Perfect Beethoven

I was driving back from the country to New York, flipping around on the radio dial, looking for whatever might catch my ear. The heavy metal station from Poughkeepsie? The AM station from Pittsburgh that unpredictably wafted across three states the last time I drove late at night, broadcasting a show for older folks, who called in requesting songs they’d danced to in the Big Band days?

I listened for a while to soul music from the city. The DJ’s voice could have made a nun melt. A woman named Keisha called him. She’d had a hard day. “You have to do something for me,” the DJ purred. He told her she should take a bubble bath, and lie in it until he played her song. And what song was that? What was her request? “Secret Lover.” “Oh no, Keisha!” “It is what it is.” “But Keisha, keep your eyes open…keep them open for what you really want…”

Flip the dial. Public radio.

Beethoven, the late A major piano sonata, Op. 101. First movement. Now began to melt. Such perfect music, “perfect” meaning to me that it doesn’t strain, doesn’t strive, has no transitions. Every phrase within it simply is, using nothing more than weight and tone to take its place within the flow. And each phrase seems very simple, simple and direct. There’s nothing “classical” here, nothing that seems removed from everyday expression, nothing that ought to need analysis or explanation. If I composed anything like this, I’d think I could be happy forever.

(Not the second, third, and fourth movements, though. They’re OK, but the first movement is perfect.)

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