Beethoven's works: A cursory examination for the neophyte

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When speaking of the works by the bifrontal phenomenon known as Ludwig v. Beethoven, one must understand that his life is usually divided into three creative periods by musicologists and music historians:

1st Period.- about 1790 - 1802, Beethoven tried to establish himself as a piano virtuoso. He also wrote works in this genre particularly for this purpose but he also successively mastered each compositional genre of the chamber music category. The early piano sonatas owe much to Haydn and Mozart's styles, this shows a lot of his dependence on the Classical traditions during his formative years.

2nd Period.- From approximately 1803 to 1815, Beethoven was very confident and his compositions started to show his very own musical identity. His music here started to expand and break the rules of classical forms. He transformed leisurely-paced minuets into turbulent scherzos , he was the first to use "motivic" themes in compositions (the most famous example of this is the 5th Simphony's 4 note motif, which opens the first movement). His composition style was so advanced that it was criticized by many musicians, however it paved the road for the next generation of composers bearing the banner of Romanticism.

3rd l Period.- From 1815 to 1827. Beethoven's music became more reflective and introspective. The Ninth Symphony, which represents the final evolution of the symphonic form as envisioned by Beethoven, belongs to this period and the last five piano sonatas, these late works are tremendously innovative and have a dramatic exploitation of instrumental tone color.

The central tragedy in Beethoven's life was the loss of his hearing. It seems that Beethoven had contemplated suicide. However, he continued to compose in spite of this great handicap… receiving a breeze of fresh inspiration and hope from the declaration of the French Revolution. On his thoughts of suicide, he said "It was impossible for me to leave the world before I had composed all that I felt needed to produce".

In a way, Beethoven's deafness contributed to the introspective quality of his later music- it also helped to isolate him from current musical trends, to encase him within his own self, from where he would develop his own style with no one but himself to compare. The second series of events exacted an equally great emotional battle: His brother’s death and the battle with his brother's widow for guardianship and custody of his nephew Karl. All of these events led to Beethoven’s outpouring his personality, feelings and world outlook into his music, as a certain catalyst, as a means for achieving catharsis.

Although he enjoyed financial support from a number of patrons, he was not in a servile position, like Haydn and Mozart had been. Haydn and Mozart wrote the great majority of their music to please their aristocratic patrons, while Beethoven seemed determined to aim for nobody else’s goals, but his own. He would, instead, compose and publish his own works, teach and do commissioned works for a price, all the while seeking the graceful patronage of nobles or wealthy men of stature who would like to sponsor the artist.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is considered to be not only his culminating masterpiece but also the simphony that broke all the molds of established classicism. These are some of the unusual features found in this wonderful work:

1- The introductory chord of the fourth movement features a cluster, which had never previously been used in any musical composition., It is used as a foreshadowing of the introductory drama of the symphony, as well as to provide the aural equivalent of discordance, that which the Baritone soloist refers to when he sings “..Nich diese tonen…”

2- The Adagio features yet another unique moment in musical history. For the first time the woodwinds are left alone, without the support of the strings. They exist as an independent musical entity.
3- The instrumental recitatives which carry a dialogue

foreshadowing the choral introduction are particularly interesting: Two voices argue, one proposing a theme and the other one rejecting it energetically, until they both converge into the emerging theme for An Die Freude, until it is interrupted by the cluster.

4- The introduction of a choral element in a Symphony’s finale, which was unprecedented and heralded the beginning of Romanticism.

5- The composition of the fourth movement is also unusual for a ‘classical’ symphony: Instrumental recitative, followed by a choral-soloistic episode, followed by variations on the theme (such as the theme being revamped into a Turkish march), an interlude in the form of a double fugue, a repetition of the first stanza followed by the addition of a new theme, a double fugue on the two themes followed by a large and complex coda.

Terms, Definitions, Annotations:
The following are pieces of musical terminology, people and elements that are linked to Beethoven's works or have influenced them:

-Heligenstadt Testament.- In this letter, which has become known as the "Heligenstadt Testament," Beethoven related how life had become so intolerable as to lead him to consider suicide.

-Prince Karl Von Lichnowsky.- Beethoven's Patron and friend. Pupil of Mozart. Brother of Count Moritz Lichnowsky. Beethoven dedicated his "Pathetique" sonata to him. The first friend to supply him with financial support throughout his working life.

-Archduke Rudolf.- Youngest brother of the Austrian emperor, for whom it was believed that Beethoven composed his Triple Concerto.

-Muzio Clementi.- Commonly called the father of modern piano playing, Clementi composed nearly one hundred and ten piano sonatas, and was one of the composers who helped the evolution of the early Sonata form.

-Lan Ladislav Dussek.- Bohemian composer whose sonatas influenced a lot of Beethoven’s style, especially his Grande Sonate, Opus 44, "Les Adieux".

-Sonata "Pathetique".- Sonata from Beethoven’s First Creative Period, certainly inspired by a sonata composed by the Bohemian composer Dussek, a piece not only written in the same key but also sharing many striking similarities, not the least of which is the slow movement marked "patetico" (Pathetic).

-Eroica Sympony.- Third Beethoven Symphony, highly unusual in both conception and execution. Originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, dedication that was retired when the diminutive revolutionary declared himself Emperor, betraying his principles and those of the revolution.

-Napoleon Bonaparte.- Corsican, started his career as a soldier, became one of the world’s well-known conquerors and a great military genius. Despite his advantages in the military field, his downfall was caused by excessive pride and nepotism. He used the ideals of the revolution towards his own benefit but was soon to forget them and betray the trust of his ideological allies by seizing power and declaring himself Emperor.

-Pastoral Symphony.- Beethoven’s sixth symphony, named thus for the bucolic atmosphere of its five movements, which possessed programmatic names.

-Programmatic Music.- A work of music that is focused around a text or poem seeking to heighten it or depict scenes within it through its thematic material.

-Fidelio.- Beethoven’s first and only opera. Of powerful revolutionary/rescue argument but ponderous music. Its overture, "Leonora", was reworked several times. The work was never a rotund success due to Beethoven’s decision to treat the human voice like an instrument, as opposed to the Bel Canto style in which the music was dedicated expressively to the showcasing of a singer’s abilities.

-Moonlight Sonata.- Early sonata from Op. 27, Original title was simply “Quasi una fantasia”

-Waldstein Sonata.- Sonata from the Second Period, Op. 53, baptized after another patron.

-Emperor Concerto.- Conceto from Op 58, 18080-09, performed by Czerny on opening night.

-Diabelli Variations.- A series of variations Beethoven entered in a competition based on a musical idea composed by Diabelli.

-String Quartet Op 131.- A string Quartet belonging to his later period.

-Grosse Fuge.- A quartet for strings written in fugal form.

-Missa Solemnis.- Beethoven’s most significant sacred work, it breaks most preconceptions and established traditions concerning the execution and conception of sacred music of his period.

-Ninth Symphony.- Beethoven’s last symphony and his most innovative, the definitive herald of the Romanticism.

-Johan von Schiller.- German poet whose poem An Die Freunde inspired Beethoven’s last symphony.

-Romanticism.- Extending the bounds of music beyond the restrictive formality of Classicism was the prime function of the musical period known as Romanticism

-Grand Opera.- Opera which uses a large orchestra and chorus and grand themes.

-Opera comique.- Opera that used spoken dialogue instead of recitative, taking a romantic tinge in the later half of the 18th century.

-Opera bouffe or buffa.- An opera about ordinary people, usually comic, which first developed in the eighteenth century. Its origins can be traced back to the Italian tradition of "Commedia Dell'arte"

-Lyric Opera.- Somewhere between light opera comique and grand opera, its main appeal is through melody, usually a romantic drama or a fantasy.

-Singspiel. - German equivalent of the opera comique.

-Tone clusters.- a group of adjacent notes on the piano keyboard played together

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