Yesterday, I made a tremendous musicological discovery. I was going to save it, perhaps, for Musical Quarterly, or People Magazine, but I simply cannot wait; it’s bursting out of me, ejaculating (if you will) prematurely.

It is my contention that any pianist, at some point in the process of preparing the Hammerklavier Sonata, will begin to resent the very fact that this idea …

Hammerklavier fugue theme excerpt

… was ever written on paper. Perhaps it will happen at ten in the morning, at midnight, at some dark hour of the soul, or some deliquescent midday doldrum; perhaps when Beethoven turns the theme backwards and makes you play it with a very strange countersubject; or perhaps when he plays it upside down and rightside up simultaneously: anyway it will happen. You will say to Beethoven, under your breath, muttering darkly, channeling Brando in On the Waterfront … “Why I oughtta…” and Beethoven will simply smile back, knowing full well he has an excellent chance of whupping your butt. (Is that how you spell whupping? Where’s an OED when you need one?)

This pianist petulance may be fleeting; let us hope so.

Anyway: a certain mania sets in. The permutative insanity, kind of a musical caffeine orgy, of Beethoven’s often absurd contrapuntal writing, combined with the trills reproducing like well-fed amoeba all over the registers of the piano, induces a certain fever, a certain “not-again-ness” and as the subject reverberates around your practice room you may feel haunted by some strange spirit, some fugal demon … you may be whimpering on the floor at certain point (not in pleasure) … it depends on the strength of your temperament. I looked to my iPhone for moral support, but it just sat there, pristine, magnificent, unconcerned, on the counter; it simply refused to ring and rescue me from my work ethic.

Yes and I was there, people, I was THERE, at that place, haunted, betrilled, feeling that the theme could-not-would-not come back yet again (like the villain in some horror movie that after seventeen fatal stab wounds and being drowned and set on fire and placed at the epicenter of a nuclear explosion still manages to come lunging back, handling his butcher’s blade) … when I came to this moment when Beethoven inverts the theme:
And at that moment (consider my precarious mental state, readers!), like mysterious messengers marching alongside the music, some words manifested themselves in my brain:

Come and knock on our door
We’ve been waiting for you
Where the kisses are hers and hers and his
Three’s company, too!

I sat back on my bench, stopping midphrase, aghast and atwitter; my brain fever was twisting and turning in the winds of intertextuality. I took a deep breath. I tried to begin again…

But the words came back again, stronger this time, going along with the music…


and I felt I was beginning to play the fugue subject in a sort of boppy, late 70s manner, and I had to stop again. Agh! I held my hands by my sides, let them drop. Fate intervened again, fatefully. A freak wind blew through the piano room and the score’s pages flipped, as if by magic, to the opening page of the fugue, where I read:

Fuga in tre voci, con alcune licenza
[Fugue in three voices, with some license]

Fugue in THREE voices ?!?!?!?!?!?!


I nearly fainted, the world spun … A company of three, with some “license” … but wasn’t “license,” or licentiousness, at least, the very subject, the essence of the discourse of the humorous TV program which was now visiting me out my wasted childhood hours? And then, it hit me like a further lightning bolt: the “true theme” only emerges when Beethoven does the subject in the INVERSION … and isn’t “inversion,” sexually speaking, the sidesplitting eternal joke of Jack Ritter’s presence in the apartment with the two buxom babes? How could even a great genius like Beethoven know what the Three’s Company theme and subject matter would be, one hundred and fifty years before it was even a twinkle in the eye of a television producer? It was as if—and this seemed hard to believe—Beethoven had written the entire Sonata just to bring the theme of Three’s Company into life …

What to do with such knowledge?  Awestruck. Bewildered. Confused. The hour: 11 PM. Further practicing of no avail. There seemed no option but to head to Dick’s for a deluxe cheeseburger. I stood, as so often, under the fluorescent lamps, staring at listless skatepunks, and contemplating my newest plumbing of musical depths … I sucked cynically on my chocolate shake … I know they don’t give Pulitzers for musicology, but it seemed possible. Anything was possible. I felt my iPhone in my pocket, caressed its rectangular smoothness warmly, thinking you and me, baby, we’ll go far, we can be a contender …

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  1. les
    Posted July 11, 2007 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    It’s a possibility that the composer of “Three’s Company” jingle derived some idea of that famous line from Beethoven’s fugue. He/she may well know about the Hammerklavier Sonata. Some, even if they only compose tv commercials or cartoons, they have classical backgrounds too. I met and chat a composer of tv program “Sesame Street” and I learned he plays the bassoon and loves classical music as well.

    So, your iPhone is your new friend now? Wish I could see a video of you playing the not so easy Hammerklavier in my new iPhone.

  2. Joe
    Posted July 11, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    And rumor has it that the “Immortal Beloved” was named Christmas (Chrissy) Snow. And the Regal Beagle was the inn frequented by Archduke Rudolph. The first draft of Beethoven’s only opera had Leonore posing as a young man named Jack Tripper and not Fidelio. And when Napoleon’s arrogance caused Beethoven to tear up the dedication to the Eroica, Beethoven was heard to exclaim, “In my esteem, the Norman fell…”

  3. les
    Posted July 11, 2007 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    Composer and lyricist Joe Raposo composed the theme song of the popular tv show THREE’S COMPANY-best known for his Sesame Street song “SING” that got the gold record award to brother and sister team CARPENTERS. Biography stated he worked in musical theater, also worked w/ famous singers like Sinatra and others. He’s mostly famous w/ the PBS Sesame Street and Electric Company.

  4. Posted July 12, 2007 at 1:05 am | Permalink

    You are being haunted by the restless shade of John Ritter and he’s manifesting himself through your iPhone. Good god, stop the Hammerkavalier Sonata three-way doodling before it’s too late and you’re possessed by Suzanne Somers too (she can live and be a spirit at the same time, I’m quite sure, and it won’t be pretty).

  5. Posted July 12, 2007 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy, I was reading a short biography of Tchaikovsky on the web and there was a short passage I have to share here after reading your latest wonderful, and slightly troubling post.
    “After work or long periods of letting his imaginations loose at the piano he was always very nervy and on edge. Once the Tchaikovskys had guests, and the whole evening was spent in musical entertainment. Because it was a holiday the children were allowed to join the gown-ups. Pierre [Pyotr Ilyich, the composer] was initially very lively and happy, but towards the end of the evening became so tired that he went upstairs earlier than usual. When Fanny went to the nursery some time later he was not yet asleep but, his eyes glistening, was weeping agitatedly. When asked what was the matter with him, he replied:
    ‘O, it’s the music!’
    But there was not music to be heard at the moment.
    ‘Get rid of it for me! It’s here, here,’ said the boy, weeping and
    pointing to his head. ‘It won’t give me any peace!”

  6. Posted July 12, 2007 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    Joe Raposo studied at Harvard with, among others, Leon Kirchner, so he almost certainly would have known the “Hammerklavier”. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for slipping it under the sitcom-culture radar.

    That’s a pretty nice Mr. Roper look there, by the way.

  7. les
    Posted July 12, 2007 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha! a Mr. Roper look. Check out CBS NCIS tv program. You’ll see Jeremy aka Agent McGee,the computer specialist.

  8. Posted July 13, 2007 at 5:15 am | Permalink

    My first reaction was that these melodies aren’t very strongly connected – that your hallucinogenic state had blurred perception. Ah, but those naughty escape tones! So, who’s the incomplete neighbor? Tripper? Roper? Furley?

  9. linda
    Posted July 16, 2007 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    i just had the privilege of hearing you play the ‘hammerklavier’ in portland, following the amazing and erudite lecture about it and the ives ‘concord sonata’ the previous day….i don’t recall having heard mention of this particular thematic reference. DANG, wish you had brought it up! would have made a great lecture and performance EVEN BETTER!!! thanks.

  10. Steven
    Posted July 18, 2007 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    That’s is literally the funniest thing I have ever read… Delicious mix of the high brow with the low.

  11. Posted July 22, 2007 at 4:30 am | Permalink

    i believe it’s “whooping”

    damn you for having an iPhone. want to share it with me? 😉

    best thing i’ve read in a while 🙂 brava!

    and now i’m off to hum more of “chess” in my head …

  12. Posted October 19, 2007 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    That, and “My Blue Heaven”

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