|Composing "purely cerebral abstractions of sound"?|
Here's an early one I found on the fascinating Raptus Association Beethoven site (The Magnificent Master):
On 10 Variations on a theme by Salieri, WoO.73:
With these, one can not be satisfied, at all. How stiff they are and how contrived and what unpleasant passages are in them, in which hard tirades in continuing half-tones against the bass create an ugly relationship and vice versa. No, it is true, Mr. B. might be able to improvise, but he can not write variations, very well.ALLGEMEINE MUSIKALISCHE ZEITUNG
I wonder what they thought then of the Diabelli Variations? The last review in today's post will give some clue maybe...
The Raptus site has a massive archive of contemporary reviews, but most are actually pretty positive, so for the purposes of this post we must turn to:
Nicolas Slonimsky's "Lexicon of Musical Invective":
"Beethoven's 2nd Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect."Zeitung fur die Elegente Welt Vienna, May 1804
On the Fidelio Overture: "...incoherent, shrill, chaotic and ear-splitting...The most piercing dissonances clash in a really atrocious harmony, and a few puny ideas only increase the disagreeable and deafening effect."
Kotzebue, Der Freimutige Vienna 9/11/1806
On Piano Sonata Op.111 m2: "The greater portion of it is written in 9/16, but a part is in 6/16, and about a page in 12/32. All this really is laborious trifling, and ought to be by every means discouraged by the sensible part of the musical profession...We have devoted a full hour to this enigma, and cannot solve it."
The Harmonicon London Aug 1823
On the 7th Symphony: "...a great deal of disagreeable eccentricity...Altogether, it seems to have been intended as a kind of enigma - we had almost said a hoax."
The Harmonicon London July 1825
On String Quartet #13: "To quote an ingeniously picturesque saying from one of our foremost composers... Beethoven's imagination in the Finale suggests a poor swallow flitting incessantly in a hermetically sealed box, to the annoyance of our eyes and ears."
Blanchard, Revue et Gazette Musicale de Paris 4/15/1849
On the Piano Sonata Op.106 Finale (Hammerklavier): "...a raw and undigested mass (mess?)"
Lenz, "Beethoven et ses trois styles" Paris 1855
On the 5th Symphony 3rd movement ending: "Here you have a fragment of 44 measures, where Beethoven deemed it necessary to suspend the habeas corpus of music by stripping it of all that might resemble melody, harmony and any sort of rhythm...Is it music, yes or no? If I am answered in the affirmative, I would say that this does not belong to the art which I am in the habit of considering as music."
Oulibicheff Beethoven, ses critiques et ses glossateurs" Paris 1857
Ironically, for young modern audiences, these descriptions would probably get them more curious!
Here's a nugget I came across at a blog called Stalin's Moustache:
"Beethoven’s B flat major Sonata and the Diabelli Variations are ‘acoustical atrocities’ which are ‘ultimately unplayable because they are written for an instrument which has never existed and never will exist’. These two works ‘do not employ real sound but incorporeal, purely cerebral abstractions of sound, borrowing the language of the keyboard only as a rough, basically sketchy alphabet'"
Ernst Bloch, Philosophy of Music, p. 118
I'm not sure if that really could be considered criticism, but it actually sounds pretty cool.
Anyways here's more of the Slonimsky book below, I believe the entire Beethoven chapter is available for preview....