Author Topic: Beethoven the Innovator  (Read 16497 times)

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Offline Gabriel

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Beethoven the Innovator
« on: August 20, 2007, 01:41:43 AM »
In the Hummel thread a secondary subject has appeared, the one of Beethoven's real "revolutionary" contributions to the history of music. I think it should be valuable to discuss them and to focus on their real extent.

Even if I consider he was really an innovator, I also think that his role in the development of music between 1800-1830 has been excessively praised, mostly because of the general ignorance about his contemporaries. For instance, in my opinion the "Heroic Beethoven" of the so-called "middle period" is so related with French classicism, mainly Méhul and Cherubini, that its development is almost impossible to understand without consideration to those composers.

On the other hand, Beethoven was certainly an innovator in the best sense of the world. The first work that comes to my mind is An die ferne Geliebte, which opened the way for cyclical works in vocal music. I don't know anything like it before Beethoven, and not even Schubert was able to develop later a similar solution, for the six songs of Beethoven's work are inseparable for strictly musical reasons, while Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise's songs can be taken separately (even if this harms considerably any of those works).

Which are your thoughts on this? Which are your favourite Beethoven "innovations"? And, being exposed, does anyone think that they are not really "innovations"?

Offline BachQ

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #1 on: August 20, 2007, 02:15:34 AM »
Beethoven didn't just innovate, he revolutionized.

He revolutionized the symphony.
He revolutionized the piano sonata.
He revolutionized the string quartet.
He revolutionized the piano concerto and violin concerto.
He further perfected the integration of counterpoint and fugue within the sonata form.
He further perfected the variations form (theme and variations).
He further perfected many facets of chamber music, especially with the string sonata and trio.

Offline Bonehelm

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2007, 03:01:54 AM »
Beethoven didn't just innovate, he revolutionized.

He revolutionized the symphony.
He revolutionized the piano sonata.
He revolutionized the string quartet.
He revolutionized the piano concerto and violin concerto.
He further perfected the integration of counterpoint and fugue within the sonata form.
He further perfected the variations form (theme and variations).
He further perfected many facets of chamber music, especially with the string sonata and trio.

Can't believe D forgot "He added a chorus in a symphony" when that work is in D minor...

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2007, 03:55:36 AM »
He revolutionized the piano concerto.

OK, let's stay here. Ideas?

Offline JoshLilly

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2007, 04:26:00 AM »
And Peter von Winter put a chorus into a symphony before Beethoven did, so that was factually not a Beethoven innovation. I would bet money that von Winter wasn't first, either, he's just the earliest I know of.

People constantly say that Beethoven revolutionised this or had this innovation, then they name a musical form - ie. "the symphony" - and that's as far as they get. Thus far, every supposed Beethoven innovation that you can pry out of them (which is tellingly rare indeed), you can immediately name another composer who did that before Beethoven, making these false claims. So get specific: name one thing he did in any of those forms that another composer didn't do first. If you can't, then they weren't his innovations. Also, the argument "Well Beethoven did it better" does not change the fact that he didn't do it first (which is what "innovation" means; innovation has nothing to do with how "great" you think it is).

Lilly's Law:

Any statement "(ComposerX) was the first to do (InnovationY)", where "(ComposerX) = a very famous composer", will be a false statement
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 04:28:35 AM by JoshLilly »

Offline Florestan

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2007, 04:41:05 AM »
So get specific: name one thing he did in any of those forms that another composer didn't do first.

Just asking.

The first to write a five-part symphony? The first to use trombones in a symphony? The first to put the Scherzo before the Adagio? The first to write a seven-part SQ? The first to write a 45-minute piano sonata?

Does he has predecessors in any of these? I'd like to know who they are and in which works.
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2007, 04:49:06 AM »
The first to write a five-part symphony?

Five movements, you mean? I'll answer this one. Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony in C major, number 60, "Il distratto", composed in 1774. It doesn't just have five movements, but six.

Scriptavolant

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #7 on: August 20, 2007, 04:51:16 AM »
Well, it's not just a matter of doing something for the first time, but to transfigure this "something" in a great work of art. So for example the "Leitmotif" wasn't invented by Wagner, but in a certain way it was. The use he made of it was revolutionary, coherent, great.

Said that, I wouldn't say Beethoven revolutionized Piano concerto and Violin Concerto. And his sonata for strings aren't in my opinion masterpieces in the sense we could consider masterpieces his symphonies, piano sonatas or string quartets. They're more conventional.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2007, 04:52:03 AM »
Five movements, you mean? I'll answer this one. Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony in C major, number 60, "Il distratto", composed in 1774. It doesn't just have five movements, but six.

Yes, six... but not five.  ;D
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2007, 04:57:36 AM »
Yes, six... but not five.  ;D

;) Well, even more!

Quote
The first to use trombones in a symphony?

With the restricted credit we have to give to some internet sources, I found the following in Wikipedia: "The first use of the trombone in a symphony was in 1807 in the Symphony in E flat by the Swedish composer Joachim Nikolas Eggert, although the composer usually credited with its introduction into the symphony orchestra was Ludwig van Beethoven, who used it in the last movement of his Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1808)." It has a link for a more specific site: http://www.trombone-society.org.uk/resources/articles/kallai.php

Offline JoshLilly

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #10 on: August 20, 2007, 05:04:10 AM »
Trombones were used in a symphony by Eggert before Beethoven. I'm sure Eggert wasn't first, but I actulaly have a recording of this symphony. It uses three trombones in all the movements. I think also Franz Ignaz Beck used trombones in a symphony sometime in the 1790s, but I don't know which one right off-hand.

Without looking, I can say Dussek wrote at least a piano sonata that lasts near to 40 minutes, and I'm not sure if that's even his lengthiest. I'll have to look into this and the others.

I know of five-movement symphonies in the 1700s, that one's easy, there are multiple answers to that in the 18th century. In fact, Wolfgang Mozart's daddy wrote one before his more famous son was even born! A Symphony in D that contains an unusual instrument for extra flavour: bagpipes! So that answers that, but you could even come up with a LIST, possibly of surprising length, of 5-movement symphonies predating Beethoven's 6th.

I started to leap at the answer on the 7-movement string quartet with "of course, Michael Haydn did that more than once!", before I remembered those were string quintets. He wrote a couple of those. I'm pretty sure he also wrote at least a 6-movement string quartet as well. I'll see about the 7. Does a work for 2 violins, viola, and cello count as a "string quartet" even if it has another name, such as "Cassation"? That makes it easy to answer.

I have to admit, if you're specifically looking for a movement labeled "Scherzo" that is specifically before a slow movement labeled "Adagio" (and not "andante" or "largo" or some other slow attribution), that's going to be harder to find. Indeed, maybe that doesn't exist before Beethoven, those two specifically-titled movements one before the other. I'm not sure. There was at least a symphony by J.A.Benda that went: (1)slow intro+fast, (2)scherzo, (3)slow, (4) fast, and this predated any of Beethoven's symphonies. But the slow movement is not Adagio, but rather "Andante con moto". Benda used the "Scherzo" label several times, but otherwise, it doesn't seem to have been really popular in the 18th century. Other composers used it, but not that often.


"Well, it's not just a matter of doing something for the first time"

Then that's not an innovation, is it? It's an improvement on something someone ELSE innovated.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 05:07:07 AM by JoshLilly »

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #11 on: August 20, 2007, 05:10:35 AM »
Does a work for 2 violins, viola, and cello count as a "string quartet" even if it has another name, such as "Cassation"? That makes it easy to answer.

Of course it counts.

Offline Florestan

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #12 on: August 20, 2007, 05:16:47 AM »
JoshLily, thanks for your very informative answer.
“I compose music because I must give expression to my feelings, just as I talk because I must give utterance to my thoughts.”  --- Rachmaninoff

Larry Rinkel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #13 on: August 20, 2007, 05:33:53 AM »
The problem with virtually all the statements so far is that they are confined to externalized features, and by and large miss the essence of Beethoven's contributions. To discuss these in any kind of responsible way might get very technical and would take hours - not that I wouldn't mind writing such a discussion, but I have other obligations, and the pay for writing these posts pretty much stinks - and those interested can read insightful guides such as Joseph Kerman on the quartets, Sir Donald Tovey on the symphonies, William Kinderman on the Diabelli Variations, Charles Rosen on the piano sonatas, sonata form, and the Classical style in general, and others.

For example, one poster comments that no one before Beethoven had written a piano sonata as long as 45 minutes. No doubt my friend Mr. Lilly, in his charmingly dogged literatist manner, will trot out some nearly forgotten predecessor who wrote a piano sonata lasting 50 minutes while Beethoven was still in diapers - all of this done, apparently, in an effort to knock Beethoven off the pedestal he has occupied for 200 years and reduce him to the level of his most mediocre contemporaries. But such efforts are all besides the point. The literal length of any Beethoven sonata is secondary; what matters in Beethoven's longer sonata-form works is how he expanded the concept of musical time - through such as means as harmonically significant notes whose full implications are explored only as the movement takes shape, increasingly complex transitions to and within the second group of the sonata exposition, more complex modulations, more elaborate and contrapuntal development, and a more elaborate use of the coda that serves both as a secondary development and a peroration. Again, so someone wrote a 7-movement sonata or symphony. But no one achieved the organic continuity of musical movement that was left for Beethoven to discover in his C# minor quartet, Op. 131.

And make no mistake: Beethoven's contemporaries understood him as a radical; when he produced a watershed work like the Eroica, the comments from reviewers unable to follow his expansion of the musical language were not, "Ah! I can see where composer X did this before Beethoven!" but rather, "These bizarre grotesqueries are the product of a deranged mind ready for the madhouse!" Anyone who thinks that what Beethoven was doing was not felt as new, ought to read Berlioz's account of how he took his old teacher, the honest conservative M. LeSueur, to hear the 5th symphony. Mr. Lilly's elegantly expressed theories cannot account for such reactions, nor can they deprive Beethoven of the stature which he has been accorded in the minds of performers, scholars, composers, and listeners throughout musical history.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 05:35:58 AM by Larry Rinkel »

Offline JoshLilly

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #14 on: August 20, 2007, 05:43:35 AM »
I haven't talked about any theories, and wouldn't know how to do so. I'm talking only about chronological facts. I've leave the technical stuff to those who know it. But when it comes to biographical/historical information on the late 18th century, I will - without trying to be overly boastful - claim that I know far more than most music fans about the obscure composers of that period. When it comes to technical specifics of music I know practically nothing.

I'm talking only about facts, like specific years. Those are inarguable. I don't know why anyone would be upset or think it has anything to do with pedestals or anything else. I'm trying to leave opinion entirely out of this and talk only about years or, if necessary, months. Facts are facts. Why would this upset anyone, or cause them to make sarcastic statements about me? I'm not trying to account for reactions of anyone, including LeSueur's famous concert experience. I was thinking on an extremely dry level: facts are facts. A piece written in 1775 predates one written in 1805, by irrefutable fact. Therefore, if the piece written in 1775 does something prior to the one in 1805, it predates it, therefore it negates the possibility of that something being "innovated" in 1805. This is a fact. There is no way to argue against this. It is chronological reality.



"The literal length of any Beethoven sonata is secondary"

Nevertheless, that was the question. Facts are facts.


"Again, so someone wrote a 7-movement sonata or symphony"

The question was whether Beethoven was the first to do that. The question was answered. Facts are facts. Opinions of "well that earlier one sucked!" are irrelevant. Facts are facts.


Mr. Rinkel, you're talking about greatness. I like Beethoven more than any of the composers I have named. But that is NOT what I was discussing in my response. Why can't you see that? I was discussing cold, hard facts. 1775 predates 1805. There is no way around this. Something done in 1775 was done prior to 1805. This is cannot be changed, by all the will and wish and adoration of Beethoven in the entire world. Reality is reality. But how does it possibly take anything from Beethoven? Or how does it add anything to Beethoven? Not one note of his existing works is changed by this. It was just a factual discussion, someone seemed honestly interested in these questions of fact. It wasn't anything beyond that, and doesn't need to be.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 05:47:53 AM by JoshLilly »

Larry Rinkel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #15 on: August 20, 2007, 05:49:35 AM »
No one, least of all myself, is getting upset or sarcastic. I regard you with considerable respect, Joshua, for your diligent research and your courage in questioning received assumptions. But I think in your literal-mindedness, you are missing what's most significant, and reducing musical history to a catalog of inessential (if interesting) details.

Offline Gabriel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #16 on: August 20, 2007, 05:53:51 AM »
But no one achieved the organic continuity of musical movement that was left for Beethoven to discover in his C# minor quartet, Op. 131.

In fact, this quartet is a formidable point for analysis on Beethoven's real contribution to music. The first thing that should astonish in it is the perspective of the harmonic development between the movements: a kind of arch with some very remote relationships. The first movement is in C sharp minor, while the second one is in D major, and the fourth, the Andante ma non troppo e molto cantabile is in A major (remote considering C sharp major, but not considering D major). Then it follows G sharp minor, E major, and finally back to C sharp minor. Not getting into other aspects of this wonderful work, I wonder if anybody before had attempted to achieve a similar sequence.

Offline JoshLilly

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #17 on: August 20, 2007, 05:56:15 AM »
I was only trying to answer a specific post in a specific manner. I'm not saying it is more significant, nor am I getting into a discussion of greatness or whatever. And while I do question established assumptions, I'm not even doing that here, except with regards to the facts of years in which pieces were composed. That's what I'm into, those interesting but inessential details. I'm that way on a myriad of subjects, getting into trivia. The "big" stuff has been talked about so much, and I've read about it so much, that I just naturally go smaller. I'm big, big into chess history, and I'm more fascinated with talking about and researching on, say, Ignaz Kolisch than Paul Morphy. Morphy was stronger, and "greater", but I talk more about Kolisch. Yes, people say the same thing to me: "Why do you care about Kolisch when his contemporary Morphy was so much greater?"  My answer is the same: I really don't know!

Offline BachQ

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #18 on: August 20, 2007, 06:10:11 AM »
And make no mistake: Beethoven's contemporaries understood him as a radical; when he produced a watershed work like the Eroica, the comments from reviewers unable to follow his expansion of the musical language were not, "Ah! I can see where composer X did this before Beethoven!" but rather, "These bizarre grotesqueries are the product of a deranged mind ready for the madhouse!"

Excellent post, Larry.

Many books have been written about the Eroica, and there just isn't enough time to get into it here.  Let me simply cut and paste a snippet from  BeethovensEroica.com


Why the Eroica?

Among history's innumerable examples of symphonic genius, the Eroica stands pre-eminent.  Though few would contest the above proposition the question arises, why the Eroica?  What sets it apart from the rest?  Neither size, complexity or a profusion of soaring melodies distinguish the Eroica.  So how is it that this one creation has come to be regarded as the ne plus ultra of symphonic endeavor.

That distinction arose when it interrupted the evolution of symphonic development and appeared suddenly, without precedent or prototype.  Forged in a fiery new style, the impact of this Grand Sinfonie was such that its influence would be heard for a generation to come.  Equally significant, the Eroica initiated the notion that a symphony could be used as a vehicle to convey beliefs and the ideas associated with the Eroica are well known.  Napoleon, heroism, death, apotheosis, revolution - the list goes on.  Imagine a public accustomed to the proprieties of Mozart and Haydn having those ideas thrust upon them.  They were not ready for a manifesto in the concert hall.

The changes brought about by the Eroica involve more than issues of harmony, counterpoint or the addition of a French horn.  Post Eroica appreciation of a symphony involves not only attention to compositional technique but now includes the added dimension of meaning and interpretation.  All the more remarkable since Beethoven, the high priest of absolute music, affected this change.

The Eroica is now one of the most written about and analyzed works in music history  Scholars explore the historical and biographical dimensions of the work while musicologists deconstruct it piece by piece to see what makes it tick.  We are driven to probe this amazing work of art on as many levels as we can.  Yet, it is the Eroica's eloquence in the auditorium that pleases above all. Whether we discern this or that connection is irrelevant.  Once the mighty E-flat chords resound we are transported in a manner that only Beethoven can affect.  We will never know what lead him to put those exact notes to paper.  We can only be thankful that he did.


Larry Rinkel

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Re: Beethoven the Innovator
« Reply #19 on: August 20, 2007, 06:17:51 AM »
I was only trying to answer a specific post in a specific manner. I'm not saying it is more significant, nor am I getting into a discussion of greatness or whatever. And while I do question established assumptions, I'm not even doing that here, except with regards to the facts of years in which pieces were composed. That's what I'm into, those interesting but inessential details. I'm that way on a myriad of subjects, getting into trivia. The "big" stuff has been talked about so much, and I've read about it so much, that I just naturally go smaller. I'm big, big into chess history, and I'm more fascinated with talking about and researching on, say, Ignaz Kolisch than Paul Morphy. Morphy was stronger, and "greater", but I talk more about Kolisch. Yes, people say the same thing to me: "Why do you care about Kolisch when his contemporary Morphy was so much greater?"  My answer is the same: I really don't know!

Let's just say for the moment that I accept all this. (I don't, but I don't have time right now to respond in more detail.) How does Lilly's Law --

Quote
Any statement "(ComposerX) was the first to do (InnovationY)", where "(ComposerX) = a very famous composer [e.g., Beethoven]", will be a false statement

-- account for the indisputable fact that Beethoven's contemporaries (who presumably knew the music of their times better than we do) often regarded him as a wildly innovative radical?