Blog / Beethoven and I, by Richard Tognetti

Beethoven and I, by Richard Tognetti

Posted on 18 Aug 2015 by Leo Messias


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Richard Tognetti, Artistic Director & Leader. Image © Mick Bruzzese.

At the time of writing I have played 1,660 different works with the ACO, however my most triumphant musical experience is as a listener.

On my first trip to Europe as a student – alone, free, headstrong, full of Romantic ideals – I disembarked a plane from Australia at Frankfurt airport. It was 7°C and foggy. I took a train through the miserable Rhein-Main-Gebiet up into Zürich where I changed trains to a mountain village high up in the Graubünden region of Switzerland. As the geography rose, so did my spirits. For the duration of the trip I was listening over and over to Beethoven’s Op.131 Quartet in an arrangement for strings by Dmitri Mitropoulos, on an old Walkman. The performance was Leonard Bernstein conducting those men of the Vienna Philharmonic.

As the earth lifted, I transcended into air from another planet. “Joy, beautiful spark of divinity, Daughter of Elysium”. At the same time as I was devouring Beethoven, I was reading Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). I swear I had no idea that the place I was going to, Davos, was the very Magic Mountain where the sanatorium of the book is set. When I arrived I was full of Beethoven’s crazed delights and Thomas Mann’s insights. It was snowing and I was impressionable, but really what a triumph, all those elements combined to give me:

“…busters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouettés, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap…”
Performance by Les Murray

I felt I’d triumphed because I’d entered through the portal to Beethoven – the deaf, insular, exception to our wretched lives who offers us the ability to transmogrify the every day. But don’t think you can just sit there and listen – oh no! You have to work!

The 2016 Season is a feast of late Beethoven Quartets. Come along and triumph. But in order to triumph, first you must succumb… “Es muss sein!”

Richard Tognetti Artistic Director & Violin


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