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Unreasonably Difficult

April 9, 2016

This post is more about Beethoven and less about food. As advance compensation for veering somewhat off topic, here is a photo of Jules hugging a metric ton of cheese balls that he won in a raffle on his birthday.


I will point out that his birthday was in January, and the vat remains unopened. It’s almost as if the idea of owning a metric ton of cheese balls is enough.

O.K. so for some reason, I’ve been watching a lot of political news lately. I guess politics are on everybody’s mind, and I want to be able to talk to everybody. And I noticed that I’ve been listening to a lot of Beethoven lately, too. As a sort of a antidote. Or a sort of prayer. Or both.

On the day of the bombing in Belgium, Symphony No. 9 was on repeat. Naturally.
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This reminds me that I have been meaning to write about a concert I attended more than a year ago.


I am listening to the first of Beethoven’s “Razumovsky” quartets while seated in the sanctuary of a stone church that looks like it was transplanted from the English countryside to Magnolia Bluff. Outside, parishioners display the results of a community art project that responds to this question: When have you felt the presence of God in your life?

When my mother died. When a stranger returned my wallet. When we ran for our lives to a foreign country with our hearts in our throats and our eyes fixed on some faint, flickering star.

I am distracted by the reverberating snores of a man who fell asleep instantaneously when the concert began. He awakens briefly between movements, then slumbers again. In the first pew, a little girl scampers back and forth. Her shoes shed a trail of silver glitter. Her mother is sitting in front of me. The mother waves her hand in the air, conductor of this peculiar, squirmy young instrument, gesturing for the child to rest. The child misses this cue.

From The Guardian:

Beethoven’s three “Razumovsky” string quartets left both their first performers and the public shocked and suspicious. The violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, whose quartet premiered the Opus 59 works, complained they were unreasonably difficult. After playing the opening solo from the second movement of the first of the three quartets, cellist Bernhard Romberg threw his music to the ground and stamped on it … Meanwhile, the violinist Felix Radicati is said to have complained these were “not music.”

“They are not for you, but for a later age,” Beethoven told his critics.

The cellist—a friend of mine—is playing one of the most feverishly complicated runs I have ever heard. Earlier she told me about this quartet’s notorious difficulty. The parts are so wholly intertwined that one wrong note from the cello sends the viola into a tailspin, and vice versa. It’s enough to make a classically trained string player go punk.

“They are not for you, but for a later age,” Beethoven told his critics.

I know this stuff moves us humans forward like a crescendo. Maybe the longest, slowest crescendo ever, but a crescendo nonetheless.

And yet part of me cannot help thinking: Well now, Ludwig. Wasn’t that just SPLENDID for the LATER AGE.

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At the post-concert reception, I eat far too many miniature chocolate eclairs. I think they might have come from the frozen section at Trader Joe’s. They have not thawed completely and are still a little bit frosty on the bottom. They numb my fingers. I consider holding one to my brow.

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Related: If you are in Seattle, please go see Stupid F’ing Bird, which is at the Act Theatre through May 8. I saw it last night. It’s zany and sad and hilarious, and it deeply honors our struggle with life’s unreasonableness. Funny enough, it is also full of food references.

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