Tuesday, September 21, 2010

9/21 Beethoven's Fidelio ("Er Sterbe")

Since yesterday was about Beethoven's music in today's movies, how did he actually use music in his own movie?  They didn't have movies of course, but they did have opera and B only wrote one, "Fidelio".  Fidelio has a long and tortuous history and frankly opera was not B's strong point in my opinion.  However I think he felt pressured to write one because opera was considered the true mark of a composer in those days, and also because Mozart had done so many great operas (and B greatly admired Mozart). 
First a personal note about opera - I hate opera.  Actually I don't hate it, but of all classical music styles this is the hardest for me to really enjoy.  Part of it is because of all those "fat lady in a Viking helmet" stereotypes, and partly because operatic singing is so alien to popular singing styles of today.  Upon first listening it just sounds so forced and artificial.  The sound of a string quartet can be fairly innocuous, but Maria Callas at full throttle is hard to put on as background music so it's not as ubiquitous.  Fortunately the two B's, Beethoven and Bernstein, slowly helped me to appreciate opera (to some degree anyways). At the bottom of today's post I'll add the Leonard Bernstein Fidelio appreciation TV show.  One thing to mention that I learned from Lenny is that opera is the only musical artform where more than one person can be talking (singing) and still make sense.  In fact because several people can be singing at once, you can get an amazing and unique collage of emotion and sentiment.  One person can be singing about how she loves the guy, the guy can be singing about how he loves some other girl, and the girl's father can be singing about how he doesn't trust the guy - all this singing at the same time.  It sounds confusing when described, but in actuality it's pretty magical and feels totally organic.

Back to Fidelio.  Fidelio went through several versions and the first version was a huge flop, mainly due to Napoleon's occupation of Vienna.  Years later it was re-composed, re-arranged and re-staged and was a success.  The whole story of Fidelio's production could be a book by itself.  The story of Fidelio the opera however is basically this:

Leonora's husband Florestan has been jailed for political reasons, so Leonora dresses as a man and calls herself Fidelio so that she can get hired as an assistant to the jail manager, Rocco. The main baddie who arrested Florestan, Pizarro, decides that Florestan must be executed before a certain minister comes and exposes him.  Just as Pizarro is about to shoot, Leonora tries to stop it.  The minister's announcing horn sounds just in the nick of time to stop Pizarro from shooting Leonora and Florestan.  That's it in a very small nutshell, like saying the Lord of the Rings is about some short guys taking a trip to a volcano and they meet people on the way.

So, here's the confrontation scene with Christa Ludwig as Leonora/Fidelio in glorious B&W, the emotion is scalding and just can't be ignored:

Leonard Bernstein's Young Person's Concert episode about Beethoven's Fidelio helped me tremendously to understand and appreciate Beethoven's only opera.  I should save this for a weekend feature since it's pretty long, but what the heck.
Here's part 1 of 5:

You can watch the whole program here in 5 parts (about an hour):
Youtube link

Also here's some very cool Fidelio postcards!

Monday, September 20, 2010

9/20 Beethoven vs the Lord of the Rings

One of the things I love about Beethoven's music is that it feels so timeless.  By that, I mean that B's music feels like it could fit with today's world very easily.  And by THAT, I mean that it can be used in modern film soundtracks.  In fact, it according to IMDB, B's music is used quite alot in film and TV.  There are 474 entries for Beethoven, not including actual concert films.  Many of these uses are as "source music" (music actually played on screen) so are not necessarily film score in the strictest sense, but there are cases where its use is so effective it actually makes scene worthwhile (though perhaps not the whole film..).

Here's IMDB's Beethoven listing.

And here's a recent and very memorable use of the Allegretto 2nd Movement from the 7th Symphony.  It's from the end of the film "Knowing" so if you don't want to know how it ends I'd recommend watching the film first.  Its not a terrible film (but could have been better).

Here's String Quartet Opus 131 - Adagio quasi un poso andante, as used in the episode "Why we fight" from Band of Brothers.  Almost brings a tear to my eye....

And apparently String Quartet in C Minor, Op. 18 No. 4 was used in "Mission Impossible III" and the Kreutzer Violin Sonata Op. 47 was used in "Hellboy II - The Golden Army".  Good luck with your mission if you choose to accept it.

I hate to give the impression that B's music is used in sub-standard films but apparently modern producers are not very familiar with the Coriolan Overture or the Egmont stage music.  That music would fit right in with a Ridley Scott film....

...Putting money where mouth is, here's my quick attempt to put B with Tolkien and Jackson:

(I know it's not perfect, but I need to leave some work for me to do when Hollywood calls me up and hires me to score all their movies, right?  FYI - I used the allegro from the Pastoral "Storm" movement and an edit of the Coriolan Overture)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

9/19 Rehearsing Beethoven

A lot of detail goes into preparing a Beethoven symphony which a casual listener might not be aware of.  Watching a good rehearsal by a good conductor can give the listener an intimate and revealing look at how dynamics, phrasing and many other elements are shaped by the conductor's own vision of what the music should sound like (watching 2 conductors rehearse the same piece is even more revealing but unfortunately I haven't found any videos of that yet).  A musician who worked with Toscanini said that the Maestro's rehearsals were more exciting than the actual performance, since by the time of the show most of the hardest work was already done.   It's worth mentioning that the New York Philharmonic has open rehearsals throughout the season, some for free and the rest for less than $20.  It's a great deal and you can sit anywhere you want!

Here's an excerpt of Dr. Karl Böhm rehearsing Beethoven's 7th Symphony.  The flutist at the beginning of the exposition really gets it!

Here's an interesting rehearsal/documentary with Alicia de Larrocha, Michael Tilson Thomas and Dudley Moore.....this one's a bit "lighter"....(Piano Concerto 1)

Leonard Bernstein is probably the greatest music educator of the 20th century, at least on TV.  I wish I could offer a video of him rehearsing a Beethoven work, but Brahms will "have to do"...

Bernstein on Conducting Pt 5 (Omnibus)

(the starts the rehearsal at about 5:30)

Here's the whole program if you're interested. It's excellent of course.
Wow, they just don't make 'em like this anymore.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

9/18 Masur's Beethoven 9th

One of the greatest works of music ever written.  The performance here by Kurt Masur is downright apocalyptic....looks like a slightly reduced orchestra, which maybe gives it more of a chamber feel (?).  In any case, enjoy this great performance.

Also cool castle wall backdrop, that never hurts for this kind of thing...

Mélanie Diener : soprano
Marie-nicole Lemieux : Alto
Franz-josef Selig : Basse
Jorma Silvasti : Ténor

Choeur de Radio-France
Maîtrise des Bouches du Rhône

Orchestre National de France
Kurt Masur : Direction.

Lieu : Théâtre Antique d'Orange

And of course you're welcome to follow along with the autograph score...

...and to be completely inappropriate, get your "Beethoven was a DJ" shirt here...

Friday, September 17, 2010

9/17 Beethoven "Tell-All" Books

Josephine von Brunsvick-Deym
(possible Immortal Beloved?)
There are many books about Beethoven, probably over a thousand even if you only count ones published in English, German and French.  Fortunately, there are quite a few available to read for free from the internet, and some you can download.

Here's just a few written by Beethoven's contemporaries.  Some of these tend to be of the "biographical romance" style, so may not be EXACTLY honest.

Beethoven Depicted by his Contemporaries 
 "Beethoven was dressed in a jacket and trousers of long, dark goat's hair, which at once reminded me of the description of Robinson Crusoe I had just been reading. He had a shock of jet black hair (cut d la Titus) standing straight upright. A beard of several days' growth made his naturally dark face still blacker. I noticed also, with a child's quick observation, that he had cotton wool, which seemed to have been dipped in some yellow fluid, in both ears."
By Ludwig Nohl (this has a good variety of different writings, probably the best overall).
Giulietta Guicciardi

Furioso; or, Passages from the life of Ludwig van Beethoven
"He looked round. It was Adelaide. He looked at her with an unutterable expression. Was she not the goal of all his dreams? And she was alone. His heart beat fast, while his breath seemed to fail him.

He sprang up with a deep blush, and putting his hand to his brow seemed to struggle for utterance. But tongue and lips refused their office. His limbs failed him. Then falling upon one knee, he seized the girl's hand, covered it with kisses, inarticulately murmuring, " I love!"

The young countess screamed with terror, and struggled to free her hand from his grasp. A side door suddenly opened. The count and the countess rushed in. Their indignation knew no bounds. The count threw himself between them, thundering forth, " Madman! away, out of my house!" "
 By Franz Gerhard Wegeler (written by B's childhood friend, except that his friend was really old when he wrote this, so not sure how trustworthy this might be.  Fun reading tho.)

An Unrequited Love: From the Diary of a Young Lady
" May 27th.—He was with us the evening before last, but his conduct is at times so very moody and unfriendly that I feel shy with him, and dare not venture to be on the intimate terms that we all so much enjoyed in the winter. Circumstances are in fault, I have no doubt; but the hope I once indulged in, that Beethoven might become our devoted friend, can scarcely be realised now that he cools towards us at the very first misunderstanding."
By Fanny Giannatasio del Rio (one of B's lady friends, not as steamy as you might expect...it was 'unrequited' after all).

Beethoven: A Biographical Romance
"Beethoven answered not a word. He was pale as death. Thick drops of cold sweat rested upon his forehead. His eyes stared, fixed with horror, and his features took in the stiffness of marble. Within, with a horrible pain, came up the cry, " The cloud! the black cloud !" Beethoven, Beethoven, man of tone, thou shalt hear nothing more! thou shalt hear nothing more! Great God, thou art growing deaf!"
By Heribert Rau (didn't read this one yet, looks pretty "dramatized")

The Life of Beethoven 
"...I was walking with him over the Graben, when we met M. Schenk, then far advanced between sixty and seventy. Beethoven, transported with joy to see his old friend still among the living, seized his hand, hastened with him into a neighbouring tavern called the Bugle Horn, and conducted us into a back room, where, as in a catacomb, it was necessary to burn a light even at noon-day. There we shut ourselves in, and Beethoven began to open all the recesses of his heart to his respected corrector. More talkative than he often was, a multitude of stories and anecdotes of long by-gone times presented themselves to his recollection, and among the rest the affair with Haydn ; and Beethoven, who had now raised himself to the sovereignty in the realm of music, loaded the modest composer of the Dorfbarbier, who was living in narrow circumstances, with professions of his warmest thanks for the kindness which he had formerly shown him. Their parting, after that memorable hour, as if for life, was deeply affecting; and, in fact, from that day, they never beheld one another again."
by Anton Schindler (the notorious Schindler who was B's friend and assistant for much of B's later years.  Too bad he forged so many of B's letters. This link actually points to a different book, but it reprints the Schindler book in its entirety as part of it.)

Beethoven, The Man And The Artist: As Revealed in His Own Words 
"They are incessantly talking about the C-sharp minor sonata ("Moonlight", op. 27, No. 2); on my word I have written better ones. The F-sharp major sonata ("To Therese", op. 78) is a different thing!"
By Friedrich Kerst, Henry Edward Krehbiel  (Forgotten Books reprint(Project Gutenberg book)
(fascinating collection of quotes by B himself.  From the horse's mouth, so to speak)

There are dozens more "e-books" floating around the web, some other time I'll round up the music-related ones....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

9/16 Wind Octet Op.103 - Finale (& More)

Octet for 2 Oboes, Clarinets, Horns & Bassoons Op.103 (1792)
String Quintet in E flat major Op.4 (arr of Wind Octet Op.103)(1795)

Here's a less well-known Beethoven piece, the Wind Octet Op.103 from before 1792, very Mozart-ean and lots of brio.  These wind players really had their work cut out for them....It's followed in the video by the String Quintet arrangement, Op. 4 from 1795....you can hear how B made significant modifications to the octet, and then deemed that version the more ready for publication.  It's clearly more "Heroic", especially the extended development section.

Wind Octet Op.103 - Mvmt 4 Finale, Presto (1792), followed by
String Quintet in E flat major Op.4 (arr of Wind Octet Op.103) (1795) (starting at 3:30)

Since we're on wind octets today, here's the Fidelio Overture in an unusual wind octet arrangement. (Octophoros)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

9/15 The "Pathetique" Piano Sonata

(Follow this analysis or be haunted by the Ghost of Rubinstein forever)
Piano Sonata #8 in Cm, Op.13, "Pathétique" (1798) - 1. Grave, Allegro Di Molto E Con Brio

As promised yesterday, today's post will focus on doing a form analysis on the first movement of the Pathetique piano sonata.  This sonata was the first to have an introduction section, but other parts are already stretching the definition of a "strict" sonata form...
Here's a recording by Sviatoslav Richter from the fabulous 50's:
Alternate Youtube link

Introduction (Grave/slow)
Exposition (allegro di molto e con brio)
  • 1st Theme in Cm, (Authentic Cadence)
  • Modulating bridge
  • 2nd Theme Group in E flat minor/major (3 parts)
  • Codetta (uses 1st theme material to head into repeat)
Exposition (Repeat)
  • 1st Theme in Cm, (Authentic Cadence)
  • Modulating bridge
  • 2nd Theme Group in E flat minor/major (3 parts)
  • Codetta
Development (Grave, Allegro Di Molto E Con Brio)
  • Uses mostly introduction (subdued variation) and 1st theme
  • Begins in Gm, modulates to Em
  • Retransition (setup for the Recapitulation "home" key)
Recap (allegro di molto e con brio)
  • 1st Theme in Cm (Authentic Cadence)
  • Modulating bridge (var of 1st M.B.)
  • 2nd Theme Group in Fm/M and C minor, (Authentic Cadence)
Coda (Grave, Allegro Di Molto E Con Brio)
  • Introduction and 1st theme variations

It must be said that there's no "absolute" analysis - in other words, where a transition begins and ends can be open for debate.  Beethoven NEVER used the above as some kind of composition "recipe", he just wrote what he thought sounded good.  We just use the above divisions as a way of interpreting the dramatic flow of the whole piece.  I just call them signposts, like "Rest Stop Ahead" or "Speed Zone".  In the 70's Charles Rosen wrote a book called "The Classical Style" where he tried to imply that sonata form was a myth (and then 10 years later he wrote a book called "Sonata Forms"...Huh?).  As you can see B deviated from this form even as early as Opus 13, and later on he pretty much took it apart (before putting it back together).....

OK, here's a more detailed analysis, be prepared to "get your Schenker on"..
A Formal Analysis of Beethoven’s Pathetique

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

9/14 Sonata Form

Needing form definition.
For someone like me who doesn’t play piano or in an orchestra, it may be difficult to follow the larger structure of a piece. Coming from a largely non-classical background, when I first started listening to Beethoven I would tend to lose focus during longer pieces, mainly because my ears were not accustomed to hearing these kinds of instrumental changes. In rock/pop music, the verse, chorus and guitar solo are pretty easily defined, but a 15 minute symphony movement (or even an average length string quartet adagio) can result in “attention-drift”. I really needed to train my ears to fully appreciate a piece. This is where music form and analysis helps. One of the reasons for this blog is to post my own audio-visual notes to structural analysis in connection with the work of Beethoven. Today I’ll try to run down classical sonata form so if you know it already then you may as well skip the rest….
Of course there's no reason you can't enjoy Beethoven without knowing any of this, it just adds to the  experience  - like enjoying football more if you know the rules.

The most important form (structure) to know in Beethoven’s music is “sonata form” (or “sonata-allegro form”). I should probably mention that B himself never heard of “sonata form”, it was just musicologists later on who needed to categorize these things for people like me. Anyways, the 1st movement of a piece such as a symphony, string quartet or sonata is usually in sonata form, and is usually at the ‘allegro’ (fast) tempo. Here’s a simplified explanation:

EXPOSITION – This is where the main theme and the secondary theme are presented. The first theme is in the tonic key (for example A major) and the second theme is usually in the dominant key (or 7 pitches higher, such as E major). The second theme can be other related keys as well, but usually it’s the dominant. If the main key is minor, the relative major is used instead of the dominant. Never mind. The main theme is usually faster and more “in-your-face”, while the second theme is more “laid-back” in contrast. In pop music there’s verse and chorus. This is like that a little.

EXPOSITION REPEAT – Repeat of what just happened. Optional.

DEVELOPMENT – Here’s where things get really exciting! The development is where the piece is showing off how many cool things can be done with the themes from the exposition. Here’s some tricks: changing the key, changing the length, cutting themes in half, repeat a phrase in ascending keys (sequencing), change the chord harmony but keep the melody, etc….it’s endless and these acrobatics are meant to tell a story (or a good joke). Beethoven did things in his development sections which were considered in “bad taste” because they were so outrageous. He was a real punk rocker in a sense. Also I sometimes think of the development as the “guitar solo” part (you know, the “showing off” part).

RECAPITULATION – The recap is a repeat of the exposition, except that there might be some variations in the harmony and also the second theme is usually in the tonic key. In other words, since both the first and second themes are both in the “home” key, we feel “at home”. In pop music the last chorus is usually “louder” – this is the same kind of feeling.

So basically the structure is A-A-B-A’. Pretty easy right? OK now we get to a more detailed sonata form chart:

  • May or may not contain themes from the exposition

  • 1st theme (can be several smaller themes but in the same key, ending in authentic cadence)
  • Modulating bridge (to get from the tonic key to the dominant/relative major)
  • 2nd theme/group
  • (modulating bridge, 3rd theme)
  • Cadence with 1st theme material (feeling of closure, sometimes called codetta)

EXPOSITION REPEAT (with possibly different codetta)

  • Modulations, Variations, Fragmentation of previous themes
  • New themes (optional)
  • Modulating bridge to recapitulation (retransition)

  • 1st theme (possibly a variation)
  • Non-modulating bridge
  • 2nd theme (possibly a variation)
  • (3rd theme)
  • Cadence with 1st theme material

  • Variation of previous themes, or partial motives
  • New theme?

That’s basically the kinds of things to listen for in a sonata form movement. Rarely will you get everything I listed but you should be able to find most of it.  Beethoven’s earlier pieces stuck pretty close to this formula (when it was actually sonata form and not a different form), but his whole career was spent stretching and bending the above formula. One of the great pleasures of knowing form in B’s music is knowing what to expect – and then being surprised. This experience of surprise never gets tired even after repeated hearings, in fact it actually gets fresher for some reason. After a while you get used to recognizing harmonies and tonic-dominant relationships, and when a piece goes off into some "crazy modulation", it’s like following an exciting chase scene from a movie.
Good form.
From Alan Belkin, composer:

"…Sonata form is thus an elaborate, suspenseful, narrative structure, with rich potential for digressions, elaborations, and complex emotional balances. It also provides the opportunity to explore material in different formal contexts.
It is very useful for long pieces because of its inherent suspense. It is adaptable to many harmonic styles, since the basic principles -balance through varied reprise; contrast and suspense in themes/motives and construction; intensive development of material, showing it many different formal contexts; connecting contrasting characters through elaborate and varied transitions - fulfill the psychological requirements for maintaining interest and intensity over an extended time period."

The other movements of symphony usually go something like this:
2 – Adagio (in ternary form)
3 – Scherzo (minuet/trio form)
4 – Finale (sonata form or rondo form)

I’ll go into these some other time…..tomorrow I'll post one of my usual audio-analyses using most of the above.

A few (of MANY) web resources to learn more about sonata form:

I also highly recommend Leonard Bernstein's Young Persons Concert episode "What is Sonata Form?" - check your library....the Youtube version seems to have disappeared....

Monday, September 13, 2010

9/13 Beethoven's Musical Clock

Rimbault Musical Clock
(Oxford Clock Company)

5 Pieces for Musical Clock, WoO.33 (1799?)

Here's something you won't hear at Carnegie Hall anytime soon...Beethoven's original "ringtones"....or you could say these were the first mp3s in history...

From  Classical Archives/AllMusic:
"These five pieces surfaced after Beethoven's death, bringing with them several very puzzling mysteries. Most challenging of them all was the instrument for which they were written. Piano, strings, harp and most other common instruments were instantly ruled out, building on the perplexing mystery and adding to the frustration. Eventually, Albert Kopfermann set forth a convincing argument that their strange scoring seemed a perfect fit for the Flötenuhr or Spielühr, a mechanical organ or clock. He observed that the notation in No. 1, in F, matched that in Mozart's K. 608 Fantasia (for Flötenuhr), the score of which Beethoven possessed. Other circumstantial factors pointed to the Flötenuhr as the instrument Beethoven designed these pieces for.  None of these five pieces was published until the twentieth century, and, not surprisingly, all are rarely heard."
© All Music Guide

All Music/Robert Cummings:
"While the musical clock of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries might seem like a toy to the twenty first century ear and eye, its owners -- usually members of the aristocracy -- regarded it as a quite sophisticated device, not least because it was the only way to hear music away from the concert hall and parlors (MP3!!!). Its chime-like tones may have limited its expressive range, but composers like Beethoven took compositions for the musical clock quite seriously...They were a popular mechanical device over the past four centuries, serving as a sort of aristocratic counterpart in pre-twentieth century times to today's stereo and high-tech playback equipment."

The recordings I have of these pieces are all on organs.  Unfortunately these are for musical CLOCK.  So with the magic of modern MIDI, and some Soundfonts, I present the first 2 pieces in "authentic" musical clock transcriptions...with a bonus "steam-punk" version of No.2.
Beethoven - Pieces for Musical Clock
No 1 0:00
No 2 5:31
No 1 (version 2)  6:55

(And if you're wondering what the heck that spaceship-looking thing is in the last part of the video - check this out)
James Cox Musical Clock
(Oxford Clock Company)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

9/12 Gardiner on Beethoven

Here's a South Bank program on Beethoven with John Eliot Gardiner and his period orchestra.  He discusses his approach to Beethoven and how French nationalistic music possibly influenced Beethoven.  Not sure if I agree with everything he says, but Gardiner is without doubt a fascinating conductor who is not afraid to try new things.  A little less than an hour.  First half Beethoven's 5th, second half Berlioz' Romeo & Juliet.


From the uploader:
Profile of the conductor John Eliot Gardiner and his work with The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. Gardiner travels to the South of France to recreate the spirit of the French Revolution with a local French village choir, and visits the birthplace of Hector Berlioz, the composer of "Romeo and Juliet".  The conductor Gardiner explain how Beethoven was influenced by French Revolution and how its slogan about liberty and revolution appears on his music. Then how Berlioz, as all romantic composers, was strongly influenced by Beethoven's music.


Transmission date: Sunday May 12th, 1996
Country: Great Britain
Duration: 60 mins.
Channel: ITV
Presenter: Melvyn Bragg
Director and Producer: Tony Knox

Oh yeah, this has been making the rounds....this is not a good Xmas present.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Cello Sonatas No. 1 & 3: Richter & Rostropovich.

Beethoven's Cello Sonatas 1-3

UPDT: Previously all 5 sonatas but #2, 4 and 5 got deleted off YT...

Here's an historic meeting between two of the greatest classical musicians of the 20th century, Sviatoslav Richter ("Slava") and Mstislav Rostropovich (also "Slava", don't ask me why).  There's plenty of info about them in the web, so I won't go into too much biographical detail.  However one thing I find interesting is that both of their repertoires covered everything from straight classical to modern music.  That is, Bach to Bernstein.  Actually for Richter switch Bernstein with Britten.  Apparently Rostropovich was not happy with this live recording and never recorded a video again until he did the Bach cello suites many years later.  There may be a couple rough spots but I think they add alot of character and humanity to the interpretation.  Later on these two played the Triple Concerto with Oistrakh and Karajan and Richter says that Karajan and Rostropovich "teamed up" against Oistrakh and himself...fast friends in the music business I guess.  
Anyways, this concert is superb and actually better than the studio recording they made, I think.
Cello Sonata 1 in F Major Op.5, No. 1 (1796) = Pt 1-3
Cello Sonata 3 in A Major Op.69 (1808) = Pt 4-7


Friday, September 10, 2010

9/10 Beethoven Rock Reviews

Composing "purely cerebral abstractions of sound"?
Nowadays Beethoven is generally considered one of (if not the) greatest and most influential composer of all time.  But throughout history, from Beethoven's own time to the last hundred years, B still got 'pen and ink' rocks thrown at him from some unenlightened critics. 

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. 

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....

Thursday, September 9, 2010

9/9 Ghost Trio Part 2 & 3

These ghosts didn't make the previous cut.
A short while ago I did a post/analysis of the 1st movement of the Ghost Trio.  Except that I didn't feature the actual Ghost movement!  I rectify that today - here's the remainder of the Ghost Trio, it's too beautiful to leave alone! 

Piano Trio 5 in D Op.70 Nº 1 Ghost (1808)

Movement II - Largo assai ed espressivo (the Ghost movement)
This is the movement where B used ideas from an abandoned "Macbeth" stage score - Shakespearean gothic, you know?

Alternate Youtube link

Movement III - Presto
This movement is alot of fun, I feel like the instruments are having a very witty conversation...

Alternate Youtube link

Timings derived from the Alan Rich's Play by Play book.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

9/8 String Quartet Op. 59 No 3 (Razumovsky #3)

String Quartet Op. 59 No 3 (1806)

Here's another one of B's "Heroic Period" string quartets, his ninth string quartet overall and third one written for Count Razumovsky.  The Count was a cellist and was big fan of B's music.  To have an exclusive quartet written for one's own concert was quite a status symbol.  Kind of as if Wynton Marsalis wrote a saxophone concerto for Bill Cllinton whle he was governor of Arkansas.  Sadly the Count lost almost everything he owned of value in a fire after a late night party, and died a palper.
Andrey/Andriy Razumovsky, [1752-1836] became the Russian Ambassador to the Austro-Hungarian Court in Vienna from 1790. There he also became one of Beethoven's close friends and converted to Catholicism. In honor of this association, Beethoven incorporated some Ukrainian melodies, which would have been traditionally played on torbans, into a number of his chamber works, notably the "Razumovsky" quartets. Andriy had 3 torbans in his collection. One of them is still preserved in Vienna. (http://torban.org/torban5.html)

Here's an animated score sample with autograph

You can peruse the FULL 58 PG. MANUSCRIPT or read the commentary article from the Beethoven Digital Archive in Bonn.  You can even buy a copy for a mere 358 euros ($458).  Christmas is just around the corner.....

Oh yeah, you may want to listen to an actual recording of this quartet (bravo if you can follow with the autograph score!):
(The Orion String Quartet)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

9/7 Why Beethoven?

Why Beethoven?

The short answer is:

Because his music moves me.


This being my 51st blog post (originally 50th), maybe it’s time to write about how I fell under the Beethoven spell. Perhaps some auto-biographical information would be in order…

Kids, You can be like this!
As a youngster, two of my most important musical discoveries were Pink Floyd (my first bought record was The Brick in the Wall 45rpm) and Van Halen. Pink Floyd introduced me to the idea of music as emotional expression. Van Halen inspired me to start playing electric guitar and to regard music with more than just passive consumption. After many years of playing guitar in many bands from bar blues to heavy metal to alt-rock, I gradually got into jazz and progressive rock.

Rage for a Lost Penny Cover art
It was probably during this time that I first noticed Beethoven as more than a ‘boring classical guy”. For 99 cents I picked up an LP featuring “Rage for a Lost Penny” on the cover. I guess any album with the words “rage” and “lost” sounded cool and counter-culture. I enjoyed it, but solo piano just couldn’t compare to drums and distorted guitar for me. I had a very brief flirtation with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, and eventually filed B. away as the “Eddie Van Halen of pianists" (probably because of the 3rd movement of the Moonlight Sonata).

Stockhausen. Naked.
From alt-rock, I then embarked on a very long journey into contemporary classical, experimental music and free-improvisation. My heroes during this time were people like Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, John Zorn, Evan Parker, Otomo Yoshihide, Derek Bailey, etc… During this period, whatever was most outrageous or explosive was cool, and as far as I knew Beethoven only wrote a few piano sonatas called Moonlight, Pathetique and Waldstein, which were good for taking naps to (I did own a Bernstein Rite of Spring (LSO) and that was my only classical CD for several years). I also became a huge fan of film music, ethnic music, Japanese noise music, death metal, flamenco, anime/game soundtracks, lounge music, digital hardcore, trash-rock and whatever else was new and interesting. I eventually noticed that with so many genres of music on my iPod, I had no Classical music on there. That seemed odd, almost as if I was afraid to put some on there. Yet nothing really “came across my desk” that merited a coveted spot on my massively-huge 20 gigabyte iPod.

Years pass and I come across EMI’s “20th Century Masterpieces - 100 Years of Classical Music” 16 CD box set. I’d lived mostly in the 20th century, and yet I hadn’t heard much from these composers, so I decided to really sit down and give these a dedicated listen. Which means not while web surfing or talking on the phone or reading a book. After a couple run-throughs of these discs I realized that classical music was not boring at all and that much film music that I loved derived from 20th century classical orchestral music. Holst? Orff? Debussy? Major movie hits. I became a huge junkie for early 20th century (anything pre-Cage/Stockhausen actually, and excluding musique concrete of course). Then I realized that there was about 300 years of classical music before 1900, so I went to the Strand bookstore and picked up a bunch of “survey of Western music” type books for cheap. I listened to a few “Top 100 Most Essential Classical Hits” sets. 

Bernstein.  Leonard Bernstein.
All this effort required quite a huge leap of faith since for almost my entire life I was conditioned to regard this music as “dusty”, ”old-fashioned” and just plain “dead”. None of my friends listened to this stuff, so I felt like an outsider even with my “outsider-music” friends. However a HUGE help was watching Leonard Bernstein's Young People’s Concerts (which I borrowed from the NY Public Library). Lenny showed me that classical music was actually exciting as hell and loads of fun with the proper guidance. He even did an Omnibus program on John Cage! So if he could love Xenakis as much as Beethoven then why couldn’t I? (Of course I later realized that he didn’t really like modern music all that much).  Then the big one hit. I found out that you can get an 85 disc box set of Beethoven’s entire ouevre for the price of 7 Justin Bieber CDs.

Dating this post for future generations.
Up until this point I could only recognize 4 of the nicknamed piano sonatas, Fur Elise, the first 8 bars of the 5th Symphony and the Ode to Joy theme. Here were 85 records by the same guy covering an almost 40-year period. It was a challenge to listen to all of it (and I did, twice) but I reasoned that this guy’s records must still be around for a reason. I have to admit most of the first run through was a complete blur, but I found myself coming back to the symphonies and string quartets. Eventually a few more of the piano sonatas started to stick in my mind. Weird things like Wellington’s Victory with sound effects and the Fantasia in Gm Op. 77 were memorable. The Grosse Fugue string quartet – now that sounded like 20th Century music to me! Eventually I narrowed down my list of favorite composers to a dozen. These remained mostly 20th century composers: Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Bartok…but one 19th century composer, Beethoven, who was my favorite of them all. Somehow all of my favorite pieces composed between 1600 and 1900 had Ludwig van Beethoven’s name next to it. Sometimes I would try to give myself Beethoven moratoriums for a couple days at a time, since his work was so pervasive in my listening. I gave up.

More, please.
So why Beethoven? I think it’s because of all the composers in history he wrote with the most humanity. That’s why his music is so timeless. His work has equal amounts of emotion and intellect. Sometimes a passage will seem simple and emotive, but upon further examination it’s actually an incredibly well-put together harmonic framework that evokes just such simple feelings. It’s said his music straddles the “Classicists” with the “Romanticists”. In film music (at least until the last decade or so) the most prevalent sound is Romantic or Classical. B’s music could easily fit into a modern film. In fact it sometimes is (“Knowing”). There is an incredible amount of variety of emotion in his music, including humor (Opus 31 piano sonatas), tragedy (Egmont), gothic drama (Ghost Trio) to nationalistic fanfares (Wellington's Siege) and even some feelings which can't easily be expressed in mere words (Opus 111 piano sonata).  He was also a rule-breaker. What was exciting to me about experimental music was that it broke rules and ran riot with expectation. I realized that the biggest rule-breaker of them all was Beethoven. I just had to LISTEN. There are many more reasons why I love Beethoven and every day I post one of them here.

Why a Beethoven blog?  When I've told friends about how much I love Beethoven, the most common response is, "I don't know much about him".  That's one of the reasons why I started this blog.  Also it's a lot of fun!

So why did I avoid classical music until now? Why was such a huge ‘leap of faith’ required to give this music a fair listen? My opinion:

Young people today trade in the language of pop and rock music. No electric guitar or drums in classical. Also most lyrics are sung in Italian or German.

Classical music is regarded as uncool by most people under 30 who are not in Juilliard-type schools. That’s the stuff your grandparents are into.  

Classical music is not very well performed, or at least not performed with the vigor that it should be for modern audiences. It is far too respectful of traditions designed for audiences from 100 years ago.

Live classical music (performed well) is extremely expensive to attend and not easy to find outside of large cities.

Classical music is played on instruments that evoke feelings of high-brow snobbishness. And everyone wears corporate business attire, both on stage and in the audience. Not a cool image (B himself dressed down in wig-less rebel style).  Actually on stage it's more like butler attire....

The most well-known classical movie is “Amadeus” which resulted in Mozart being known for flatulence. Beethoven is known as “the deaf one.” Or the dog.

Music education is too focused on producing a perfect performer before teaching a child to actually enjoy the music. Friends of mine who have actually studied and performed classical music as an adolescent tend to associate those experiences with punishment and public humiliation. Essentially they were traumatized into hating classical music.

Fix all of the above and classical music will not be dying.  Buy lots of Beethoven CDs and go see some concerts.  Pay attention, like you would when reading a book or watching a film.  Don't hear it, Listen to it.



Monday, September 6, 2010

9/6 Beethoven vs P.D.Q. Bach

These aren't the sonatas you're looking for.
I was going to do a big post for my 50th post but it's a holiday today so I'll save it for tomorrow (I'll be answering the single most-asked question I get from this blog).  So today here's something different...

There are very few Beethoven parodies that are actually funny and don't rely on deafness jokes.  Even rarer is one that is enriching on a musical level.  This video has been around for awhile but if you've never heard it then it's quite a treat.  If I could only analyze B's pieces so deftly as this!  Presenting PDQ Bach....

The conductor's name...LOL!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

9/5 Beethoven Sonatas (Univ Mich. Lecture)

Here's an informative lecture from 2007 on Beethoven's piano sonatas, specifically Op. 2, 13, 53 and 110.  Featuring University of Michigan faculty Steven Whiting, Kevin Korsyn and Alan Gosman.  1 hr 20 min.

These guys are no Leonard Bernstein (who is?) but there's some fascinating info on the unpredictability/inevitability of B's harmonic motion, as well as some interesting points about notation and large scale motivic foreshadowing.  A bit technical for some, but worth it.  The first speaker is not too technical actually....

Simply Sonata: Reflections on Beethoven's Transformation of a Musical Genre:

Late addition:  Glenn Gould on how Beethoven invented Schoenberg (Piano Sonata Opus 109):

(not sure why the video uploader kept a self-portrait of herself at the end...)

Tomorrow (Monday) is my 50th post and I'll do something special...?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

9/4 Karajan - Beauty as I see it

"Karajan - Beauty as I see it (Die Schönheit wie ich sie sehe)"
A film by Robert Dornhelm

Fascinating interview-based documentary about Herbert von Karajan, the most recorded conductor of the 20th century.  This shows him as a real jet-setting star conductor (he actually has a jet).
Rumor has it that the compact disc was designed to be 80 minutes long because Karajan insisted that Beethoven's 9th should be able to fit on one disc.  His recordings are generally very good, some superb.  He really goes for that homogenous, silky sound, but without too much heaviness.  However his membership in the Nazi party before the 2nd World War is certainly questionable (tho he later was exonerated somewhat).  Either way, he was a major force in the making and marketing of classical music in the 2nd half of the last century.


OK I just re-watched this after a very long time and I have to add that this is one of the most pretentious and self-aggrandizing things I've ever seen.  I'm surprised Karajan doesn't speak in the third-person.  Nonetheless it's a very interesting portrait a unique musician. Maybe a good drinking game could be devised from this. 
Karajan would like your attention.
Karajan is pleased.

Friday, September 3, 2010

9/3 Who is Today's Beethoven?

Credit: Illustration: Line Halsnes/NTNU Info
Who could be considered our modern day version of Beethoven? I'm speaking musically, not so much his life circumstances.  To answer that maybe we can make some important statements about Beethoven's music in his own time:

  1. He achieved fame and popularity in his own time, both as a performer and and a composer, tho his popularity waxed and waned dramatically.
  2. His music influenced composers for the next hundred years, both in imitation and in opposite reaction.
  3. He wrote for the home amateur, the concert hall, religious functions and stage plays.
  4. His work has never lost its value and it's heard everywhere, even after 200 years.
  5. He made use of current technology and adapted his compositional style to the evolving pianoforte and the orchestra. In fact he was one of the first to use a metronome.
  6. He expanded and stretched the rules of composition and his inventions were considered overly-bold, especially in his early career.  Actually his late career was considered avant-garde even a hundred years later.

Based on No 1, we can exclude pretty much any strictly classical composer today, except possibly Philip Glass. Glass actually fits alot of the requirements, except that I seriously doubt his music will still be played in 200 years (tho its influence might still be felt). If we stick with orchestral music, we can then leap to film music composers. The most popular film composers of the last 50 years are John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann.  Williams is out because his work is more derivative of the past than looking to the future. Goldsmith and Herrmann are both revolutionaries musically, but their names have never really been well-known outside of film music fans.

Since classical music in Beethoven's time was not "classical music", but just "music", we can include jazz, rock and pop musicians. In jazz, I submit Coltrane, Miles and Bird. Unfortunately jazz is more about improvisation than composition, so that feels wrong right off. Also they composed almost exclusively for live club performances. In pop, there's Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, Lennon, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder...  Maybe this is from personal taste but I doubt any of their music will survive 100 years, let alone 200. Except John Lennon. Actually Lennon has a pretty good chance, despite his not having written any concert, film or religious music.

Finally we have rock and so-called 'alternative rock'. I nominate 3 people:

Jimi Hendrix - Jimi fits the bill except, again, lack of concert and stage music. If not for his ridiculously early death, I'm almost positive he would have expanded into those areas.  Alas we'll never know.

Jimmy Page - Page is a very strong contender, and not only that, he's not dead yet.  He's written for film and probably written for a black mass or two.  The only problem is that he only wrote about 8 good albums and they were from 30 years ago. Jimmy needs to get a 9th Symphony going.

Trent Reznor - This is a left-field choice but in the end I think he has a chance of being regarded 200 years from now like Beethoven is now.
Fame and popularity?  Check.
Influential?  Drum and bass and half of all current film music.
Current technology? I think he's actually made technology-based music cool again.
Revolutionary and unpredictable? Yes, no doubt. He has also written for film, videogames and stadium. Frankly I doubt he'll be writing religious music but some of his pieces have a strong religious subtext (sort of?). Also he's not dead yet, and far from being washed up (sorry Jimmy).
Will his music still be alive 200 years from now?  That's the only weak point for ol' Trent.  For reasons beyond the scope of this post, technology-based music from the current century dates very quickly.

I guess in the final analysis today's Beethoven is...well, Beethoven.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

9/2 Scorch, MuseScore, SynthFont, Rock'n'B

I've already made a few posts about MIDI (maybe too many), but it's proven to be so educational for me I'll post one more time about it to note a few last tricks.

Appreciating B's music is greatly enhanced by following along with the score.  But if you're not accustomed to score-reading, it can be a bit tiring since it requires some concentration.  If you get lost, it can even get frustrating.  One way to get used to score-reading is to follow a MIDI score with a "Scorch" file, which is a web MIDI file which will play along to a scrolling standard score. Just install the Scorch plug-in (you may need to restart the computer even tho it doesn't ask you to) and check out the links below.
Look for this symbol for Scorch files:
When you hit the "play" button, the music will play through whatever MIDI synthesizer is built in to your soundcard and the score will indicate where the music is playing.  In large orchestral scores this makes life alot easier.

Another way to see a MIDI score sroll with the music is by importing the MIDI file into a score notation program like Finale or Sibelius.  Those cost some "hard change", so an alternative I recommend is MuseScore, an open source program which is pretty similar.  It even comes with it's own MIDI synth.  Download MuseScore here.
After installing it, open a MIDI file.  When it asks you "Shortest note on import" choose 1/64. After a short wait it will import the MIDI file and create sheet music that goes with it.  When you play the MIDI file the sheet music will scroll along with it.  The music score won't look exactly like the published sheet music but in most cases it will be close enough that you can follow the music.  If there are too many notes then you can change the import "shortest note" to a higher value like 1/32.

Now this is where it gets pretty cool.  Download a program called SynthFont.  With SynthFont you can load custom MIDI voices to go with your MIDI scores.  On the web there are many free "soundfonts" which are instrument sounds or groups of sounds for use in MIDI players.  Kind of like software ROM cards.  Instead of the cheap MIDI piano sound that came with your PC, you can get a near-studio quality soundfont which sounds pretty close to the real thing.  The way it works is easy once you get used to it.  Read the manual that comes with it.  It's well-written.

Below you can find soundfonts:

Last week I posted an analysis of String Quartet Op. 131 M7 - here's my "rock" version using soundfonts - good for turning young people on to B perhaps?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

9/1 A Cadre of Cadenzas

Beethoven's only Violin Concerto (Opus 61) didn't come with a cadenza. 
It was up to the performer to improvise his own cadenza in those days.  Later it somehow it became the norm to perform a prepared, composed cadenza, so these were no longer improvised affairs.  I think that's too bad, since improvisation never hurt jazz did it?      B eventually retro-actively composed "official" cadenzas for his earlier piano concertos, but he never did one for the violin concerto.  Probably because the violin concerto was not well received when it was first premiered.  He did make an adaptation for piano (which is sometimes referred to as Piano Concerto 6) and composed a cadenza for that version.  However it's a bit tricky to recreate that as a violin cadenza (unless you have 4 arms perhaps).

So I thought it might be interesting to compare several approaches to this cadenza question.  In the below video I present "Classic Cadenzas", cadenzas which were written by such icons as Joseph Joachim (performed by Joseph Szigeti), Fritz Kreisler (Vadim Repin) and Leopold Auer (with Jascha Heifetz).  The Joachim and Kreisler cadenzas are the most performed cadenzas for Opus 61.

The next video presents "Cadenzas by Violinists".  When a violinist composes his/her own cadenza, it is probably closest to the original concept of a spontaneous improvisation.  What we have here are cadenzas by Joshua Bell, Sayaki Shoji and Nathan Milstein.

Finally some "New Approaches".  Gidon Kremer performs Alfred Schnittke's post-modern, ironic "homage" cadenza, Anke Schnittenhelm performs Sergio Cárdenas' "modern" cadenza, and Patricia Kopatchinskaja performs a transcription of the adapted piano concerto cadenza mentioned above, but with overdubbing to account for the extra violin part (in concerts, the concertmaster performs the 2nd violin part). 

Actually Wolfgang Schneiderhan has made a single violin adaptation of the piano cadenza as well, which gets some play these days.

Many other cadenzas have been recorded for B's single violin concerto.  Ruggiero Ricci has a record where he includes 14 cadenzas and you can program your CD player to try out each one (Beethoven, David, Vieuxtemps, Joachim (2 different versions), Laub, Wieniawski, Saint-Saens, Auer, Ysaye, Busoni, Kreisler, Milstein and Schnittke).

Personally, my favorites of the cadenzas above are Kreisler's and the Kopatchinskaja Beethoven adaptation. 

For more information here is an incredibly detailed homage/website to this high-mileage Violin Concerto in D, which includes a listing of every recording and every cadenza ever performed (I think).
Leon Weintraub' Homage to Opus 61

And for some more info about modern performance practice of this work:
The Beethoven Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61: Some 20th Century Viewpoints