Sunday, May 29, 2011

5/29 Pianos, Cannons and the Gift of Fire

One of the best Beethoven-related sites around is the Unheard Beethoven site.  The people there have cataloged pretty much every Beethoven work not recorded (or seldom recorded) and posted midi files for B. fans to audition.  Midi files are more or less "piano rolls" of compositions and sometimes need a bit of finessing before they can sound musical.  So I took a few of these and did my best.... Here's the piano arrangement of Opus 43, "The Creatures of Prometheus" (Hess 90) authored by Willem.  I used my surround-piano sound ("Beethoven 360") for this...

From the Unheard Beethoven:
The Creatures of Prometheus op. 43, for Piano, Hess 90 (1801).
This transcription by Beethoven was published in 1801. The transcription quite faithfully follows the orchestral work, though with very different effects. Act One of the ballet--even including the overture--is much shorter than the second act. Act One concerns the creation of the first man and woman from dust by Prometheus; the second act concerns the education of these creatures. The theatre-bill for the first performance of March 28, 1801, describes the action as follows:  
"This allegorical ballet is based on the myth of Prometheus. The Greek philosophers, who knew of him, elucidate the story in the following manner--they depict Prometheus as a lofty spirit who, finding the human beings of his time in a state of ignorance, refined them through art and knowledge and gave them laws of right conduct. In accordance with this source, the ballet presents two animated statues who, by the power of harmony, are made susceptible to all the passions of human existence. Prometheus takes them to Parnassus, to receive instruction from Apollo, god of the arts, who commands Amphion, Arion and Orpheus to teach them music, Melpomene and Thalia tragedy and comedy. Terpsichore aids Pan who introduces them to the Pastoral Dance which he has invented, and from Bacchus they learn invented, and from Baccus they learn his invention, the Heroic Dance. The music is by Herr van Beethoven."
More on The Creatures of Prometheus op. 43 in a previous post HERE.

Another piece I worked out is Wellington's Victory, or the Battle of Vittoria op. 91, for Piano and Two Cannons, Hess 97.  In this case I spruced up the cannons mostly - because I'm such a "cannon-expert" of course...(Midi Author: Mark S. Zimmer).
From the Unheard Beethoven:
Wellington's Victory, or the Battle of Vittoria op. 91, for Piano and Cannons, Hess 97 (1816)
This is certainly the strangest of Beethoven's arrangements for piano, since it also calls for two cannon to be fired throughout the first (Battle) portion of the piece. In this midi, the English forces are on the right channel; the French are on the left. As the battle progresses, the English march toward and take the center, forcing the French further left and eventually completely off the soundstage. The piece was wildly popular in its time as anti-Napoleonic feeling increased in Europe. This "symphony" (as Beethoven referred to it in letters) is easily the most clearly descriptive piece Beethoven ever wrote. The transcription ends, as does the orchestral version, with a fugato treatment of "God Save the King." Published 1816 by Steiner in Vienna.


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