Guest post by Dr. Dominik Rahmer, editor at G. Henle Verlag.
The formal technique of “variations” played an important role in Beethoven’s work throughout his entire life. Critic Paul Bekker wrote in 1911, “Beethoven begins with variations,” and indeed this is true not only of the character of his oeuvre, but also of its chronological progression: Beethoven’s very first published work was his 9 Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO 63, which appeared in 1782.
Similarly, we could add that Beethoven also ends with variations. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, which are amongst his last piano works, not only crown his creativity, but also, in the history of piano variations, are probably equaled only by Bach’s Goldberg Variations.
The panoply of variations within his multi-movement works also indicates how fundamental this technique is in Beethoven’s musical thinking. Consider, for example, the profound closing movement of the last piano sonata, Op. 111, or the grand finale of the 3rd Symphony.
Though the themes of these movements were usually Beethoven’s own inventions, here we will focus on the pieces composed as independent variation sets on popular melodies. This vantage point reveals some interesting finds. more “A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations”…
1870 marked the 100th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. After denying the invitation from the “Beethoven Committee of Vienna” to appear onstage together with Liszt, Joachim and Clara Schumann to celebrate the event, Richard Wagner decided to write an essay instead. While this essay is notable as a broader investigation of Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and ideals, it also remains an insightful exploration of both the artistic significance and enduring popularity of Beethoven’s music. For Wagner Beethoven’s music isn’t merely beautiful, a concept that is for him constrained by convention and subject to changing tastes and fashions, but sublime. Beethoven reveals a sort of Platonic ideal of melody, thereby liberating it from its historical moment, and connecting his listeners with a timeless, universal human truth. For Wagner it is Beethoven’s radical defiance against tradition and his intense emotional expressions that make his music a vehicle for revelation.
Though these strains are apparent across Beethoven’s entire oeuvre, it is in his piano sonatas that Beethoven’s boldest thoughts and gestures shine most brightly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beethoven was widely known as a brilliant pianist in his own right, giving him the natural freedom to stretch the boundaries of the instrument. Perhaps, though, it is also due to the nature of the piano itself: a solo instrument that lends itself to the realm of the personal and inward, even the diaristic, and one that, by allowing tones only to be struck and not sustained or driven forward, abstracts music into its most intellectually pure form, making it a prime medium for musical exploration and innovation.
To explore Beethoven’s piano sonatas is to explore Beethoven’s musical innovations. In these 32 pieces, we see the concentrated version of the familiar trajectory guiding us from the Classical era into the Romantic: the experimental mimicry of his early years, the ego-driven defiance of his middle years where, at the height of his compositional powers, he most fully challenges convention, and finally his late years where, fully deaf, he introspectively explores the mysteries of life and death. more “Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire”…
For a conductor music starts with Beethoven. And for the son of a conductor both can start very early, as they did for Jonathan Del Mar, Beethoven scholar and editor of the new edition of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for Bärenreiter.
In 1949 Del Mar’s father, conductor Norman Del Mar, purchased a copy of the 1924 facsimile of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which he studied with Jonathan when he was still a child. The younger Del Mar, whose career also began as a conductor, remarks, “Had it not been for our possession of this endlessly fascinating document, it must remain doubtful whether my interest in Beethoven’s handwriting, and my work on his autographs, would ever have begun.”
Jonathan Del Mar’s edition of the nine symphonies for Bärenreiter, completed in 2000, has become the preferred edition for many renowned conductors worldwide.
“We all are amongst those of gratitude to Jonathan Del Mar who simply did the work to give us the first, really true edition of what this music was.”
Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.
The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is arguably one of the most well-known composers of all time. From his deafness and notoriously angry look to the movie dog who got his name from howling at the famous first four notes of the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven is still recognizable in today’s culture. His music and life are incredibly complex and this post barely brushes the surface, but hopefully you will learn something new and interesting.
1. No one knows for sure Beethoven’s date of birth. He was baptized on December 17, 1770. In that era and region where Beethoven was born, it was the tradition of the Catholic Church to baptize the day after birth. Therefore, most scholars accept December 16 as Beethoven’s birthday.
2. Beethoven’s father wanted to pass his son off as a child prodigy so he lied about young Beethoven’s age at his first public performance. For a good portion of Beethoven’s life, he believed he was born in 1772 instead of 1770. more “10 Fun Facts about Beethoven”…