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The Musical Matrix Reloaded

Contemporary Perspectives and Alternative Worlds in the Music of Beethoven and Schubert

Barbara Barry

The Musical Matrix Reloaded proposes a striking new scenario for the music of Beethoven and Schubert in the contemporary world. It draws on the theory of Multiple Worlds in physics, and on sci-fi and movies, as powerful contemporary models of alternative realities to explain radical features of interpolation, dislocation, and ultimately of return.

Confronting familiar assumptions about Beethoven’s and Schubert’s music as long-range consonance, the book proposes instead that musical action is predicated on an underlying disruptive energy, Nietzsche’s Dionysian disruptive background re-interpreted in the contemporary world. When it breaks through the musical surface, it dislocates continuity and re-routes tonal narrative into new, unforeseen directions. These unforeseen paths enable us to glimpse in Beethoven’s and Schubert’s music the beautiful, and often haunting, reality of another world.

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10. In Search of the Enigma Code: Beethoven’s A Minor Quartet, Op. 132, and the Double Helix


I told him that I was in search of events, mine and those of others, which I wanted to put on display in a book, to see if I could convey to the layman the strong and bitter flavor of our trade, which is only a particular instance, a more strenuous version of the business of living. Primo Levi1

Twice in his life, Beethoven was commissioned to write string quartets by wealthy Russian nobleman. Both would initiate new periods of quartet writing, creating striking innovations of style and structure, and new domains of expressive characterization. The first commission was in 1806 from one of Beethoven’s most important patrons, Count Andrey Kirillovich Razumovsky, for whom Beethoven would write the three quartets Op. 59, known as the ‘Razumovsky’ quartets.

The second in 1822 was from Prince Nicolas (Nikolaus Borisowich) Galitzin, a cellist and fervent admirer of Beethoven’s music. Prince Nicolas sends Beethoven an extraordinary offer. In a letter from St. Petersburg dated November 9, 1822, the prince requests new quartets, leaving it to up to the composer how many he will write, and how much he will be paid.


Aussi passioné amateur de musique que grand admirateur de votre talent, je prens la liberté de vous écrire pour demander Si vous ne Consentierez pas a Composer un, deux ou trois Nouveaux Quatours, don’t je me ferais un plaisir de vous payer la peine [ce] que vous jugerez apropos demarquer.2


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