Electronic musician Varun Desai teams with Turkey's Ulrich Mertin to recreate second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony
BEETHOVEN’S MUSIC, LIKE much of his life, was full of strange paradoxes. The German musician, who started losing the ability to hear by the age of 28, almost went deaf by the end of his life. But, that did not preven them from composing music which bears the hallmark of genius.
While critics have appreciated the ‘inevitable form’ of his compositions, the layman relates to the emotion it evokes, and perhaps that’s the reason why his music has pervaded into popular culture too — whether it is the Moonlight Sonata and Für Elise used in Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2003) or The King’s Speech, which uses the 2nd movement (Allegretto) of the Seventh Symphony. The coming year marks the 250th birth anniversary of the composer, and Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata and Goethe-Institut Istanbul, are preparing to commemorate it in the most unique way possible.
The institutes are collaborating on a yearlong project called Easter n Variations, which will recreate the 2nd movement of the Seventh Symphony, with Indian and Turkish instruments. This project will be an entirely new approach to Beethoven’s music, which will engage in an experiment to explore the timbre of the Eastern instruments, as they react to Beethoven’s compositions. Under the leadership of Varun Desai, an electronic music producer based in Kolkata and Ulrich Mertin, a viola player, conductor and experimental music composer from Istanbul, the year- long project will culminate in an electro-acoustic album.
The LP will have Beethoven’s eight-minute composition (2nd movement), played with Indian and Turkish instruments on side A, and the variations that the musicians come up with, while interpreting the movement, on side B. Both Ulrich and Varun will be roping in musicians from their respective countries, to bring together an orchestral team. “The project came out of a workshop organised by the Goethe-Institut Munich, where participants from 20 countries had gathered together to brainstorm over projects, for the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary,” says Friso Maecker, the director of the Goethe-Institut Max Mueller Bhavan Kolkata. “The project is not just about revisiting Beethoven, but contemporising him in the present age,” he adds. Ulrich recently completed the first phase, with his trip to Kolkata and interacted with the Indian musicians, to understand the sound of our instruments. So far, the team has selected the sarod and mandolin to replace the violin, esraj for the cello parts, and ghatam and contrabass for the percussion. While the Turkish instruments include kaval, kabak kemane, and duduk, among others. “We found that there are certain patterns in the rhythm structures of this movement, which can be linked to the rhythm structures in Carnatic music and the melodic motifs of Indian ragas,” informs Varun, who rewrote the entire symphony in MIDI — a system for composing music on computers, for Indian musicians who cannot understand the notations. Varun will be visiting Istanbul next, in September, where he is scheduled to stay for two weeks and explore the entire range of instrumentation in traditional, as well as contemporary Turkish m u s i c. “ I will try to find out more about Beethoven’s relevance in Istanbul today and use the major books and recordings that have survived, as my primary source,” offers Varun. The album will come out in 2020.