On Campus, Arts

The BC Chamber Music Society Anoints Beethoven’s ‘Archduke’

By the end of the week, most students either want to kick back or turn up. And tunes are an important part of both activities: we do stuff to music. But last Thursday, the Music Department hosted an event that put music back at the forefront.

On Thursday night in Gasson 100, the Boston College Chamber Music Society unveiled “The Beethoven Project.” Violinist Grace Ro, A&S ’16, cellist Monica Grady, A&S ’17, and pianist Alexander Aylward, A&S ’17, led the modest, though contemplative crowd through Beethoven’s “Archduke” in B-flat major for a little under an hour. The piece was at times soothing, other times jolting, but mostly seemed impossible to have come from just those three sources: piano, violin, cello. “Archduke” is epic in its own intimate way.

Chamber music, and therefore Beethoven’s piece, is smaller in scale than what most listeners have in mind when they think of classical music. Most think of operatic or orchestral pieces, those pieces vast and complex in craft and proposed meaning. Chamber music is played by only a few musicians, in what we used to think of as a chamber, now more of a large classroom. To use a simplistic metaphor, Chamber music is the television to orchestra’s film.

This brings us to Beethoven’s “Archduke,” an interesting piece on several fronts. The great composer wrote it in what most scholars refer to as his middle years between 1810 and 1811 in Vienna in the few years after Napoleon’s invasion in 1805. The piece, somewhat ironically, is what many consider a bit of “happy” Beethoven. The piece doesn’t brood as much as float between its four movements.


The piece as a whole often captured the interaction between the piano, the violin, and the cello. The piano glided its way into the piece before the violin and cello came in. In the first of the four parts of the piece, the piano moved together seamlessly though with sporadic bits of battle. But as one would expect, the piece got more interesting as it progressed.

The piano is what tied the piece together. At times, the strings would break apart, but the piano would always try to bring its companions back into the flow. On the cello, Grady mixed things up later in the first section when she plucked and tapped her instrument. The smooth, cohesive nature of the piece began to break down.

Aylward was an expressive figure on the piano. He served the role as both pianist and conductor. Like a conductor, he keyed the audience in on the piece’s playful, dramatic, or even romantic moments with looks back at his wind ensemble. It was by far the most visually striking part of the concert—Aylward bobbing and nodding as his hands race across the keyboard.

The second section could have been the soundtrack to a dramatic car chase, with the violin and cello cutting in and out as the piano moved steadily along. You could feel the piece was building to something. You could start to feel an epic scope to a piece meant merely for the chamber. In the last section, the violin seemed like it was crying about something, like the cello sneaking out in the middle of the night.

At several different points near the finale, it seemed as if the piece was going to end decisively, before moving back into a few playful sequences. But eventually, after a couple sequences best described as “ditties,” the movements of the violin and cello descending and rising over each other rolled under the bars of the piano again for a little finale.

Featured Images By Drew Hoo/ Heights Editor

April 13, 2015