Tag Archives: Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven does the details

The increasing range of Beethoven’s performance indications paralleled the growing depth of expression in his music. While his predecessors had been content with four basic tempos—adagio, andante, allegro, and presto—he began to add qualifiers, indications of gradual tempo change, and descriptive words and phrases in German.

Still unsatisfied, he began to rely on metronome markings, although he stressed that they only provide a point of departure for a performance in which “feeling also has its beat, which cannot wholly be conveyed by a number”.

He started to favor graphic treatments of crescendo and diminuendo, ensuring dynamic shapes that would not necessarily be intuited by the performer. He used sforzando in structural as well as expressive ways, and expanded volume markings beyond the range from pp to ff.

His pedaling indications usually reinforce harmonic contexts, though sometimes they cause harmonic areas to overlap; this might explain why some of Beethoven’s contemporaries complained that his pedaling resulted in a confused sound. His articulation markings often reinforce motivic structure and development.

All of these performance indications are most fully understood in the context of the particular instrument he was using at the time.

This according to “Interpreting Beethoven’s markings: A preliminary survey of the piano sonatas” by Tallis Barker (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 169–182). Below, Sviatoslav Richter demonstrates his approach to Beethoven’s performance indications.

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Beethoven’s traffic accident

On 15 February 1819 the leading Dutch newspaper Nederlandse staatscourant reported that Beethoven had been seriously wounded when he was run over by a carriage. The notice, a translation of a French report issued the day before, used strong language that implied that the internationally revered composer must have been hospitalized with broken bones or a concussion, and could be in mortal danger.

The report was an example of an international game of telephone—successive notices in various countries had piled on exaggerations to sensationalize the story. The earliest report, from the Frankfurter journal on 29 January 1819, was a much blander account:

(The composer van Beethoven, because of his weak hearing, suffered the misfortune of being knocked down and injured.)

It is possible that even this was an exaggerated version of a neighbor’s anecdote from around that time, in which the composer slipped and fell in the mud, and furiously refused to let the laughing bystanders help him to his feet.

This according to “Beethoven run over: A curious traffic accident in early 1819” by Jos van der Zanden (The Beethoven journal XXVI/1 [summer 2011] pp. 26–27).

Above, Beethoven as he often appeared on the streets of Vienna around 1819, depicted by the sculptor Johann Daniel Böhm (1794–1865), a friend of his at the time; below, Evgeny Kissin performs the Rondo a capriccio, op. 129 (“Rage over a lost penny”) as an encore.

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Beethoven and Peanuts

Having once considered himself “one of the staunchest opponents of classical music”, Charles Schultz (1922–2000) discovered the symphonies of Beethoven in 1946 and became an avid fan of classical music with a prodigious record collection. He also created the piano-playing Schroeder, a Beethoven fanatic, for his comic strip Peanuts.

A well-worn 1951 LP in Schultz’s collection by the pianist Friedrich Gulda of the Hammerklavier sonata, op. 106, may have inspired a series of strips from the early 1950s in which Schroeder is seen playing this work. The one reproduced above is the only one in which the piece is named, though it still relies on the reader to read music—and German!—for a full identification. Note Schultz’s imitation of German Fraktur script for both the work title and his signature.

This according to “Michaelis’ Schulz, Schulz’s Beethoven, and the construction of biography” by William Meredith (The Beethoven journal XXV/2 [winter 2008], pp. 79–91). Below, Claudio Arrau performs the sonata’s first movement. Happy Beethoven’s 240th birthday!

Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore

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Beethoven and Confucius

Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.

The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.

This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.

Above, the Beethoven monument in Qingdao. Below, Beethoven’s ninth symphony in Chinese.

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Beethoven’s missing trunks

After Beethoven’s biographer and sometime secretary Anton Schindler (inset) was exposed as having forged certain entries in the composer’s conversation books, scholarly suspicions were raised regarding all of Schindler’s activities—not least, he was blamed for the 22-month gap in his collection of these books, from mid-September 1820 to June 1822. Since his forgeries had tended toward self-aggrandizement, many scholars assumed that Schindler had destroyed these priceless documents because they somehow undermined the image that he wanted to project.

An article in the Stuttgart Morgenblatt on 5 November 1823 absolves Schindler of this crime. In it, Johann Sporschil profiled the composer in glowing terms and added, by way of a human interest angle, that Beethoven had lost a great deal of his correspondence when he had recently moved from the country to the city. The gap in the missing correspondence exactly matches the gap in the conversation books, indicating that both sets of documents were lost in one or more of the trunks that the composer himself had, in a surviving letter, rued having had to transport.

This according to “Anton Schindler as destroyer and forger of Beethoven’s conversation books: A case for decriminalization” by Theodore Albrecht, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Above, a page from one of the surviving conversation books.

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Musicology and fiction

Throughout the nineteenth century, parallels between the forms and contents of individual compositions and a variety of poems and prose tales were discussed. Liszt, Strauss, and other composers cited literary classics in the titles of their works and even published excerpts in their scores. As a consequence, certain critics came out in favor of musical programmism, while others advocated musical absolutism.

More recently, such discussions have been amplified by suggestions that certain works of fiction themselves employ musical structural principles, particularly sonata form. Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann (above) can be viewed in relation to Beethoven’s piano sonata op. 111, and several of Jane Austen’s novels can be compared with Mozart concerto movements. This approach suggests new ways in which musicologists might acquire a deeper understanding of such issues as musical representations of gender, the ways in which instrumental compositions may be said to embody character, and the problem of music and narrativity.

This according to “Musicology and fiction” by Michael Saffle, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Festschriften

Generally, Festschriften fall into three categories: memorial volumes, issued shortly after the death of the honoree, and often comprising personal tributes and reminiscences; commemorative volumes, published to honor some milestone in the deceased dedicatee’s life; and Festschriften proper, presented to a living recipient on the occaision of a birthday, anniversary, or transitional event. For more about this publication type, see the Preface to RILM’s Liber amicorum, the first volume in our retrospective Festschriften project.

Above is a reproduction of the frontispiece for Beethoven-Album: Ein Gedenkbuch dankbarer Liebe und Verehrung für den grossen Todten, a commemorative volume published in 1846; the book includes poems and compositions dedicated to the composer, including works by Liszt, Meyerbeer, and Czerny.

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