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Hamlet's Vision by Pedro Américo

Beethoven's Ghost

What spooky silhouette in the shadows of Shakespeare’s stage is conjured by Ludwig van Beethoven’s mournful crescendos and tremolos? The theatrical inspiration for Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 5 in D Major — nicknamed “The Ghost Trio” by the composer’s Austrian pupil Carl Czerny — varies according to the source. In 1842 Czerny wrote that the second movement brought to mind the opening of Hamlet — that winter's night at Elsinore Castle as Horatio and the watchman witnessed the phantasm of the prince’s father, the fallen King Hamlet, resurrected and roving the corridors. But Beethoven had also been briefly composing music for an opera based on "The Tragedie of Macbeth," and we can only imagine what he might have written for the tale of spilled blood and witchcraft in the Scottish Highlands. The piano trios and his unseen opera have since been conflated, but as James Keller wrote in “Chamber Music: A Listeners,” we may “discard as erroneous the oft-encountered claim that this movement of the Ghost Trio is a reworking of music Beethoven originally sketched as the Witches Chorus for his 'Macbeth.'”

Close Encounters With Music presents "Grand Piano Trios: Beethoven's Ghost and Archduke" performed by pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, violinist Hye-Jin Kim and cellist Yehuda Hanani on Dec. 11 at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, Mass.

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