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The enigma in Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 16

Posted July. 14, 2020 07:41,   

Updated July. 14, 2020 07:41


The 17th Music in PyeongChang is held from July 22 through August 8 under the theme of “Es muss sein.” Translated as “It must be,” it is a phrase that Ludwig van Beethoven jotted down in the score of the String Quartet No. 16 in F major. On Saturday and Sunday, Gyeonggi Philharmonic Orchestra performs the orchestra version of the piece conducted by music director Massimo Zanetti.

A short phrase is written in the score of the fourth movement along with simple motifs. It says “Muss es sein? Es muss sein!” next to “the difficult decision.”

Some think that the phrase illustrates Beethoven’s efforts to explore new composition techniques that could bring about fundamental changes. However, he was not in good enough health to think about composition philosophy or techniques when he wrote the piece. The German composer passed away the following year.

Zanetti suggested interpreting it in our own way and said “it” was music for him. “It must be music! It must be life,” he said. “We need to go back to the life we used to enjoy and find things that matter to our souls.”

Son Yeol-eum, art director of the PyeongChang music festival, said she decided to use the phrase as the theme of this year’s festival because the weight of the words in the phrase speak to the difficult situation we are facing in 2020.

On a side note, English composer Edward Elgar wrote a symphony entitled “Enigma Variations” a century after Beethoven left the “enigmatic” memo. He said there is a hidden theme that goes through the piece but did not reveal what it was. It “could be” this. The notes of the first part of “Enigma Variations” have the same motif as Beethoven’s “It must be” when inverted. Elgar probably wanted to pay homage to the great composer who left a mysterious note 100 years ago with his own “enigma.”