Although I was not a fan of classical music, a few pieces such as the 1812 Overture attracted my attention. When my brother sent me a chapter discussing the last string quartets in terms of Beethoven's spiritual development, I was fascinated. The material helped me appreciate the depth of the quartet in C sharp minor. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 66)
In these five quartets we have the greatest of Beethoven's music, and much of it is different in kind from any other music that he or anybody else ever wrote. In the last quartets, and particularly in the great, those in A minor, B flat major, and C sharp minor, Beethoven is exploring new regions of consciousness. All the major formative experiences of his life had been assimilated; life had nothing new to teach him. . . .
But this inner world to which Beethoven had now retreated . . . was nevertheless a living and developing world. It not only contained elements which he had never before explored, but also elements that had never before existed. The last quartets testify to a veritable growth of consciousness, to a higher degree of consciousness, probably, than is manifested anywhere else in art. . . . When we come to the last quartets we find a still more remote spiritual content. We here become aware not only of new synthesis of spiritual elements, but of radically new synthesis of spiritual elements, . . .
The actual process of what we have called a growth of consciousness is extremely obscure. When we speak of a new synthesis of spiritual elements, whether these elements be emotions or states of awareness . . . , we must remember that the synthesis corresponds to a definitely new state of consciousness and is not to be described by tabulating its elements. . . . A spiritual synthesis, when we try to describe it, sometimes seems to contain contradictory elements. . . .
In the last string quartets, spiritual experiences are communicated of which it is very difficult to mention even the elements. And yet it is just this music that most moves us and impresses us as containing the profoundest and most valuable experiences that any artist has yet conveyed. Our experience of the opening fugue of the C sharp minor quartet, for example, . . . is the most superhuman piece of music that Beethoven has ever written. It is the completely unfaltering rendering into music of the mystic vision. It has that serenity which . . . passes beyond beauty. Nowhere else in music are we made so aware, as here, of a state of consciousness surpassing our own. . . .
Those faint and troubling intimations we sometimes have of a vision different from and yet including our own, of a way of apprehending life, passionless, perfect and complete, that resolves all our discords, are here presented with the reality they had glimpsed. This impression of a superhuman knowledge, of a superhuman life being slowly frozen into shape, before our eyes, can be ambiguous. . . . In light of this vision he surveys the world.
That this vision was permanent with Beethoven is inconceivable. No man ever lived who could maintain such a state of illumination. This, we may be sure, is the last and greatest of Beethoven's spiritual discoveries, only to be grasped in the moments of his profoundest abstraction from the world. But it was sufficiently permanent to enable him to write the C Sharp minor quartet in the light of it, a feat of concentration, of abstraction, of utter truthfulness, that is without equal.