Beethoven's contemporaries

Started by lordlance, February 27, 2023, 10:14:38 PM

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lordlance

Unlike the Baroque and Romantic-onward eras, I feel like Beethoven didn't really have any truly great contemporaries (of course I am not including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert or Rossini.) Schumann or Mahler - they had so many other great fellow composers who wrote beautiful music. Beethoven's genius seems even more magnified when I hear his contemporaries. The music's tunes simply aren't memorable. The music does not stay with me. I have heard Hummel's piano concertos, Ries' symphonies and piano concertos and Spohr's symphonies. They don't seem to really hold a candle to Beethoven's works.

What is your view on Beethoven's contemporaries? Which orchestral pieces would you recommend to me to change my view?

Jo498

Beethoven does stick out; that's one reason why I find it disingenious to treat him as "intermediate" between the classical and romantic periods because those you name were actually the transitional composers.
Of course, Schubert is almost completely contemporary with Beethoven, so by excluding him, you have excluded the best one.
I think one you might consider is Carl Maria von Weber (a cousin or so of Mozart's wife Konstanze). His best works are operas, Freisch├╝tz above all that was the foundation of German romantic opera (and used to be very popular in Germany/Austria). Of his other operas, try at least the ouvertures (frequently on anthologies).
Next famous are probably his works with clarinet, 3 concertos, a quintet and some more chamber pieces.
His most influential concertante piece was probably the Konzertst├╝ck f minor that used to be quite popular, but the piano concertos are also worth trying (although maybe not better than Hummel's). His 4 piano sonatas are a bit longwinded but not bad.

Weber also wrote two symphonies, but they are very early works, not really typical.
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos, dans une chambre.
- Blaise Pascal

Florestan

Quote from: lordlance on February 27, 2023, 10:14:38 PMUnlike the Baroque and Romantic-onward eras, I feel like Beethoven didn't really have any truly great contemporaries (of course I am not including Haydn, Mozart, Schubert or Rossini.)

IOW, you basically claim that Beethoven had no truly great contemporaries except his truly great contemporaries.  ;D

You can add Mendelssohn to the list, he wrote the Octet in 1825 and the A Midsummer's Night Dream Overture in 1826.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

Florestan

Quote from: Jo498 on February 28, 2023, 12:19:45 AMI think one you might consider is Carl Maria von Weber

Good call. Weber's greatest achievement is undoubtedly Der Freischuetz, much more successful and influential an opera than Fidelio. Actually, imho opera (and vocal music in general) was not Beethoven's forte.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

Brian

Ever since I heard it pointed out that the final coda of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony can be construed as a parody/tribute to Rossini, I have sought out recordings that highlight that resemblance. That final little silly moment where the orchestra falls silent, the horns play the main motif by themselves, and are answered by short flute riffs, and then the whole orchestra jumps back in - now every time I hear it I feel like I've been transported to a comic opera overture. Especially if the conductor allows the tempo to relax somewhat for the solos, so that the full return of the orchestra sounds even more jarring and funny.

Florestan

Quote from: Brian on February 28, 2023, 06:58:27 AMEver since I heard it pointed out that the final coda of Beethoven's Eighth Symphony can be construed as a parody/tribute to Rossini, I have sought out recordings that highlight that resemblance. That final little silly moment where the orchestra falls silent, the horns play the main motif by themselves, and are answered by short flute riffs, and then the whole orchestra jumps back in - now every time I hear it I feel like I've been transported to a comic opera overture. Especially if the conductor allows the tempo to relax somewhat for the solos, so that the full return of the orchestra sounds even more jarring and funny.

Okay, which are those recordings? Any favorites?
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

lordlance

Quote from: Florestan on February 28, 2023, 12:25:52 AMIOW, you basically claim that Beethoven had no truly great contemporaries except his truly great contemporaries.  ;D

You can add Mendelssohn to the list, he wrote the Octet in 1825 and the A Midsummer's Night Dream Overture in 1826.


Not really. Haydn was almost four decades older than Beethoven and a composer of the Classical era in the truest sense unlike Beethoven who's really like a proto-Romantic in my head. Compare this with Romantic era where we are awash with talented contemporaries like Schumann, Berlioz, Wagner, Bruckner, Chopin, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Brahms (not all of them at the same time, yes.)

Rossini and Weber being famous for their operas also means I don't really listen to their music except for the overtures (which is truly memorable stuff.)

I remembered two more contemporaries of Beethoven - Dussek and Cramer - also unremarkable (at least whatever I've heard.)

Todd

Quote from: lordlance on February 28, 2023, 09:06:50 AMRossini and Weber being famous for their operas also means I don't really listen to their music except for the overtures (which is truly memorable stuff.)

How do your listening habits inform the comparative greatness of composers?  That's taste; that's different.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

lordlance

Quote from: Todd on February 28, 2023, 09:19:01 AMHow do your listening habits inform the comparative greatness of composers?  That's taste; that's different.

It doesn't.

I am always struck by how undistinguished the music of Beethoven's contemporaries though id unlike with Romantics where you can stumble into people like Bax who are niche but have a unique style.

Todd

Quote from: lordlance on February 28, 2023, 09:54:07 AMI am always struck by how undistinguished the music of Beethoven's contemporaries

Well, aside from your exclusions.  Schubert was a younger exact contemporary, of course.  Vorisek is none too shabby.  There's a series called Beethoven's World on Sony that explores different composers using big name Sony Germany artists.

For me, general undistinguishedness defines the mass of composers from the time of Bach until the end of the 19th or early 20th Centuries.  Renaissance and early Baroque and then turn of the 20th Century until now are more interesting periods with more distinctive composers, at least to my taste.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Florestan

#10
Quote from: lordlance on February 28, 2023, 09:06:50 AMNot really. Haydn was almost four decades older than Beethoven and a composer of the Classical era in the truest sense unlike Beethoven who's really like a proto-Romantic in my head.

Your own classification of composers is irrelevant. Haydn was a contemporary of Beethoven whose music is at least as good.

As for the proto-Romantic Beethoven, I don't know. In the two genres most intimately associated with full-fledged Romanticism, Lieder and piano music other than sonatas, his contributions pale in comparison to those of Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Liszt, to name but the greatest ones.

QuoteRossini and Weber being famous for their operas also means I don't really listen to their music

Which of course doesn't make their music any less great. Nor does it obscure the fact that back then opera was the most prestigious and popular genre and in this genre Beethoven failed spectacularly.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

Jo498

Quote from: Florestan on February 28, 2023, 10:11:35 AMback then opera was the most prestigious and popular genre and in this genre Beethoven failed spectacularly.
No, he did not fail. Fidelio was a tough one and had a slow start but it has been a repertoire staple since the 1820s, so seen from today, Beethoven did about as well as most of the opera specialist. Of Weber's also only one piece remained in the core repertoire. Cherubini did worse because none of his really stayed in the repertoire and the famous Rossini did only slightly better because besides Barbiere di Siviglia not much stayed in the repertoire.
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos, dans une chambre.
- Blaise Pascal

Florestan

#12
Quote from: Jo498 on February 28, 2023, 10:22:59 AMNo, he did not fail. Fidelio was a tough one and had a slow start but it has been a repertoire staple since the 1820s, so seen from today, Beethoven did about as well as most of the opera specialist. Of Weber's also only one piece remained in the core repertoire. Cherubini did worse because none of his really stayed in the repertoire and the famous Rossini did only slightly better because besides Barbiere di Siviglia not much stayed in the repertoire.

Let's compare the amount of performances Rossini's operas had in Europe in the early 19th century with the amount of representations Fidelio had during the same period. Furthermore, let's compare the amount of performances Fidelio had in Europe during the whole 19th century with the number of performances that the operas of Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Meyerbeer and Auber had. If we do that, we can only conclude that Beethoven failed as an operatic composer, both in his contemporaries' eyes and in the 19th century posterity. Heck, even today performances / recordings of operas by Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi far outnumber performances / recrodings of Fidelio.

All that does not detract an ounce from Beethoven's greatness. His genius was simply not suited for the particular features and demands of the operatic world. (In this respect he is joined by Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms.)
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

Todd

Quote from: Florestan on February 28, 2023, 10:35:33 AMLet's compare the amount of performances Rossini's operas had in Europe in the early 19th century with the amount of representations Fidelio had during the same period.

Do you have actual data?

I found the attached top twenty lists from Operabase.com.  I cannot verify the data. 
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Florestan

Quote from: Todd on February 28, 2023, 11:05:29 AMDo you have actual data?

Only what I gathered from Wikipedia and various books I've read. But given that (1) Rossini wrote far more operas than Beethoven, (2) Rossini was far more popular than Beethoven even in his beloved Vienna, let alone Europe-wide, (3) Italian opera was hugely popular Europe-wide and (4) the number of instrumental compositions based on Rossini's operas vastly outnumber those based on Fidelio, my educated guess is that Rossini's operas were performed much more frequently than Fidelio.

QuoteI found the attached top twenty lists from Operabase.com.  I cannot verify the data. 

Nobody can but looks quite plausible to me.
What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter - a soothing, calming influence on the mind, rather like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue. - Henri Matisse

Brian

Quote from: Florestan on February 28, 2023, 08:53:17 AMOkay, which are those recordings? Any favorites?
This is proving harder than expected! I am now going through streaming services trying to find a recording that perfectly captures that Rossinian moment, including by having the horns/flutes interlude played slower than the surrounding music, and with comical pauses.

So far it's a no on Chailly, Scherchen, Nelson, Haitink, Abbado, Vanska, Harnoncourt, Norrington, P. Jarvi, and Kletzki...I am running out of recordings!

However, the closest that I heard on my sample journey were P. Jarvi and Kletzki. Jarvi gets the timing of it perfectly, but Kletzki gets the tempos.

This might be an example of a case where the "perfect version" exists only in my own head because nobody else ever thought it was perfect  :(  ;D

Todd

Quote from: Florestan on February 28, 2023, 11:17:50 AMOnly what I gathered from Wikipedia and various books I've read.

So, no real data and a lot of conjecture. 

It is of course worth noting that the number of performances does not equate to significance and influence, let alone quality to current audiences.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya

Brian

Quote from: lordlance on February 28, 2023, 09:54:07 AMI am always struck by how undistinguished the music of Beethoven's contemporaries though id unlike with Romantics where you can stumble into people like Bax who are niche but have a unique style.
Two Beethoven contemporaries who are decidedly niche but have a unique style are Cherubini - whom you mentioned; he is exceptional in choral works and his string quartets are fantastic - and Anton Reicha, whose music is among the most eccentric and genre-bending of any composer in any era. Reicha believed all sorts of things about fugues that make his stand out as probably the weirdest fugues before 1900.

Franz Krommer is another interesting case; his symphony cycle is not that eccentric or distinctive (more like an extension of late Haydn or early Beethoven), but his partitas for woodwinds are absolute delights.

DavidW

Quote from: lordlance on February 27, 2023, 10:14:38 PMThe music's tunes simply aren't memorable.

I guess you better not listen to Xenakis or Carter then if your judgment is based upon memorable melody! ;D

Anyway, seriously, if you don't like Beethoven's contemporaries that is fine.  I think that it is easy for the modern ear to struggle grasping the beauty and elegance of that era.  Many listeners end up only listening to the heavy hitters from the classical era (same can be said for the baroque era). 

Life is too short, listen to what you like.  But... please don't insinuate that Beethoven's contemporaries are "undistinguished" just because they are not your cup of tea.

Todd

Quote from: DavidW on February 28, 2023, 12:05:50 PMI guess you better not listen to Xenakis

This is true for everyone.
The universe is change; life is opinion. - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

People would rather believe than know - E.O. Wilson

Propaganda death ensemble - Tom Araya