Saturday, December 03, 2005


Schubert: Early Symphonies

Schubert's First Symphony (D.82), in D, was composed in 1813, shortly after Beethoven had completed his Seventh and Eighth, and when Mendelssohn and Schumann, who were to become the next bright stars in the symphonic firmament, were very small boys, unconscious of the power they were destined to exert.

This First Symphony is in no wise remarkable, save in that it is the product of a boy of sixteen. Schubert's uncontrollable flood of melody overruns it---as yet in rivulets only---but otherwise it gives but little recognizable promise of what was to succeed it. Then came a second (D.125), in B-flat, and a third (D.200), in D (both in 1815). These record remarkable progress; but it was the next following Symphony, No. IV (D.417), known as the Tragic (C minor, 1816), which first revealed some of the qualities of Schubert's outstanding genius in the larger sphere of tone-expression.

There has always been much confusion in regard to the number and order of his Symphonies. This was a natural consequence of the comparative indifference of the public, though most largely owing to Schubert's own indifference. A "little thing" like a Symphony, floating on the immense current of his productive flood, did not mean much to him; it was written, shoved to one side, buried under piles of manuscript, stowed away after his death, in dusty drawers, until some eager, appreciative hand drew it forth and gave it back to the musical world. Schumann knew of only seven, obviously the last, he called it "No. VII." Others still insist on limiting the number to eight. But it seems to be the tradition that there were ten---though his biographer Kreissle appears (in 1860) to have known of only eight; all but one of the ten are accessible, though not all are published. The list is as follows:

No.I (D, finished in October, 1813;D.82), No.II (B-flat, March,1815;D.125), No.III (D, May, 1815; D.200), No.IV (the Tragic, C minor, April, 1816;D.417), No.V(B-flat, October 1816;D.485), No.VI (Little C major, February, 1818, D.589), which Schubert spoke of as a "grand" (large) Symphony, No.VII (in E, begun in August, 1821, left in partly sketched form---not completed), No.VIII (the Unfinished, B minor, begun October 30, 1822;D.759), No.IX (the Gasteiner, C, 1825), and No.X (the Great C major, March, 1828,D.944). Of these, No.IX, though persistently cited, seems to be irretrievably lost; some authorities have ventured the conjecture that it may have been merely a revision of the one in C, No.VI, and neglected or destroyed by Schubert himself, as of insufficient novelty.



Styles of Instrumental Music

Early (Baroque to Classical), there were three distinct styles of instrumental music in vogue, each complete in itself and outwardly independent of the others, and yet overlapping each other at certain points, and exerting a stimulating influence upon one another, namely: the Suite, the Sonata and the Symphony.

The Suite (seventeenth century) was primarily, and always chiefly, a mere collection of Dances, though other pieces of a more poetic and not infrequently of pictorial (descriptive) character were often interspersed, especially in France, to the number of from four to six as a rule, all in the same key, and usually in the same form---either a double-period or a primitive Two-Part form. This latter form was gradually elevated to the more refined and artistic design that became characteristic of the Sonata-movement, cultivated by Francois Couperin, Domenico Scarlatti and many other devotees of instrumental music (in France, Italy, England and Germany), and which, after a few additional perfecting strokes, was to evolve into the fixed structural type of the Symphony-movement.

An example of this popular Two-Part form, selected from the copious Pieces de clavecin by Francois Couperin (le Grand, 1668-1733) illustrates very clearly the embryo of that structural scheme from which the modern Sonata-allegro form was to emerge. It is entitled Le reveille-matin, and is of that descriptive order to which allusion was made above.

The First Part is a double-period of eleven measures, modulating in the fourth measure and closing with a cadence in the dominant key. It contains one Theme only, although a different motive sets in, in measure seven, which foreshadows the significant separation or "split," that, in the case of more expanded, broader examples, provides for a second (subordinate) Theme---to be demonstrated later on. The Second Part is considerably longer, and utilizes material from Part I, quite in accordance with the manner of the "Development" in the symphonic Allegro. It adds phrase to phrase in this fashion up to the twenty-seventh measure, at which point the third phrase (not the first) of the First Part reappears---from measure five and six---but this time transposed to the principal key (tonic); and in measure thirty-two the former new motive is resumed, also in the principal key this time, and restated exactly as before, to the end. Thus the Second Part is both Development and "Recapitulation," in an embryonic stage. Each Part is repeated, giving the performer an opportunity to improvise and ornament the original. It is easy to supplement this line of analysis by scanning other easily procurable examples, from harpsichord compositions of Domenico Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau, J.S. Bach and others.

The Sonata is much older that the Suite, the title, at least, having been in use (affixed to both vocal and instrumental pieces) during the sixteenth century or earlier.

It consisted for quite a time of one single Movement, the structural plan of which advanced gradually from the simplest phrase-group up to the expanded Two-Part form in the previous green message. This latter design appears to have owed its inception to Couperin le Grand, though rudimentary traces of it are found in still earlier works. It was regarded, in a sense, as the established structural scheme for the One-movement Sonatas; but it gradually widened out into a Three-Part form, with fairly definite presentation of two motives in the First Part---the germs of the later principal and subordinate Themes of the classic sonata-allegro form.

The "widening out" of the Two-Part form is somewhat similar to the enlargement of the expanded Two-Part form of the previous message, but it differs in one exceedingly important respect, namely: The tentative separation or "split" of the material of the first Part into two recognizable motives, and the recurrence of these two thematic members in the second Part, accomplished nothing more than the increase in the number of thematic impressions, and did not actually extend the scheme to three Parts; the form remains Two-Part only, for the manifest reason that there is no detached third Part in evidence. So that in leading over into the genuine sonata-allegro design, this transformation into a Three-Part form had first to be accomplished, and it is of the latter act that we are now speaking, an operation which took place along with the growth of the One-movement Sonata, at least principally.

The simple Three-Partform, naturally, differs from the Two-Part form in that it contains a return to the very beginning, and a sufficiently clear presentation of the first motives of the first Part; all that follows this recurrence, from that point to the end, constitutes the Third Part.

There is something so supremely natural in this order of the structural factors: a Statement, a Digression for variety, and a return to the Statement for confirmation and a satisfactory closing of the circle---A-B-A,---that one wonders why any other arrangement should have been accepted from the very outset. It did occur, to be sure, though not as commonly as would appear natural. Its first pronounced application took place in the da capo Aria of early Italian operas, and thence passed over into instrumental music through conscious and partly fortuitous transformation and expansion of the then almost universal Two-Part form demonstrated in the previous message. Illustrations of the simple Three-Part form are so numerous---nine-tenths of our ordinary piano literature being molded in this design---that no special example need be given here. In passing, however, one may discover convenient masterly models of it in the Songs Without Words of Mendelssohn, for instance, No. 25.

In view of the fact that the Symphony is a "Sonata for Orchestra," it is obvious that the evolution of the Sonata has very direct bearing upon that of the Symphony. The steady development and perfecting of the instrumental Sonata, beginning with Andrea Gabrieli (1586) and carried along by Couperin, Johann Kuhnau, Domenico Scarlatti, the great Bach and his son Philipp Emanuel Bach, and many others, achieved its highest fulfillment in the classic epoch of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Although the Sonata in one Movement was for awhile typical, it was not uncommon to enlarge it to two, three and even four Movements, under the influence, no doubt, of the contemporaneous Suite. As early as 1683, the eminent Italian violin-master Corelli wrote Sonatas in four short Movements: adagio, allegro, adagio, allegro; and the plan of three Movements finally became general, in both the Sonata and its more pretentious companion, the Symphony, the first Movement (at least) of which adopted the characteristic Two-Part form, as a very general rule.

The Symphony proper comprised from the beginning three separate Movements, and was originally, as has been shown, but little more than an expansion of the connected and homogeneous Sections of the Italian Overture---a slow Movement between two rapid ones. The first step in the artistic unfolding and growth of the Symphony concerned chiefly the first one of its three Movements. This was so lengthened that one Theme did not suffice; or, perhaps more probably, the desire for a greater amount of thematic material, and also for an increase in variety, made an expansion of the form necessary. Be that as it may, it soon became customary to add a second (in a sense an auxiliary or "Subordinate") Theme, in a different key. And the next significant step was the unfolding of the structural scheme out of the prevalent Two-Part into the far more artistically adequate and perfect Three-Part form, by returning to the beginning after the second part had done its work, and restating the entire First Part, as Third,---whereby the second one of the two Themes was transposed to the principal key (or at least the transposition a perfect fifth lower), thus providing for at least that kind and degree of diversity.

When thus magnified, the "Parts" assumed the proportions and qualities of "Divisions," the first of which is known as the Exposition (that is, the statement of the two Themes, with possible additions in the nature of Codettas, or concluding motives), the second as Development, and the third Recapitulation (with the transposition of the second theme). This design of the first (allegro) movement was maintained more or less persistently, and was handed over to Haydn, who recognized its superiority and firmly established it as the standard for classic structural design. It is now known as the Sonata-allegro---or, since the terms are synonymous, as the Symphony-allegro form. This, be it noted, does not refer to the complete Symphony, but to one, usually the first, Allegro-movement. It may be, and of course is, applied likewise to the other Movements, when their contents call for such a plan.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


The Liszt Piano Transcription of the Beethoven Symphonies

The Preface (1865) by Liszt of his transcription for piano of the Beethoven Symphonies with English transcription by C.E.R. Mueller:

"The name of Beethoven is sacred in art. His symphonies are at present universally acknowledged to be master-pieces; whoever seriously wishes to extend his knowledge or new works can never devote too much reflection and study upon them. For this reason every way or manner of making them accessible and popular has a certain merit, nor are the rather numerous arrangements published so far without relative merit, though, for the most part, they seem to be of little intrinsic value for deeper research. The poorest lithograph, the most faulty translation always gives an idea, indefinite though it be, of the genius of Michel Angelo, of Shakespeare, in the most incomplete piano-arrangement we recognize here and there the perhaps half effaced traces of the master's inspiration. By the development in technique and mechanism which the piano has gained of late, it is possible now to attain more and better results than have been attained so far. With the immense development of its harmonic power the piano seeks to appropriate more and more all orchestral compositions. In the compass of its seven octaves it can, with but a few exceptions, reproduce all traits, all combinations, all figurations of the most learned, of the deepest tone-creations, and leaves to the orchestra no other advantages, than those of the variety of tone colors and massive effects---immense advantages, to be sure

Such has been my aim in the work I have undertaken and now lay before the musical world. I confess that I should have to consider it a rather useless employment of my time, if I had but added one more to the numerous hitherto published piano-arrangements, following in their rut; but I consider my time well employed if I have succeeded in transferring to the piano not only the grand outlines of Beethoven's compositions but also those numerous fine details, and smaller traits that so powerfully contribute to the completion of the ensemble. My aim has been attained if I stand on a level with the intelligent engraver, the conscious translator, who comprehend the spirit of a work and thus contribute to the knowledge of the great masters and to the formation of the sense for the beautiful.

Rome, 1865 F. LISZT.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No.9

Ten years elapsed after Beethoven had written his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, before he again turned to this highest type of musical conception, and created his last, the Ninth, Symphony. During these ten years he was by no means idle, but composed a number of his finest works. Still, it was a comparatively less fruitful period than any other in his life. It was a period of relaxation and recreation, in which his great spirit was more active than his pen; as if he were collecting and strengthening his forces for the four supreme efforts of his final years: the last piano Sonatas, all of the last five String-quartets, the Missa Solemnis, and the Choral (Ninth) Symphony.

This, in D minor, Op. 125, was conceived as early as 1817, but not finished until 1824. Its first three Movements are of the conventional symphonic type, though they transcend in scope, breadth and design, proportions, and depth of spiritual significance---to say nothing of their surpassing technical richness and perfection---anything ever brought into being in the sphere of symphonic creation. But for the Finale Beethoven conceived the idea of adding the ultimate "instrument"---the human voice---to the score, and thus magnifying the Movement into a comprehensive Hymn of Joy, for which he selected the Ode to Joy of Schiller. It was the final realization of a plan that had been slumbering in his mind for many years; away back in his youthful days---in 1793---the project of setting music to this wonderful poem challenged his creative spirit, and in 1811 fragments begin to appear in his sketchbooks bearing on the subject.

The first Movement opens with an introductory passage of sixteen measures (not an independent Introduction) on the dominant, leading thence naturally into the imposing principal Theme. Following a transition the subordinate Theme (in B-flat) is in two Parts. To this, two brief Codettas are added. The whole Movement is a very regular, though extremely broad, sonata-allegro form. The Development is a marvel of consistent and logical thematic manipulation, unusually elaborate, and at first hearing apparently abstruse. Uncommon prominence is given to the third measure (often joined by the fourth) of the principal Theme. The Recapitulation is nearly exact, with the expected transpositions. The Coda is also uncommonly long, and exhibits a notable feature in its eighth Section (about thirty-five measures from the end): the basses carry a ground-motive (basso continuo) of two measures, with descending chromatics and an ascending scale, gradually reinforced by the whole body of strings, and repeated seven times.

In this Symphony Beethoven locates the Scherzo as the second Movement, contrary to his custom. It is likewise of extraordinary length; so much so that the principal Division is amplified to a full sonata-allegro design. The principal theme is preceded by eight introductory measures, all derived from the first measure. Here again Beethoven assigns a striking function to the kettledrums---tuned exactly as in the Finale of the Eighth Symphony, in the octave f: the fifth measure of the introductory passage is taken by the drums, solo; and in the fourth Section of the Development he gives to the drums alone the first measure of the three-measure thematic phrase, four times in succession.

The Trio manifests Beethoven's faith in Repetition: nearly the whole of it is built upon a four measure Phrase, always placed in the same key ( with one exception)---similar in general effect to the basso ostinato. The design of the Trio is also expanded, into a Five-Part form.

The third Movement, a very broad Adagio, is probably the most impressive slow Movement that Beethoven ever created, and he was particularly noted for the great beauty and appropriate expression that he always imparted to this important division of the symphonic form. The structure is fundamentally a First-Rondo, since it presents two alternating Themes; but it diverges somewhat from the orthodox arrangement: the subordinate Theme is stated twice, in different keys (in D, later in G), and consequently the principal Theme (in B-flat) appears three times---at each recurrence so elaborately embellished that it gives to the Movement the general character of a Variation-form. In reality it is analogous to the design adopted by Beethoven in the Finale of his Third, and in the slow Movements of his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. Another noteworthy feature is the formation of the Retransition (returning passage) to the last presentation of the principal Theme (three-flat signature); it is in effect a brief "Development."

The principal Theme is preceded by two introductory measures.

As to the Finale: it was Beethoven's original intention to make the Ninth Symphony a purely instrumental work, [have we been here before?] and it was not until he had sketched an instrumental fourth Movement that he decided to gratify his lifelong desire to set Schiller's Ode to Joy (written in 1785) to music, as a Finale to the three preceding Movements. The original fourth Movement, already sketched, was therefore set aside for the time, but was utilized later as the Finale to his String-quartet in A minor, Op. 132.

Thus the present Finale became a sort of Cantata, consisting in a series of successive related, though clearly individualized Episodes---thirteen in number, including a distinctive Introduction, a principal Theme, a kind of Attendant Theme (in the ninth Episodes), and a Coda.

Beethoven selected only certain verses from Schiller's Ode, and even altered the order of these, thus affirming his right to exercise his own judgment and single out only that which suited his artistic purpose.

The first and second Episodes are introductory: after a tumultuous passage in the orchestra, a Leader seems to appear (represented by the string-basses, declamato) and invite suggestions for a final Subject; the Themes of the first, second, and third Movements pass successively in review; whereupon a new motive is intimated, found acceptable, and developed into the principal Theme of the whole Cantata. The third Episode is an Exposition of this Theme, in the orchestra; the fourth Episode is a recurrence of the turbulent first Episode, which, as before, is checked by the Leader---now a vocal baritone; in the fifth Episode, the Theme is given out in its full scope by the chorus and orchestra; the sixth Episode is another presentation of the entire principal Theme, transformed in rhythm, meter and character into a stirring martial scene (in keeping with another verse of the Ode), in which the chorus later joins; Episode seven is an orchestral fugato with two Themes, that of Episode six combined with a new contrapuntal phrase; in Episode eight this same idea is carried out with orchestra and chorus; the ninth Episode presents the "Attendant" Theme (on the text "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" [O ye millions, I embrace you!], "Diesen Kussder granzen Welt!"[Here's a joyful kiss for all!] extended by material of an austere dramatic character; in Episode ten the principal and Attendant Themes are combined, with some necessary modification, for chorus and orchestra; Episode eleven reverts to one of the dramatic sentences of Episode nine; the twelfth episode is a new setting of the first lines of the Ode, with stronger emphasis on the attribute of Joy, and here a Solo-quartet is added to the tonal mass.

What follows, from this to the end, is a mighty Coda---three Sections---in which the central emotional idea, Joy, reaches its fullest consummation, and most jubilant and spirited expression.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No.8

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony, in F, Op.93, was written in 1812---in its later months. Therefore, this and the Seventh (also written in 1812) form another set of "twin" Symphonies, as do the Fifth and Sixth. Again he adopts, in this Eighth, a lighter and somewhat simpler style, particularly in the first Movements; but despite its humor and good nature, it nowhere sacrifices its symphonic dignity. It is shorter, more concise, than its fellow-symphonies; for Beethoven was ever more deeply concerned with the quality than quantity, and here he has committed himself to brevity because he possessed the rare faculty of fitting the vessel to the contents, and had mastered the art of "much in little." This need not veil an implication that the extreme length of some of his Movements is a weakness; when a work is large in portent, a broad expanse of canvas is imperative: compare the first Movement of his Third, and of his Ninth Symphonies; also the First and Fourth Symphonies of Brahms; and the entire colossal C major Symphony of Schubert. The finale of his Eighth Symphony seems to be conceived in the wider sense, and is therefore of unusual length, especially in its extraordinary Coda.

Beethoven's Eighth has no Introduction---not a single preliminary note. The design of the first Movement is a concise sonata-allegro form. Beethoven experiments with the modulatory location of the subordinate Theme, in each of its two presentations: in the Exposition, its first Period is placed in D major (too high) and then restated in the "right" key, C major; and in the Recapitulation it is first set in B-flat (too low) and then, as before, restated in the "right" key, F major. This wonderfully sunny Movement abounds in Beethoven's pet device of Repetition, especially in the Development and Coda.

The second Movement stands for the slow one, but it is not the conventional lyric, sustained type. Its daintiness and genuine good humor fully compensate, however, for the expected change of mood. It is in reality a musical pleasantry, originating in Beethoven's interest in the metronome, and other mechanical contrivances, upon which Maelzel was at that time experimenting, and which Beethoven seems to have regarded with favor. The Movement---like the Allegretto of the Seventh Symphony---begins with a 6-4 chord, but for a vastly different reason; there, it was portentous; here, it immediately reveals itself as a part of the musical jest. The design is amazingly compact, and represents a miniature sonatine-allegro form.

Beethoven heightens the delightfully genial, intimate of his "little" Eighth Symphony (as he fondly called it) by repressing his predilection for the Scherzo as third Movement, and returning to the leisurely, graceful Minuet of former days. Both divisions are surprisingly lovely.

The finale is anything but "little." In the sprightliness of its chief motive, the wonderful grace and richness of its subordinate Theme, its strong contrasts, and the marvelous formation of its Development and of its unusually long Coda, this Finale ranks very high among the most imposing of the great master's orchestral creations. There are strokes of humor in the Movement that are worthy of special mention. One is the sudden, explosive, wholly unanticipated c# in the seventeenth measure. Theoretically it is d-flat, the lowered or minor sixth scale-step of the key---the same harmonic interval as the d-flat in the thirtieth measure. But to Beethoven's keen musical discrimination there is a difference between c# and d-flat, and it was c#, and nothing else, that he wanted; for precisely therein lies the incongruity and genuine humor of the situation. Later in the sixth Section of the Coda, he gives it first the correct notation, d-flat, and then changes it to a legitimate c#. The other bit of drollery is his use of the drums (tuned in the tonic octave instead of the usual tonic and dominant), twice with the bassoon alone, ostensibly as solo, and again, beginning thirty-four measures before the end, as accompaniment to the wood-wind and then to the violins, until the full orchestra masses itself together.

It is further noteworthy that precisely the same experiments with the modulatory location of the subordinate Theme take place here, as in the first Movement: the first Period is placed in a remote key, and then restated in the "right" key. This occurs likewise in the Recapitulation.

Among the Sections of the Coda (whose contents, it will be borne in mind are wholly optional) there is nearly complete reappearance of the principal Theme, and also of the subordinate one, in their proper keys. This is misleading (and actually hilarious for the listener attentatively trying to discern the form), but no one will question Beethoven's musical judgment.

One last observation on this "little," "fun" Symphony: The resemblance of the principal motive in the Finale to the second Codetta of the first Movement may be an accidental coincidence, though foremost among Beethoven's salient qualities are his concentration and unfailing logic.



Beethoven: Symphony No.7

The Seventh Symphony, A major, Op.92, was written in the early months of 1812, and first performed late in 1813, in Vienna. During the four years that had passed since the composition of the Sixth, Beethoven's genius had matured still further, and the advance he had made in freedom and sureness of touch, particularly in his command of tonal architecture, in the structural formation of his Movements, is strikingly apparent. In his Seventh, Beethoven manifests complete control of the elemental forces of musical speech, and amazing originality, and an inexhaustible fund of resources, that are not met with in such luxuriance and assurance in his previous symphonies. The dictum: "The Seventh Symphony is the apotheosis of Rhythm," is attributed to Liszt; and as stated earlier in this thread, Wagner is said to have called it "the apotheosis of the Dance." The former simile befits the work with quite sufficient accuracy, since it is the element of Rhythm which seems chiefly answerable to the singular vivacity and irresistible urge of all but the Allegretto Movement; furthermore, each of its Movements has a distinctive and persistent rhythmic motive, or prosodic meter.

The Seventh starts with the traditional Introduction; and this Introduction is so lengthy, so impressive, and so independent in contents and character, that it may be regarded as a separate Movement, wherefore the Seventh Symphony, like the Sixth, actually comprises five Movements.

The structural design of this wonderfully beautiful Introduction is a very broad Two-Part form, the Second Part of which---a truly exquisite sentence---assumes the appearance and importance of a subordinate Theme, placed at first in C major. This whole "Exposition" is then recapitulated, with transpositions, and thus the whole Movement (Introduction) approximates the sonatine-allegro form. The "subordinate Theme" is placed, the second time, in F major, whose tonic f, is the lowered (or minor) sixth scale-step of A, the original key, and therefore tends naturally and urgently toward the tone e, the dominant, and portal, of the opening harmony of the Allegro. This discloses Beethoven's modulatory purpose, and it is faithfully carried out in an exceedingly striking manner, characteristic of Beethoven and no other master---thus: when the e is finally reached and rooted (ten measures before the Theme begins), it is reiterated alone, alternately in the wood-wind and violins no fewer than sixty times!

The Development is the most masterly, fascinating, logically and structurally perfect model of what a Development may and should be, that even Beethoven ever consummated. The Recapitulation is nearly exact, with the prescribed transpositions. There occurs, in the Coda, one of those daring episodes which confirm Beethoven's occasional unconventional methods, and which for a time caused some consternation even in the Beethoven ranks: some fifty measures before the end of the Movement, the basses softly intonate a figure of two measures (derived with quaint modifications from the first measures of the principal Theme), and repeat this drone, waxing into a growl, eleven times---as ground-motive or basso ostinato---against an almost absurdly primitive "yodel" in the violins.

The second (slow) Movement is the world-famous, apparently imperishable Allegretto, always sure of its profoundly moving appeal to every music-loving soul. Its design approximates the Second Rondo-form, akin to that chosen by Beethoven for the Finale of his Third Symphony, and the slow Movement of his Fifth; also, later, for the slow Movement of his Ninth---inasmuch as the numerous restatements of the principal Theme convey the impression of Variations. It begins with two introductory measures, on the 6-4 chord of the tonic---a chord without "support," hovering, as if wafted in from some ethereal region. The principal Theme is stated four times, at full length, with heavy crescendo, before the soothing, touching First subordinate Theme enters. As a mater of fact, there is no other (second) subordinate Theme, but the place reserved for it in the design is filled---exactly as in the Adagio of the Third Symphony---by a fugato in triple-counterpoint, the Subject marked A being drawn from one of the phrases of the principal Theme. The Coda begins with a portion of the First subordinate Theme, precisely as before, and this is followed by another complete Variation of the principal Theme.

For the vivacious third Movement, with its majestic Trio, Beethoven uses no other titles than the tempo-marks; but it tallies in every respect with his customary Scherzo and Trio. As in the Fourth Symphony, it is expanded to imposing dimensions by an additional complete statement of the Trio, and subsequent da capo. We should note the singular choice of keys---F major and D major, in an A major Symphony. The Trio is remarkably simple in its harmonic material---nothing but the tonic and dominant chords of the chosen key. The violins hold the tone a, in octaves, with very brief digressions, throughout Parts I and II of the Trio. There is a striking use of the horn in the second Part; this horn figure (derived from the first two measures of the chief melody) is reiterated nine times, then quickened into a 2/4 meter, crescendo, culminating in a magnificent recurrence of Part I (as Part III).

The last Movement is a riot of tone and rhythm. In its vivacity, audacity, splendid vitality and rollicking humor, it transcends any and every Finale elsewhere recorded in classic symphonic literature. The form is sonata-allegro. The most serious, almost sinister, episode occurs in the third Section of the Coda: the basses ramble through a tragico-comical, chromatically wavering, descending spiral sequence of considerable length, against sustained chords in the wood-wind and the first measure of the principal Theme in the violins, until they (the basses) have groped their way to the low dominant-note (e), where they sway in alteration with d# for twenty one measures, while the rest of the orchestra asserts the home-key. Beethoven evidently took this very seriously; and it is one of the finest, most ingenious and original passages to be found anywhere in his Symphonies.


Sunday, November 27, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No.6

It appears to have been impulse, perhaps a conscious act, with Beethoven to alternate his moods from each Symphony to the next. For here again, as he turns from the Fifth to the Sixth Symphony, a complete change takes place, not only in his mood, but in his whole attitude. From a flight in lofty spiritual regions he returns to earth, and discourses of Nature herself, in the most intimate terms. If the inherent quality of the one in C minor may be defined as divine, that of the Pastoral is purely and whole-heartedly human.

These two so radically diverse Symphonies, it must be remembered, were written very nearly together (in 1807-08). Beethoven's mind had been occupied with thoughts of the C minor Symphony for a period of years; thematic fragments of it were jotted down in his notebook as early as 1800. But when he turned seriously to the composition of the Fifth, his attention seems to have been divided between it and the Sixth; and when these "twin" Symphonies were both first publicly performed, in December, 1808, at Vienna, the Pastoral occupied the first place and was called No. V, while the other was marked No. VI. This reverse order prevailed until as late as 1813, though Beethoven, upon their joint publication in 1809, insisted upon the order in which they stand today, and which therefore corroborates his intention: No. V, Op.67, and No. VI, the , Op.68.

The motto of this Sixth Symphony is Simplicity---in melody, harmony, modulation and structure; and this frank, artless quality contributes directly to the appropriate "rustic" atmosphere that pervades the pastoral composition. Beethoven states explicitly that he aims at "Mehr Ausdruck der Empfindung, als Malerey"---"more an expression of the feelings, than painting;" and from this we infer he harbored no intention of producing a specimen of descriptive (program) music---an aim that was decidedly prevalent during those earlier days when the art of tone was still immature, and its true spiritual mission so imperfectly understood. The first Movement contains no evidences whatever of a "descriptive" tendency; the second Movement, however, does reflect (not depict) the repose and the murmuring voices of the forest, chiefly, as the title shows, of the brook; the bird-trio near the end of this slow Movement was admittedly and innocent pleasantry---though some birds do emit musical tones of fairly definite pitch and rhythm; further, music offered Beethoven, especially in the orchestral body, convenient approximate means of imitating the roll of thunder, the wailing of the wind and the tumult of a storm. These means Beethoven did not hesitate to employ, in accentuating the elements concomitant with his total pastoral project; but therewith all descriptive tendencies cease; the rest, by far the greater mass of its measures, is all strictly and purely emotional suggestion, sufficiently characteristic to justify the title---Pastoral Symphony.

Since Beethoven inserted a "Storm" between the Scherzo and the Finale, this Symphony has five Movements, to which he himself affixed these titles:

I. Allegro. "pleasant feelings awakened upon arriving in the country."

II. Andante. "Scene by the brook."

III. Allegro. "Jovial gathering of country-folk."

IV. Allegro. "Thunderstorm."

V. Allegretto. "Shepherd's Song. Happy and grateful feelings after the storm."

There is no Introduction; the first Movement (sonata-allegro design) opens at once with the principal Theme. The whole first Movement actually seems to exhale the fresh invigorating air of the countryside---meadows and forests, Nature's playground. Note the four different rhythmic figures, each one of which contributes to the moving scroll: (1) the order of eighths and sixteenths in the second measure; (2) the uniform eighths in the subordinate Theme (against heavy notes in the bass); (3) the lilt of the Codetta; and (4) this latter group reduced to uniform triplets. In the hands of this consummate master of subjective expression, these four rhythmic figures, so nearly alike and still so characteristically different, seem to mirror Nature's movements---ever changing yet ever the same---and are most vitally responsible for the indefinable "rural" atmosphere which the Movement creates and sustains.

Beethoven's estimate of the basic significance of Repetition, touched upon above, is nowhere more conspicuous than in this Symphony, and nowhere more obviously conditioned by the nature of his "pastoral" scheme. Compare, for one thing, measures sixteen to twenty-five of the first Movement; also the six successive presentations of the first phrase of the subordinate Theme; also the second and fourth Sections of the Development, based upon the first of the four rhythmic figures just cited. In the subordinate Theme, the melody in the bass-part appears to have the greater thematic weight. It is noteworthy that Beethoven throughout the entire Symphony uses no drums, excepting in the Thunderstorm. Also for the Storm, he adds to his score a piccolo, and two trombones, retaining these latter during the Finale.

The second Movement, "At the brook," is also cast in the sonata-allegro form, and is of unusual length. One is permitted to imagine, especially with the clue provided by the title, that one actually hears the murmur of the brook, the rustle of the forest, and---in the curious fragmentary form of melodies---the tuneful call of birds; and one may imagine that one senses the soothing magic and odors of the woods. Beethoven would not have objected to that; but he probably would have fallen into one of his famous tantrums if anybody had offered him a narrative, describing every measure of the piece. For Beethoven, as clearly stated, aimed only at subjective emotional expression. At the same time, he did insert one realistic scene, with explicit designation, in the bird-trio (nightingale, quail and cuckoo) near the end of the Movement; he may have meant it as a joke, but he thought so well of it that he repeated it, right away, literally.

The third Movement, a Scherzo, is frankly "descriptive"---but it must be borne in mind that it is an inherently musical subject, a rustic Dance; and the only touches of direct realism in it are Beethoven's deliciously comical allusions to the technical limitations of these amateur peasant-musicians. The form is larger than usual, comprising two different Trios in succession (in the same key), that are followed by an abbreviated da capo (Part I, only, of the principal Division), which is interrupted by the ominous rumbling of the impending Thunderstorm.

Having conceived the notion of including a thunderstorm in his symphonic scheme, Beethoven was compelled, for the time, to write purely realistic music. We are expected, here, to imagine the mutter and crash of thunder, the swishing of the rain, the howling of the wind, even quick lightening (in the piccolo), the mighty tumult of the elements---alternately advancing and receding---all unfolded in masterly succession and proportions, and nowhere for an instant violating the normal sense of tone-beauty. This Movement, naturally, has no specific structural design; it consists in a series of Sections (thirteen in number), many of which are recurrences of those that went before. There are a few brief "motives" but no "Themes," in the ordinary sense.

The storm gradually subsides; a shepherd's pipe is heard, like the Ranz des vaches of the Swiss Alps; this is answered by another, and then another call---which latter becomes the chief Theme of the hearty, good-natured, wholesome Finale. The form for this is the Third Rondo-form, rather long and drawn out, but of engaging and unalloyed beauty. Note there is a resemblance of the First subordinate Theme to the subordinate Theme in the first Movement.



Beethoven: Symphony No.5

In passing from his Fourth Symphony to the Fifth (C minor, Op.67, finished in 1808) , Beethoven's mood undergoes a complete change. It is the first one of his Symphonies for which he chose the minor mode, and its spirit is correspondingly stern., somber and passionate---in all but the final Movement. This is particularly true of the first and third Movements. But even the tender slow Movement has emotional moments that alternate like shadows with the prevailing brightness. The Finale is a monument of symphonic breadth and might.

It is not easy to speak dispassionately and with beseeming moderation of this wonderful Symphony of Beethoven. Viewed calmly and fairly, from every angle, it cannot be called his greatest Symphony; for his genius matured steadily, and there are qualities in his last three Symphonies which pertain to a more elevated plane of artistic creation than does this Fifth one. What lends this one its irresistible appeal, is its elemental power, and its inherent simplicity; its architectural plan unfolds so naturally, so consistently, with such unfaltering logic, such clearness and sureness of purpose, and in such straightforward, powerful strokes, that the responsive hearer is thrilled with satisfaction and enjoyment from the first tone to the last.

The structural scheme of the first Movement (sonata-allegro form) is extremely concise; no time is wasted on gallant concessions. There is no Introduction. The harmonic basis is strikingly simple, consisting very largely of the plain tonic and dominant chords. The modulations are of telling effect, but not extreme---the most striking appear in the series of remote keys near the end of the Development---in the "solid" rhythm of the subordinate Theme.

The first Movement is a miracle of motive development, such as only a Beethoven could perform. There is scarcely a single measure in the entire course of the Movement that does not owe its origin to, and is not derived directly from, the motive of the opening four measures---with chiefly rhythmic alterations. Thus, the subordinate Theme corresponds, at its outset, to this principal motive; the eighth-notes in its third measure are suppressed, with the result of a more solid rhythm of half notes, and at the same time the intervals are widened, thus adding emphasis to the rhythmic change.

For the second Movement---an indescribably beautiful Lyric contemplative mood, with powerful contrasts---Beethoven chooses the First Rondo-form; at least, this most nearly indicates his structural intention. But it is treated with much latitude: the frequent repetitions and recurrences of the melodious principal Theme are variated---analogously to the scheme of the Finale of the Eroica Symphony; and there is no more than a barely recognizable intimation of a subordinate Theme. The discrepancy, sometimes slight but often very marked, between a musical idea as it was first engendered in Beethoven's mind, and the same idea after his rigorous testing had brought it to the perfected shape suited to its thematic purpose. Procuring and consulting Beethoven's Sketchbooks (edited by M.G. Nottebohm) one will discover many illuminating proofs of this remodeling and refining process of the master. Some of the original sketches of this Fifth Symphony reach back to the years 1800 and 1801.

Beethoven calls the third Movement a Scherzo; but it is of a deeply serious character, with a weird background of veiled apprehensiveness pierced at intervals with flashes of mysterious menace, later on hushed to a tense, broken, whispered utterance. The principal Division is in Three-Part form---five Parts, with the repetition of Parts II and III. The first and second of these present two widely different but equally important thematic shapes, the first ominous, almost foreboding, the second in oracular in tone. Note the rhythmic analogy between this oracular second Part, and the first motive of the first Movement. The Trio is sometimes cited as a specimen of Beethoven's humor; and there is doubtless a touch of the grotesque in the rapid passage for the lumbering double-basses, during the first Phrase, and still more later on. But it is hard to believe that his mind was at any moment, in this singularly serious work, accessible to any humorous suggestion. Even this unwieldly bass passage is to be taken seriously.

Out of the mysterious turmoil of this Allegro finally emerges, directly, almost suddenly, the magnificent Finale, like the triumph of Light over Darkness. For Beethoven joins the third Movement to the fourth (contrary to his habit in the symphonic form), and the transition displays his original genius in another aspect: the Coda begins with an A-flat major chord, the Third of which, c, is very softly tapped out by the kettledrum, in the rhythm of the "oracular" motive, while the strings hold the rest of the chord (ppp) for no fewer than fifteen measures---the drum meanwhile modifying its rhythmic tap as if endowed with human intelligence. Thereafter the first violins resume and retain the first thematic melody; the harmony sways around the c, with which the drum now keeps up an incessant tapping, until a final crescendo, through four measures of the dominant chord, leads into the Theme of the Finale (ff); the c is foreign to this chord, but that makes no difference to the drummer; he keeps right on beating his c, crescendo, until it "wins out" as emphatic keynote. The form of the Finale is a very broad sonata-allegro. The orchestra is increased by the addition of a piccolo, a contra-bassoon, and three trombones, for this Song of Triumph called for a larger, more resounding tone-apparatus. The final Sections of the Development revert, in an unusual manner, to the Scherzo, and consist in a recurrence of the "oracular' phrase of the second Part, in minor as before, and extended; and a dominant ending similar to that which preceded the Finale, and which here leads (with a few measures of the same drum-beat on c) into the Recapitulation. The Coda is quite lengthy, and its last Sections are in presto tempo, with motives from the Codetta and from the principal Theme.



Beethoven: Symphony No.4

In his Fourth Symphony, B-flat major, Op.60, written in 1806, Beethoven returns to a more cheerful mood, as if enjoying a period of recreation after the storm and stress of his elaborate, intensely reflective Third Symphony. In its playful, joyous spirit it harks back to Mozart again, but evinces greater maturity, and is musically more significant in many respects than the creations of the latter. It pursues its happy, sunlit course without a shade of melancholy or dramatic inclination, and although distinctly "Beethoven," in conception and construction, it exhibits comparatively few outstanding features.

Beethoven reverts in this Symphony to the tradition of the Introduction, and nothing could be finer than the simple earnestness and serene loveliness that here prevail. Of note is the droll character of the subordinate Theme, emphasized by the bassoon and oboe. The first Codetta is an octave-cannon (eight measures, repeated). The final Sections of the Development execute the necessary return to the beginning (into the Recapitulation) in an astonishing and effective manner---far more so than in the Second Symphony: the harmony is led into the chord of F-sharp, as dominant-seventh of B major, and held there, pianissimo, for twenty-eight measures; the a-sharp, equivalent to b-flat, is murmured intermittently by the kettledrum; then the harmony shifts suddenly into the tonic of B-flat major (the original key)---the drum continuing its roll upon the same tone, and increasing its volume with the rest of the orchestra until the Recapitulation opens, with a glorious volume of sound. It is an example of "pivotal" modulation---through a stationary tone---and the pivotal tone is here entrusted to the drum.

The second Movement, adagio, is of a pronounced lyric quality and appealing beauty. The design is Third Rondo, in unusually concise form. The principal Theme is preceded, at every announcement, by a measure in marked rhythm, which though introductory in effect, is nevertheless and integral part of the Theme. The other Theme (subordinate) and the Codetta are easily recognizable. Beethoven's valuation of the kettledrums, as an essential part of the orchestral apparatus, and his effective employment of them, are demonstrated throughout his Symphonies. So here: the rhythmic introductory measure is given repeatedly to the drums; once with the horns (just before the Recapitulation), and once as solo, two measures before the end.

For the third Movement Beethoven uses no other title than the tempo mark, Allegro vivace; but it of course is a Scherzo, with Trio, as usual. Of note is the manner in which the phrasing creates the impression of 2/4 meter in the first Phrase, and also through a large portion of the Second Part of the principal Division. The form is enlarged by a second statement of the Trio, solely for the sake of broader dimensions. This recurrence of the Trio is literal, but the final da capo (the inevitable return of the principal Division) is reduced to its Third Part only.

The bubbling Finale---a Humoresque with delightfully contrasted Themes---is another instance of Beethoven's return to the earlier manner of Haydn and Mozart, the rollicking style that they adjudged most appropriate for the final Movement. It is cast in the sonata-allegro form. The structure is perfectly regular, simple, and easy to follow. Of note is the humorous elongation (augmentation) of the principal phrase, eleven measures before the end: after a boisterous climax in the full orchestra, the violin (three measures), the bassoon (one measure), and the viola and 'cello (one measure), very softly and apologetically intonate the thematic melody in slower rhythm, pausing most comically upon the last eighth-note, in each of the last three measures.



Beethoven: Symphony No.3

By the time Beethoven was ready to undertake his third Symphony, the heritage of his great predecessors, Haydn and Mozart, had fulfilled its mission, and scarcely a vestige of its influence upon Beethoven's methods of expression is here outwardly recognizable. The contrast between this third Symphony and the two that preceded it is amazing---unparalleled in the history of musical progress. It is as if the youth had suddenly attained to full manhood, and was now asserting himself, the true Beethoven, with all the originality, independence, supreme vigor of mind and spirit that proclaim the mighty genius of tone. This great work is commonly assumed to inaugurate his second, most fecund and joyous period.

The Third symphony, in E-flat, Op.55, written in 1804, was designed as a tribute to the life of a Hero, and Beethoven himself gave it the title of Eroica. The hero foremost in his mind was Napoleon, whose remarkably victorious military career excited the admiration of Beethoven and made him a worthy object of Beethoven's musical plan. To Napoleon, therefore, the Symphony was originally dedicated; but his subsequent acceptance of the imperial crown impressed Beethoven as a sordid act of personal ambition, and the dedication was withdrawn.

It is not easy to trace a definite connection between Beethoven's heroic design and the music of the Symphony itself. The first Movement, it is true, is of that extremely vigorous, manly type that is associated with heroism, and it is also "heroic" in dimensions: with the exception of the Ninth Symphony, this is the longest of Beethoven's symphonic Movements. Also, its prime thematic phrase is a bugle-call. The second movement is the only one of the four that refers explicitly to heroism: it bears the title Funeral March, on the Death of a Hero. The third Movement, a Scherzo, has been interpreted as depicting the bustle of a military camp; but it might quite as well be the commotion of a country fair---apart from the three-voiced bugle-call in the Trio. And in the Finale there is not a single episode that is specifically heroic; in fact, the gentle, winning Theme that runs through the whole Movement was conceived and used by Beethoven years before; it appears as concluding number in his early Ballet-music Prometheus, and is the subject of his piano Variations, Op.35 (1802). But, for all that, this vital Symphony fits the definition "brave, vigorous, venturesome" sufficiently well, and is therefore truly heroic in spirit.

Here, for the first time in his symphonic work, Beethoven dispenses with an independent Introduction; after two peremptory tonic strokes he intonates the bugle-call (in the 'cello) in 3/4 meter in which the first Movement centers. The Exposition is regular and unusually long; but its extreme length is matched by proportionate depth and breadth, so that, far from being a wearisome drawback, it is an essential, logical consequence; and the mighty plan unfolds with unfailing interest and unabated fascination through to the triumphant end. The preponderant heroic mood is softened by interspersed episodes of tender beauty---note the effective contrasts which the Themes and Codettas present. Note, also, the frequent assertion of 2/4 measure, which heightens the impetuous rhythmic effect by shifting (contracting) the accentuations. Despite its length, Beethoven insists upon the repetition of the Exposition. In the later course of the proportionately extended Development (in Section 8), after about thirty measures of his intensified 2/4 meter, culminating in four measures of fierce dissonance, he arrests the tumult and introduces a wholly new motive of great beauty.

Four measures before the Recapitulation begins, the horn softly intonates the first measures of the principal Theme on the chord E-flat, against the Dominant Seventh chord in the violins (pp, tremolando). This famous episode, so characteristic of Beethoven's daring, was at first regarded as a misprint!

The Recapitulation is nearly literal---with the customary transpositions. The Coda assumes proportions commensurate with the magnitude of the Movement as a whole.

The slow Movement, the Funeral March, is an irregular variety of the Second-Rondo-form. It is also very broad, profoundly moving, dramatic, filled with genuine pathos, throughout distinctive of the maturer Beethoven; and it is as replete with beauty as it is original. This may appear to be a meager showing, but it is an essential quality of Beethoven's genius that he prefers to evolve the most lengthy and finished products out of the simplest, smallest germs, and he possesses the faculty of so doing to an unparalleled extent---compare the first Movement of the Fifth Symphony; and of the Sixth; and Seventh.

In place of the Second subordinate Theme, prescribed in the legitimate Second Rondo, he inserts a genuine "Development," and therein lies the irregularity of the form. The first section of the Development is a fugato in Triple-counterpoint---with three Themes, combined in various mutual inversions. There is an impressive Coda (thirty-nine measures), the last ten measures of which consist in a most remarkable presentation of the first Period (eight measures) of the principal Theme---absolutely literal in tone-succession but in curiously distorted rhythmic form, that suggests the broken utterance of a dying person. It will repay the listener to make a minute comparison of the two forms.

For the third Movement Beethoven again adopts the term Scherzo, and here it is particularly appropriate; for this ebullient music, though thoroughly sound and earnest, fairly bubbles over with vivacity and good humor.

The Finale is a miracle (to ordinary minds) of tonal treatment and development. No other word adequately describes this musical creation. In structure it approximates the Rondo-form, inasmuch as a constant principal Theme alternates regularly with contrasting episodes. This principal Theme is a lyric Two-Part Song-form, beautiful of course (since a Beethoven conceived it), and at each reappearance it is variated-at times in different keys. But quite equal, if not greater, importance attaches to the Bass-part upon which the harmonic accompaniment of this thematic melody rests. (A playable version of this may be found in Beethoven's piano Variations, Op.35) The episodes which alternate with this Theme consist of: (1) a fugato (in theme), with an important addition, in C minor; (2) a contrasting Two-Part Song-form of vigorous character in G minor, built upon the first phrase of the bass-theme, again extended; (3) a recurrence of the fugato, this time in E-flat major. Between and around these episodes stand the double-counterpoint upon the first phrase of the bass-variated forms of the principal Theme. The Movement ends with a fairly long Coda, devoted chiefly to the thematic melody, from which, oddly enough, the former ubiquitous bass-part entirely disappears.

Another, and unique, function is assigned to the thematic bass-part in the Introduction to the Finale. This Introduction is divided in four Sections: (1) a torrent of tone, three measures on the tonic of G minor, and eight measures on the dominant of E-flat; (2) the bass-theme alone, full length; (3) the bass-theme as upper voice, with three or four melodies. Hereupon then follows the announcement of the actual Melodic (principal) Theme.

It was at that time unprecedented to select the Variation style for the final Movement of a Symphony, and it occurs since in only one other classic instance---in the Finale of the Fourth Symphony of Brahms.


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