Ludwig van Beethoven wouldn’t believe his ears after 250 years. The music world continues to celebrate the anniversary of his birth in 1770, as concerts keep coming after all the performance delays and cancelations due to COVID.
This includes a trove from the Library of Congress, the oldest federal institution in America and the world’s largest library. In keeping with its mission to inform and inspire, the Library is offering (Re)Hearing Beethoven, a series of free virtual concerts focusing on the great German master as well as other composers from the past and present.
Many of us might think of the Library as a warehouse for books and papers – we’re talking 170 million items overall – but it also houses an enormous collection of musical manuscripts, recordings and videos, and serves as a venue for live concerts and festivals.
Every performance in its current (Re)Hearing Beethoven gala, which began last summer, is available for viewing with a simple click of the mouse. No ticket required – after all, your tax dollars help pay for the institution’s $684 million annual budget.
The Library’s website lets you to go back and enjoy any past performance, which can be an addicting way to spend a weekend in musical bliss. I began with a November concert by the famed Takács Quartet in elegant performances of Schubert’s Quartetsatz in C Minor, Bartok’s First String Quartet and Beethoven’s A Minor Quartet, Op. 132.
Another highlight, from December, is a captivating one-hour, 40-minute recital by pianist Christopher Taylor, who played Franz Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s First, Second and Fifth symphonies. As I listened to these orchestral masterworks through the transparent lens of the keyboard, unexpected details emerged. In his website interview, Taylor says these versions provide a “new perspective on something familiar.”
In a similar vein from another December show, pianist Adam Golka and the Verona Quartet presented an intensive focus on Beethoven’s notoriously challenging Hammerklavier sonata – two visions of the work in back-to-back performances, with a transcription for string quartet followed by the composer’s original version for piano.
This isn’t the kind of stuff you hear every day and I found the reworking of the gut-wrenching adagio – the so-called “mausoleum of collective sorrow’’ – nothing short of hypnotic.
In an October performance featuring works by seven Latin composers, the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, the acclaimed Mexican quartet, waxed virtuosic on xylophones, drums, bells and cymbals. The link offers interviews with the musicians and educational videos for anyone wanting to learn more about such diverse instruments and repertoire.
You can enjoy any concert from the beginning of the 2020-21 season simply by clicking on a specific concert on the list. Upcoming performances through the end of April will be posted on dates noted on the Library’s schedule.
For access a wide range of performances, visit loc.gov/concerts/beethoven and click on “Full Season at-a-Glance.’’ From there, you can pick and choose to your liking – and find additional content, conversations with the artists, program notes, and related stories and documents.
Expect to be sidetracked as you sift through the Library’s vast cavern of resources, never to find your way out. That’s not a bad problem to have.
Dive into Beethoven’s manuscripts, letters, sound recordings, lectures and more here
Explore the Library of Congress’ Performing Arts Blog here