethoven’s string quartets on November 8, and perhaps our pièce de résistance, a marathon of all the 16 string quartets live from The Greene Space on November 18.  

To my tea-drinking, WQXR-loving friend in Brooklyn, you are entirely correct. "Hurricane be damned. More Beethoven." Sandy – stand aside. Put the kettle on. I raise my cup and saucer to everything Ludwig can deliver. Here’s to a great Beethoven Awareness Month.  

Follow me on Twitter: @grahamparkernyc and share your thoughts.


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Comments [18]

Bonnie Gustafsson from Bloomfield, NJ

I have no objection to a "Beethoven Awareness Month," but it has in fact been "Beethoven in Your Face" month. I like Beethoven. But he's not the do-all and end-all of classical music. Bach gets notably short shrift. How about a Bach Awareness Month? Even on his birthday, we don't get a full day of Bach. Or even a Baroque Awareness Month? I have to say, Beethoven almost 24/7 for a whole month has been rather tiresome and I sometimes wanted to scream, "Genug!" Bach's gigantic output needs more attention. If you have a Sunday for the Beethoven quartets, one for his piano sonatas, one for his symphonies, etc., couldn't we -- pretty please> -- have a Sunday for Bach cantatas, for organ works, for keyboard (non-organ) works, for oratorios, for orchestral/instrumental music?

We don't even have a Mozart or Schubert Awareness Month? Or Brahms. Seems to me it's a little one-sided.

Nov. 29 2012 01:54 PM
Yvonne Armstrong from Westchester County, NY

It's 28 November and I can't wait for November to be over...and dreading next November. Not that Beethoven wasn't a genius --as I've been reminded for the past 27 days --but sometimes too much of a good thing is...too much! I agree with the others who have advocated for equal time for other deserving composers. And what about performers? There are both vocal and instrumentalists who, in their day, were superstars but are, sadly, now overlooked or forgotten. Finally, may I suggest, WQXR programming folks, that you limit "Awareness" celebrations to a week (the week of the honoree's birthday)? After hearing about the metronome, conversation books, et al., for the third and fourth time, I started switching to other radio stations. A week's worth of composer (or performer) immersion should be enough. To end this commentary on a lighter note, I offer the following: http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=GBaHPND2QJg&feature=youtu.be. (Apologies if this has already been shared.) Enjoy!

Nov. 28 2012 12:45 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

As there is much beauty in this world there is also much that needs to be done to benefit others as well as ourselves. The holidays point up the best that is in us if we cheerfully give what we may to make others happier. The great artists and composers and writers and scientists do what they do for the love of it, rarely compensated financially. GREAT recorded performances of Beethoven's symphonies are so numerous and my own, from childhhod record collecting days, include performances by maestri Bruno Walter, Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham, Artur Bodansky, George Szell, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, and Eugene Ormandy. Others whose performances of Beethoven I have heard are/were Albert Coates, Serge Koussevitsky, Clemens Krauss, Erich and Carlos Kleiber, Robert Heger, John Barbirolli, Leo Blech, Gustav Mahler, Erich Leinsdorf, Karl Muck, Karl Elmendorf, Wilhelm Mengelberg, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Fritz Busch, Frederick Stock, Christian Thielemann, Wolfgang Sawallisch, Fritz Stiedry and Herbert von Karajan . Beethoven's symphonies, opera, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, overtures, chamber music generally ,and song literature, is so pervasive and his world consciousness and basic humanity construct an icon unparalleled to and past his own era. So much of our treasured masterpieces, vocal and instrumental, are unknown quantities to most Americans. THANK YOU WQXR FOR CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN !!! Beethoven's symphonies are the ABCs of most essential single composers' oeuvre of the symphonic literature. Wagner and his contemporaries and their successors all recognized the epic achievement of Beethoven. I am a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute at 418A Main Street, Boonton, NJ where I teach composition, conducting, and coach all the acting roles of the Shakespeare plays and opera roles of the Wagner operas. The Beethoven violin concerto is celebrated by its ardent interpreters Heifetz, Menuhin, Perlman, Elman, Oistrakh, Sarasate, and Nicolo Paganini. Great Beethoven interpreters at the piano include Horowitz, Rubinstein, Josef hoffmann, Gieseking, Schnabel, Rachmaninoff, and Paderevski. Among the greatest singers famous for their Beethoven performances in opera and concert my voice teachers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell and Margarete Matzenauer. Other famous singers with extensive Beethoven "rep" were Kirsten Flagstad, Helge Roswaenge, Birgit Nilsson, Rose Bampton, Set Svanholm, Wolfgang Windgassen, Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, Gwyneth Jones, Varnay, Lawrence, Ludwig Hoffmann, Hines, Jon Vickers, Harshaw, Steber Jessner, Maison, Vinay, Jean and Eduard de Reszke, Resnik, Thebom, Rysanek, London, Leider, Farrell, List, Ljungberg, Rethberg, Lotte Lehmann, Traubel, Schoeffler and Weber.

Nov. 25 2012 10:21 PM
William Leo Coakley from Manhattan

Finale: Also, of course, if it were possible to recruit someone like Jeremy Denk, who has brought such a quiet grace and musical depth to his introductions to the concerti.

Nov. 25 2012 02:05 PM
William Leo Coakley from Manhattan

One added comment: Midge Woolsey's beautifully orchestrated guide to the quartets would be a perfect model for future celebrations.

Nov. 23 2012 04:09 PM
William Leo Coakley from Manhattan

I agree with many of the comments about celebrations for other composers: Bach, Shostakovich, Monteverdi, etc., etc. It is still delightful to hear the Beethovian treasures, so it is somewhat churlish to complain about the presentation. I realized I should do so when I heard Jeff Spurgeon’s imaginative, informative, --and lively—comment about “The Ruins of Athens” and then the perceptive comments on the sonatas by David Dubal that provided guidance for those who don’t have technical musical knowledge, without being offensive to those who do. Many of the other “biographical” segments are delivered with babyish tone of voice and writing that is insulting to listeners who have tuned into WQXR because they have an appreciation of classical music—and these are repeated! They sound as if a public relations staff of a Pop Music station decided to pique its audience.
I hope that any future celebrations of composers stick to the informative and the lively—and avoid the infantile.

Nov. 16 2012 07:22 PM
Alan Ng from Staten Island

Ol' Ludwig happens to be my favorite composer, so I have absolutely no problem with Beethoven Awareness Month. Freude schoner Gotterfunken!

Nov. 16 2012 01:58 AM
Fred Holtz from Manhattan

I wouldn't have thought Beethoven of all composers, needed an "awareness" campaign! How about Brahms instead? Or better yet for an "awareness" cycle may I suggest Carl Nielsen and Ralph Vaughan Williams?! Both great and little performed and/or apparently known in depth by the general classical music loving public. Sincerely, Fred Holtz.

Nov. 15 2012 09:10 AM
Andrew from Lower Merion, PA

I don't mind that Beethoven might be a tad trite for an "Awareness Month"--he is, after all, Beethoven--so long as we also shed light on less-frequently-performed works (like the op. 20 Septet, op. 20 & op. 18/3 Quartet both played earlier today) and we don't get drowned in Blockbusters. Let's hear the Horn Sonata, op. 17; the Piano Quintet, op. 16; Octet, op. 103; lesser known piano sonatas (opp. 7, 33, 54, 78, 90, 101) and violin sonatas (opp. 30, 96) and piano trios (opp. 1, 70/2); piano variations; cello sonatas. Maybe we could even hear some of Beethoven's contemporaries that history has mostly drowned out but were as well-known, if not better known than Beethoven in his time (Spohr, Hummel...).

Let's hear some young performers, and recently-made and (even) independent label recordings. I, too, enjoy Serkin, Beaux Arts, Abbado, and Blomstedt, but are any of them are performing any more? (half are RIP) From this list, only Abbabo is still actively conducting and recording (and at a miraculous rate, for sure, to his credit).

Let's make the most of the Beethoven-fest to really understand Beethoven's expansive impact and mix it up a bit.

Then, do the same for Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Ravel, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Vaughan Williams, R. Strauss, Dvorak, etc. (deliberately making blatent omissions--you can fill them in--and also omitting noteworthy composers that might not be able to sustain a month-long festival without some musicological research). Each of these composers
(1) has popular appeal,
(2) wrote plenty (and a variety) of music that deserves the spotlight, and
(3) has enough of a palatable catalogue to keep the airwaves/webstream lively for a month at a time.
I concede that on the aggregate score of these factors, none of the other composers rivals Beethoven, though a few are very respectable runners up. But they still deserve attention. Is this a tall order? Yes. Is classical music worth it?...

WQXR's composer-focus idea has a lot of potential to build classical music awareness, not just Beethoven Awareness. Let's see if WQXR can make something of it.

And maybe, just maybe, if we promote classical music enough, we can ditch the LCD cartoon wigs. (A nod of indifference to the shameless, though creative, publicity stunt).

Nov. 06 2012 02:44 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

Since I can't post this in the "Beethoven Goes To Hollywood" thread, I'll post it here. It's about as silly and far cuter and even has two Beethoven tunes along with other classics.


I've no idea what the kids are singing but then maybe they'll grow up to be new Joan Sutherlands.

In searching for where I first saw this (didn't find that) google pointed me to an even sillier animation video.


I happen to think Dolly Parton's wig is as big as Beethoven's.

Nov. 04 2012 11:08 PM
dnjnyc from Manhattan

I couldn't agree more with many of the posters here. You have to wonder how a Beethoven Awareness Month got past all those committees, as they say. It's silly and embarrassing. More daring on WQXR's part would be a month with no Beethoven whatsoever.

Nov. 04 2012 04:45 PM
mary2011 from Bucharest, ROMANIA

It is a great idea.The music is the friend of people.

Particularly when they are affected by natural phenomenas, such as the last storm, the soul needs the support that is coming from the classical music.

Being far away from NY I can't stop thinking about the persons that now are staying without electricity, heat or even without food. In spite of so many difficulties I strongly believe that the American Spirit will be reborn, once again, and normal life will soon go on.

Keep Your Spirit through WQXR Classical Music Channel.
Thanks for sharing with me!

All the best.

Nov. 04 2012 09:24 AM
Silversalty from Scone counter at Ogilvy's

I used to enjoy Twinings English Breakfast tea with apple tarts from Ogilvy's, bought while the piper marched through the store. But the mention of Earl Grey brings memories of tea with a splash of Aqua Velva. Every time I saw an actor playing the part of someone with a very French name using a very Shakespearean English accent to order from a "replicator" that same "Tea, Earl Grey," I'd do a spit take. Especially considering that the actor reminded of Y.A. Tittle and my main memory of him was as a bit part player playing a smirking vanquished Karla in the superb series, "Smiley's People" with the incomparable Alec Guinness as Smiley.

As long as we're (I'm) off topic (not Beethoven) I'll mention that I happened to see David Dubal on the street just after his (enter superlative adjective) series on Debussy aired. Unfortunately I was zipping around a corner and a name shout out from a stranger would only have been unnerving. I'd bet Dubal could put together a (what was that about entering adjectives?) series on piano music based on Beethoven. I'd recommend Gould playing Beethoven's Sixth, 1st mvmt. I stumped Phillip Kawin with that one.

They've got a Youtube of everything!

Nov. 02 2012 08:45 PM

I love Beethoven, but why hold an "awareness month" for the composer that WQXR listeners are already probably most aware of? There are so many wonderful composers whose works are lesser known, I would love to see WQXR try to bring awareness to someone who could use it.

Nov. 02 2012 10:14 AM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

I've been aware of Beethoven and his significance, and the beauty and power and range of his music, for years, and while this silly gimmick may have the benefit of putting more Beethoven into the often repetitious mix of light classical favorites that we hear on WQXR, there are other composers who could also benefit from an "awareness month." You've never done (J.S.) Bach (WKCR does a Bach festival every December) or Mozart, or, as Bernie suggested, more prickly composers such as Stravinsky or Britten, nor will you ever do some of the others, such as Gesualdo (what?? all that singing?? never!!). this silly poster and would-be hipster-luring campaign is probably not going to expand your audience, I'm afraid.
and why November, when Beethoven was born in December?

Nov. 01 2012 12:16 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

I agree with Bernie - aren't we all aware of Beethoven by now? We did this last year, and although I think it was a great idea, how about putting the spotlight on some other composers? As much as I like Beethoven, when are we going to see a Tchaikovsky Awareness Month, or how about a Mahler Awareness Month, or a Bruckner Awareness Month (or is that too much to hope for?)

Nov. 01 2012 10:27 AM
Walter Schretzman from Morningside Heights

Beethoven sounds like he drank way more coffee than tea!

Nov. 01 2012 09:53 AM
Bernie from UWS

Isn't every month Beethoven Awareness? How about Britten Awareness? Or Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Shostakovich, Scriabin, Monteverdi or Gesualdo? There are so many more under-exposed composers than the most ubiquitous of them all.

Nov. 01 2012 08:10 AM

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About Beethoven Awareness Month

No composer impacted the course of Western music like Ludwig van Beethoven. The events of his life are the stuff of Romantic legend, his works permeate concert halls and he remains a cultural icon outside of classical music, turning up in movies, TV soundtracks, commercials and pop songs. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Beethoven's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.