From a German dance emerges one of Beethoven’s most inward and wonderful slow movements. He calls it a cavatina, an operatic aria. Listeners often comment on its simplicity and on its direct emotional force.
The first violin sings its cavatina, and each time it pauses for breath, the other instruments, led by the second violin, jump in to continue the melodic flow--a passage of ongoing inspired melody.
Although most of this movement is played softly, about two-thirds of the way through the level suddenly drops down to the completely different world of pianissimo. This section is marked beklemmt, a term that carries meanings and associations in the range of oppressed, weighed upon, suffocated, anxious. Beethoven appears to be looking into an abyss. But, after just a few measures, as though drawing back quickly from the edge, the music returns to the cavatina.
In one of Beethoven’s biographies, we read that Karl Holz, a young violinist, a good friend to Beethoven in his last years, and a truthful witness, recalled that the cavatina ‘cost the composer tears in the writing and brought out the confession that nothing that he had written had so moved him; in fact, that merely to revive it afterwards in his thoughts and feelings brought forth renewed tributes of tears.’
As we navigate our way slowly through a time of apprehension, we have our own “abyss” of uncertainty that we are forced to reflect on. We need music that will calm us and speak directly to our souls. This movement can do that as almost no other music does. Find a comfortable chair and let the music carry you to a place of peace.