It took me a while to discover Beethoven after I got switched on to classical music. Coming from a background in rock, the first music that really appealed to me was chamber music, as I found it easy to translate the interplay of single instruments into something I was familiar with. In the days of cassette tapes, I used to visit the library every week and borrow a couple of LPs, tape them, and then listen for while - and then either discard or keep. I listened to a lot this way, and gained some life-long favourites.
I was tempted into borrowing a record of late Beethoven quartets (I think because they had a reputation of being 'difficult', and I liked the idea of being into 'difficult' music). I loved them beyond imagining, and played them over and over. From that, I gained the confidence to listen to more of Beethoven's music, and from that all his near-contemporaries like Schubert, Haydn and Mozart.
Of all the composers I have ever listened to, Beethoven is the master. He understands the human condition better than anyone, whether the exultation of the Ode to Joy, or the jangling torment of the Grosse Fuge. But for me, he is at his most expressive when he writes of simple melancholy. I think, to Beethoven, life was a melancholy affair, full of pain and disappointment, and he understood the dark places of the soul extremely well. When I want to visit my own dark places, there is no better companion.
This piece, the second movement of the sonata usually known as the 'Pathetique', is so well-known as to be almost a cliché. But I never tire of hearing it. It reminds me of many of the sad things I have been through and often moves me to tears if I am in a certain frame of mind. Its genius is in its utter simplicity. The Welsh have a wonderful word: hiraeth. Hiraeth has no exact translation into English, although words like 'longing', 'nostalgia' and 'homesickness' describe the general territory. It is said to be a Welsh person's longing for things that are Welsh, perhaps from a great distance away. I'm sure we all have our own equivalent; I do.
Here, then, is musical hiraeth:
Beethoven, Sonata in C minor op. 13, 'Pathetique', second movement, adagio cantabile, played by Wilhelm Kempff.