Birge's Picks

Igor, meet Ludwig

Beethoven was one of the greatest composers to ever live, changing the way we wrote symphonies and sonatas.Wikimedia Commons

November 01, 2021

During a dinner party in Paris in 1922, Marcel Proust tries to pay Igor Stravinsky a compliment by comparing him to Ludwig van Beethoven. The conversation did not go as planned.

Stravinsky: “I detest Beethoven!”

Proust: “But, cher maître, surely those late sonatas and quartets?”

Stravinsky: “Worse than the others.”

“I detest Beethoven” has become a famous put-down, but there’s much more to it. In his book Conversations, Stravinsky explains and qualifies the moment. “I talked to Proust about music and he expressed much enthusiasm for the late-Beethoven quartets,” he explained. “I would have shared that enthusiasm if it were not commonplace among intellectuals of that time and not a musical judgement but a literary pose.” Forty years later, Stravinsky proclaimed, “At 80, I have found new joy in Beethoven.” As for those late-quartets, he loved the Grosse Fuge more than anything and called opus 131 "perfect."

It’s a great week for lovers of Beethoven and Stravinsky. In St. Paul, the Schubert Club presents violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Orion Weiss, playing Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne and Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. Meanwhile, the Danish String Quartet performs their complete Beethoven Quartet cycle, intended for last year’s 250th Beethoven anniversary. They received a fabulous review in the New York Times days before cancelling their Minnesota show. The St. Cloud Symphony opens with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Suites for Small Orchestra.

Ludwig and Igor will to be here in spirit.