Author Topic: A composer for each period  (Read 7028 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

lukeottevanger

  • Guest
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #40 on: May 27, 2007, 07:59:41 AM »
To be clear, my statement about Beethoven being a Romantic is most definitely NOT based on ANY musical criteria. My comments were made purely on the basis of how I feel when listening to Beethoven's music. For me, Romanticism comes across as a kind of 'mood'. It's personal, emotional, and often passionate in a way that I simply don't hear in the music of Mozart and Haydn - much of whose work often sounds rather polite and mannered to these ears. With Beethoven, I get the 'rush' that I associate with music from the 'Romantic' period.

No, I understand and respect that. To the extent that my reactions to some of Beethoven's music appear to be broadly similar to yours, I am in agreement with you. My point remains, though - 'feelings' though vital do not help us define style, and I know you wouldn't suggest that they do. Otherwise, on the strength of certain works Bach too is a Romantic etc. etc.

[Of course, on memorable but very rare occasions one's slapping on of labels based solely on technical definitions can be taken further than it should, too, but only for a joke, or if one is extremely blinkered, I suppose. The most famous such occassion is probably the op111-based 'Beethoven was a Ragtime composer' schtick that I've never quite bought; more convincing to me is that Bach was the first phasing minimalist, based solely on the opening movement of Brandenburg 6 ;D ]

Mark

  • Guest
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #41 on: May 27, 2007, 08:05:27 AM »
Hey, Luke, I know you weren't taking a swipe at me. ;) I certainly wouldn't want to reduce all of Western Art Music to purely scholastic definitions that overlook how any given work makes a listener feel, and I appreciate that we have these defined periods to aid academic study. They're good broad generalisations, but little more, IMO.

Incidentally, I've just thought of an analogy that might make my feelings crystal on this:

For me, Mozart is Jane Austen, while Beethoven is Charles Dickens.



Offline aquablob

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 700
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #42 on: May 27, 2007, 09:00:14 AM »
Both arguments hold some water, but it seems clear to me that Mark's statement is based not on the musical detail and techniques of the works at hand but on an intangible and indefinable feeling that on a supramusical level Beethoven's works are somehow different to what went before. I'm not saying that the statement is wrong in itself (though I don't think it applies to all or even most Beethoven by any means, nor that it might not apply to a fair amount of previous music too), but that definitions, if they must be made, have to be made by defined musical criteria: how did Beethoven make his pieces; to what extent does his musical language break from what went before, and to what extent does it continue the tradition whilst stretching its expressive range. And so on.

By my reckoning, then, by most/all of these criteria Beethoven's music is defiantly classical, even if his philosophic urges and heroic tendencies make Beethoven the man a Romantic. When these Romantic tendencies are made explicit in the music, they always do so through the medium of classical style and technique.

But what of Beethoven's expansive harmonic vocabulary? And although he composed in forms and genres characteristic of the past (sonata form, theme and variation, fugue, etc.), he most certainly transformed them in ways that Mozart and Haydn never did.

His Op. 26 piano sonata, for example, doesn't even contain a movement in sonata form! And before Beethoven, theme-and-variation was associated with amateur, not-too-serious music-making; in some of his later works, he combined this "low-brow" genre with perhaps the most complicated and "high-brow" type of composition there is: the fugue. Just take a look at the Diabelli Variations or the last movements of the Op. 109 and Op. 110 piano sonatas or the Op. 131 string quartet if you need convincing.

And what of his expansion of the sonata form? Starting as early as the 3rd symphony and the 21st piano sonata, he really got inventive. In the first movement of the "Waldstein" sonata, for example, the second theme isn't brought back in the tonic key until the coda (not to mention that the contrasting key area in the exposition is the distant major mediant). And speaking of codas, he began to treat them as almost a second development section, giving them far more weight and length than the earlier "Classicists" ever did. And his works were far longer in general.

Periods in history are defined long after the fact; we must take them with a grain of salt. Most certainly Beethoven was strongly influenced by those who came before him, and those composers that we call the "Romantics" were strongly influenced by them, as well -- and by Beethoven even more.

As I've stated above, Beethoven was an innovator, but one should not forget that Haydn and Mozart were also innovators in their own right (though to lesser degrees). In the first movement of Mozart's most famous C Major sonata (K. 545), for example, the first theme in the recapitulation is presented in the subdominant rather than the expected tonic. As part of the shift to "Romanticism" involved more frequent emphases on the subdominant, this gesture can be viewed as an early "Romantic" tendency.

The point is that history does not divide neatly into sections. Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven were all influenced by what came before them, just as they all influenced later artists.

We can certainly all agree, though, that Beethoven's innovations were more frequent and generally starker than those of Mozart or Haydn. And we can also agree that the music of the early "Romantics" takes more direct influence from Beethoven than just about any other composer (in general). With all of this in mind, doesn't it make sense to say that Beethoven's music possesses characteristics both of what we label the "Classical" and "Romantic" idioms? In my opinion, this is more accurate than saying Beethoven was either a strict "Classicist" or a strict "Romantic."

My two cents.

lukeottevanger

  • Guest
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #43 on: May 27, 2007, 09:33:21 AM »
But what of Beethoven's expansive harmonic vocabulary? And although he composed in forms and genres characteristic of the past (sonata form, theme and variation, fugue, etc.), he most certainly transformed them in ways that Mozart and Haydn never did.

His Op. 26 piano sonata, for example, doesn't even contain a movement in sonata form! And before Beethoven, theme-and-variation was associated with amateur, not-too-serious music-making; in some of his later works, he combined this "low-brow" genre with perhaps the most complicated and "high-brow" type of composition there is: the fugue. Just take a look at the Diabelli Variations or the last movements of the Op. 109 and Op. 110 piano sonatas or the Op. 131 string quartet if you need convincing.

And what of his expansion of the sonata form? Starting as early as the 3rd symphony and the 21st piano sonata, he really got inventive. In the first movement of the "Waldstein" sonata, for example, the second theme isn't brought back in the tonic key until the coda (not to mention that the contrasting key area in the exposition is the distant major mediant). And speaking of codas, he began to treat them as almost a second development section, giving them far more weight and length than the earlier "Classicists" ever did. And his works were far longer in general.

Periods in history are defined long after the fact; we must take them with a grain of salt. Most certainly Beethoven was strongly influenced by those who came before him, and those composers that we call the "Romantics" were strongly influenced by them, as well -- and by Beethoven even more.

As I've stated above, Beethoven was an innovator, but one should not forget that Haydn and Mozart were also innovators in their own right (though to lesser degrees). In the first movement of Mozart's most famous C Major sonata (K. 545), for example, the first theme in the recapitulation is presented in the subdominant rather than the expected tonic. As part of the shift to "Romanticism" involved more frequent emphases on the subdominant, this gesture can be viewed as an early "Romantic" tendency.

The point is that history does not divide neatly into sections. Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven were all influenced by what came before them, just as they all influenced later artists.

We can certainly all agree, though, that Beethoven's innovations were more frequent and generally starker than those of Mozart or Haydn. And we can also agree that the music of the early "Romantics" takes more direct influence from Beethoven than just about any other composer (in general). With all of this in mind, doesn't it make sense to say that Beethoven's music possesses characteristics both of what we label the "Classical" and "Romantic" idioms? In my opinion, this is more accurate than saying Beethoven was either a strict "Classicist" or a strict "Romantic."

My two cents.

A great post. But I don't think any of the technical points you make here really disagrees with the classifying of Beethoven as a classicist on technical grounds. For instance:

A Sonata with no movement in sonata form? Well, there is of course the point that the 'sonata form' you imply is a post classical extrapolation. Or if you prefer there's the example of Mozart's A major sonata, which also has no 'sonata form' movements, and there is no doubt that it is a classical work, is there? ;)

An expansive harmonic vocabulary? It isn't Beethoven's harmony that is the extraordinary thing about him, even if it is easy to find shockingly new chords in his music. After all, one can do the same in Mozart, Haydn and so on. The issue is that Beethoven uses extended harmony in a functionally different way to the kind of colouristic chromaticism associated with Romanticism.

The expanded tonal scope of some of his music - your example is the Waldstein, another would be the Hammerklavier - is an interesting case in point precisely because the logic of the modulations is so severely classical. Whilst modulation to the mediant itself is a strongly Romantic trait (as Rosen discusses very interestingly), Beethoven's manner of using it comes from a classical logic, which is what makes it interesting. Put more briefly: in Schubert the mediant modulation is to an extent a colouristic device imposed for its sensuous effect; in Beethoven it never is.

(Have you read Rosen, btw? I ask because some of the examples you use are similar to his, but other points you make perhaps tend to suggest that you might not have read him yet. There would be no stronger advocate of Beethoven the Classical than Rosen, I'd venture to suggest. The other great writer on this issue, IMO, is Dahlhaus, whose description of the 19th century is refreshingly free of the simplifying but misleading labels we retrospectively place on the period.)

Offline aquablob

  • Full Member
  • *
  • Posts: 700
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #44 on: May 27, 2007, 10:21:40 AM »
A great post. But I don't think any of the technical points you make here really disagrees with the classifying of Beethoven as a classicist on technical grounds. For instance:

A Sonata with no movement in sonata form? Well, there is of course the point that the 'sonata form' you imply is a post classical extrapolation. Or if you prefer there's the example of Mozart's A major sonata, which also has no 'sonata form' movements, and there is no doubt that it is a classical work, is there? ;)

An expansive harmonic vocabulary? It isn't Beethoven's harmony that is the extraordinary thing about him, even if it is easy to find shockingly new chords in his music. After all, one can do the same in Mozart, Haydn and so on. The issue is that Beethoven uses extended harmony in a functionally different way to the kind of colouristic chromaticism associated with Romanticism.

The expanded tonal scope of some of his music - your example is the Waldstein, another would be the Hammerklavier - is an interesting case in point precisely because the logic of the modulations is so severely classical. Whilst modulation to the mediant itself is a strongly Romantic trait (as Rosen discusses very interestingly), Beethoven's manner of using it comes from a classical logic, which is what makes it interesting. Put more briefly: in Schubert the mediant modulation is to an extent a colouristic device imposed for its sensuous effect; in Beethoven it never is.

(Have you read Rosen, btw? I ask because some of the examples you use are similar to his, but other points you make perhaps tend to suggest that you might not have read him yet. There would be no stronger advocate of Beethoven the Classical than Rosen, I'd venture to suggest. The other great writer on this issue, IMO, is Dahlhaus, whose description of the 19th century is refreshingly free of the simplifying but misleading labels we retrospectively place on the period.)

I've read some Rosen, but probably not the particular work(s) you have in mind. Any suggestions?

lukeottevanger

  • Guest
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #45 on: May 27, 2007, 10:25:14 AM »
Well, the relevant ones, and the best books of their kind around, are The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation. Must-read books if ever there were any. :)

DavidW

  • Guest
Re: A composer for each period
« Reply #46 on: May 27, 2007, 10:47:08 AM »
Well, the relevant ones, and the best books of their kind around, are The Classical Style and The Romantic Generation. Must-read books if ever there were any. :)

And, if you get into 'em aquariuswb, you can be a second questioner on my thread.  I've been posting fluff questions so far, but I'm about to get onto the topic of derived motifs in a day or so.  I don't really get it, and it should be fun if posters here can help with it. If that sounds vague, it should be less vague when I post it.  I'll take enough time to try to make it clear.