Piano^Graphy : Beethoven and Bresson
Sunday Magazine

Piano^Graphy : Beethoven and Bresson

Siddharth S Kumar

It was nearly 200 years ago that “Fur Elise” was composed by one of the most acclaimed piano geniuses, Beethoven. Ironically the composition was found nearly 40 years after his death. It is unthinkable how a person who had acquired deafness at an early age, could transform into one of the most profound composers on this planet.

Ludwig Van Beethoven was considered as the Shakespeare of Music—no wonder his compositions are still sung and performed around the globe. For over two centuries, contemporaries, professionals and music lovers continue to be mystified by the intricacy and vastness of his compositions. There are stories that while his final masterpiece, ”Ninth Symphony” was being premiered, this music colossus had to look at the clapping of the audience, as Beethoven had, by then tragically become deaf.

Music aficionados talk about the ‘three Bs’ of classical music comprising three stalwarts—Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. The fact that Beethoven was a pivotal figure is evident from the fact that two Voyager probes sent to outer space had a Voyager Golden Record (phonograph record) which features his music, along with the Earth’s sample sounds, languages, images and music.

Beethoven, who composed in several musical genres, had a rich spectrum of compositions for piano – 32 piano sonatas and innumerable shorter pieces; and his works with piano accompaniment included 10 violin sonatas, 5 cello sonatas and a sonata for a French horn, besides writing an appreciable quantity of chamber music, among others.

Beethoven’s genius flowered as he evolved, and which was also influenced by his personal life’s challenges. In what is known as the Early Period of his life, his compositional career was deeply influenced by his predecessors, Haydn and Mozart, wherein he explored new avenues. This period witnessed the birth of the first and second symphonies, including the well-known Pathetique sonata, Op 13, the first dozen piano sonatas, the set of string quartets Opus 18, the first two piano concertos…

Pathetique Sonata - 2nd Movement – “Pathetique” here refers to passionate or emotional nature of the piece. It starts with a slow paced melody which develops tension towards the middle which resolves towards the end of the piece.


The onset of deafness and personal tribulations coincided with the Middle Period of his music journey. Termed also as a heroic period, to denote his struggle and heroism, this phase saw the outpouring of six symphonies, five string quartets, several piano sonatas (Moonlight, Waldstein and Appasionata sonatas), the last three piano concertos, the Kreutzer violin sonata and Beethoven’s sole opera Fidelio.

The Late Period witnessed the String Quartet, Op.131 with seven linked movements, and the Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement—and other compositions such as Missa Solemnis, the last five piano sonatas and the last five string quartets. All of these creations, in a way, represent an intense personal expression with intellectual depth and unique innovations.

Ninth Symphony - 4th Movement (Ode to Joy) – This is considered by many as one of Beethoven’s greatest works. The chorale finale is the most distinct part of the piece. The choir sings text from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” poem which is about universal brotherhood.


Like many geniuses of earlier times, Beethoven underwent considerable suffering in the years leading to his passing away.

As we remember him it is apt to recall one of Beethoven quotes: “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy”.


A little over 100 years ago was born another maverick genius who could be considered the Einstein of still images. Here's a person whose eyes witnessed and expressed history in the most imaginative ways.

Henri Cartier-Bresson snapped Mahatma Gandhi, just hours before his assassination; he captured the victory of the communists in China; was at hand to accompany the liberation of Paris...the magical list is endless

Bresson was known for his spontaneity of his images—no wonder he never turned to the darkroom to enhance the effects. If modern photojournalism were to owe its legacy to a single photographer, it would be Bresson. Away from the comforts of studio-adjusted photography, Bresson was a pioneer of candid and street photography—because he was a believer in waiting for the “decisive moment”: which would transform an ordinary situation to an extraordinary image, which could tell many a stories.

The canvas of his imagination spanned photographic genres – and he was also credited with stunning portraits of iconic figures – with Jean-Paul Sartre and Leonard Bernstein jostling for attention with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Malcolm X.

People closely associated with Cartier-Bresson vouch for his indefatigable energy – it is said that between 1946 and 1950, he photographed on the road at a stretch for nearly four years. Wanderlust at heart, during those times he rarely travelled by a luxury jet airliner—instead opting for boat, train, car, bus, truck, bicycle, and motorcycle. He was among the pioneers to use 35mm film, shooting mostly in black and white.

Cartier-Bresson’s style was to capture candid moments which is seen in most of his works. This is also evident from his quote - “'Manufactured' or staged photography does not concern me. And if I make a judgment, it can only be on a psychological or sociological level. There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out to discover the image and seize it. “

His work ethic was: that to photograph was to live. “It is through living that we discover ourselves, at the same time as we discover the world around us,” he once said. No wonder he was called the founding father of contemporary street photography. If you observe closely, you can see humour, pathos, mystery and an aesthetic balance in his street scenes, portraits, landscapes—more so his pictures of individuals lost in the everyday moments of their lives.

Cartier-Bresson’s photos often show people or objects in action which creates tension in his photos. The viewer's mind resolves this tension by mentally completing the action which is left incomplete in the photograph.

Henri Cartier-Bresson was also the co-founder of Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative, about which he says, "Magnum is a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually."

Bresson has been, and still is, widely imitated but never equaled. To quote from his seminal 1952 book, ’The Decisive Moment, “Photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organisation of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

This photograph is a perfect example of excellent composition and timing. The stairway and the rails creates depth and also acts as leading lines to guide the eyes of the observer to the point of interest which is the cyclist.

Siddharth S.Kumar curates SIDART Photography, and his creative interests include Photography (named Best Photographer in Mindshare World network in 2014) & Piano (pursuing Grade 8 - Trinity College London). Professionally, he is Director (The Exchange), Mindshare, Chennai. Views are personal.