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Beethoven’s Triumph

Listening in Paris: A Cultural History

by James H. Johnson
University of California Press, 384 pp., $35.00

Beethoven

by William Kinderman
University of California Press, 374 pp., $35.00

1.

Listening in Paris is an original book filled with good things. It takes up the way people listened to music in Paris, starting with the operas of Rameau in the mid-eighteenth century and ending with the chapters “Beethoven Triumphant” and “The Musical Experience of Romanticism.” Johnson traces the development of attentiveness, the change from an audience that chattered sociably during fashionable operas to a public that listened in religious silence. His book is an essay in the history of aesthetic “reception,” that is, it deals with the public response to the revolutionary transformations in the nature of Western art music that took place during the life of Beethoven.

Johnson makes an observation about the concert programs in Paris in the early nineteenth century which reveals the strengths and the limitations of the history of reception:

There was also the dogged presence of Mozart, whose symphonies and operas were roundly denounced in the first decade of the century yet remained just as surely on programs. Already in the 1810s some of the initial bemusement was giving way to interest, and by the 1820s Stendhal could claim that the true dilettante was as enamored with Mozart as with Rossini.

If Mozart was disliked by the public and roundly denounced by critics, how can we explain his “dogged presence” on musical programs? The answer is that the music which is performed is not so much the works that the public wants to hear as those that musicians insist on playing. Public demand counts for something, of course, but a musician’s life is often enough hard, disagreeable, and monotonous, and it would be intolerable unless he could play the music he loved.

This is not a question of elite preference, but of professional ideals, a subject that the history of reception deals with very badly. That is because practitioners of this important discipline generally refuse to admit anything like an intrinsic interest to music. Johnson writes:

Musical meaning does not exist objectively in the work—or even in its composer’s intentions. It resides in the particular moment of reception, one shaped by dominant aesthetic and social expectations that are themselves historically structured.

This may be true on a high epistemological level, but it is a vacuous and uninteresting truth when it comes to explaining something like the eventual triumph of Mozart. No doubt, the admiration of professional musicians for the works of Mozart was shaped by “dominant aesthetic and social expectations,” but the musicians were also reacting to specific qualities and characteristics in Mozart’s music that they found nowhere else. Some works have demonstrably a capacity for generating and sustaining interest, and that is why we can often learn more about the history of reception by looking at the music itself than by studying the specific interpretations it has inspired. Interpretations change, of course, but not nearly as radically as some historians think, if one considers specifically the reactions of professionals, and if one also considers not only the reactions to a first performance but to the second and third ones as well. As long as the history of reception concentrates solely on the attitudes of the general public and on journalistic criticism, it chooses to ignore the central forces for change in the history of music.

Some composers are able to inspire an almost fanatical devotion; it does not necessarily lead to popularity—but it does lead to survival. Schoenberg is not, I think, a composer who will ever be genuinely popular, but there has always been an important body of musicians who insist on playing him, and they eventually find enough of a public to justify it, even economically. Put on a concert of Schoenberg string quartets and you will not make a fortune, but you might break even and have some loose change left over. If, however, you want to lose several hundred thousand dollars for tax purposes, sponsoring a no more than adequate production of a truly popular work like La Bohème could relieve you of at least that amount. This is why a study of public reception is so often an illusory and imperfect way of determining the prestige and even the economics of music.

Johnson’s choice of Paris for his study is both a limitation and a strength. In the late eighteenth century the city that produced the music that would have the greatest influence on the future of music was Vienna. The public concert life of both London and Paris, however, was much more developed than Vienna’s, and we have a rich documentation for these cities available (Viennese scholars have tended to sit on what evidence there is for the concerts in Vienna, releasing it with the kind of prudence reserved for the Dead Sea scrolls). By the early nineteenth century, the center of European musical activity was Paris. That was where Italian composers hoped to be invited in order to achieve international prestige. Johnson was inspired when he chose Paris for a study of audience behavior: it was the true commercial center of European art.

By contrast, Vienna did not develop any extensive public concerts until the 1770s—that is, concerts at which all the tickets were sold and the musicians paid from the proceeds. The musical life of Vienna was dominated by the court; in fact, New York had extensive public concerts before Vienna. (It is true that tickets left over from the court concerts after the invitations were exhausted were sold to the public.) What Vienna had was a more intense semiprivate musical life, performances that were for a small audience and not strictly commercial. During Beethoven’s lifetime only two of his thirty-two piano sonatas were performed at a public concert in Vienna; on the other hand, all of his string quartets were played by virtuosos in public as well as at private, or semiprivate, gatherings. The idea that string quartets were a private form of chamber music for the delectation of the players while piano sonatas were for public consumption is a myth. It ought not to be a paradox that the instrumental style best suited for public exploitation was evolved in Vienna. In fact, the richness of the semiprivate tradition nourished the new music that would finally triumph in Paris, London, and elsewhere. As we learn from Johnson’s book, Haydn was an immediate success in Paris already in the 1780s. It took a longer time for musicians to impose the works of Mozart and then of Beethoven; and Listening in Paris gives a fine account of how Beethoven achieved enormous popularity.

Unfortunately, Johnson writes as if listening in public were the only kind of listening that mattered. In the eighteenth century, even in Paris, the public concert was a recent creation, still something of an anomaly. To talk about listeners’ reactions only to public concerts is to cut oneself off from the main activity of listening, although the documentation of public performances is more abundant than it is for private ones. For this reason, Johnson is obliged to limit himself for the first part of his book largely to opera. This does less harm, perhaps, when dealing with French musical life compared with the tradition in Germany and Austria, but it is still one-sided.

As the book goes on, we seem to witness the victory of German seriousness over French frivolity; essentially this amounted to a victory of instrumental music over vocal. Not that opera did not remain popular, and we might even cite the extraordinary popularity accorded to Schubert’s Lieder in Paris during the 1830s, something that Johnson does not mention. Nevertheless, it is the German instrumental style that gained philosophical prestige as the model of the art of music.

The great success of Johnson’s book lies in its anecdotes. (Never underestimate the power of anecdotes: they can be more profound, more creative, than generalizations.) He gives, for example, a fascinating account of an elephant ballet staged during the Revolution and of the experiments made at the time on the effect of music as an erotic stimulant for the mating of elephants. He is not only entertaining but instructive about the connections that were developing at the time between art, sensuality, and science (he even reproduces an engraving of elephants beginning their foreplay in response to the music).

However, Johnson is less sure-footed about aesthetic theory, although he provides a lot of fascinating quotations from contemporary writers on the expressive or non-expressive nature of music. It is particularly unfortunate that he fails to consider German and English speculation on music and aesthetics, since France was much less isolated from foreign influence than has sometimes been thought. He fails, for example, to convey the complexity of Diderot’s thought and its English influences. And the treatment of Michel de Chabanon is also curious, since this interesting writer does not appear in the index, although his provocative essays on expression in music are listed in the bibliography. He is even mentioned on pages 37 and 75, but not his ideas, which attempt to deal directly with the perverse nature of aesthetic theory. (He remarked, for example, that when sailors are happy they sing sad songs.)

On the music itself, Johnson does not distinguish well between those characteristics that were developed in response to changing public taste and those that were already frequently employed before. For example, he quotes a sextet in Méhul’s opera Euphrosine of 1790 to show the new concern with illustrating distinct sentiments, but in fact the music does not differentiate very much between the six characters, except for the bass singing “My blood freezes in my heart” with his musical line frozen on one note. Not only would the second act’s famous “jealousy” duet, which made Méhul’s reputation, be a more apt example, but the great quartet from Handel’s Jephtha almost forty years before, in 1751, did a considerably better and more effective job of radically expressing four different kinds of emotion.

In trying to relate changes in musical style to social developments we stumble against the problem of musical meaning, and the difficulties of pinning down meaning with any confidence were only recognized with real clarity first in the late eighteenth century. Johnson appreciates the fluid nature of musical meaning, its ability to support multiple interpretations, but his view of how this is done is too lax, no doubt because he wishes to displace the meaning from the music itself into the mind of the spectator, while, as he himself remarks, to do so only opens the music to radical and uncontrollable forms of misreading. Nevertheless, he underestimates certain conventions, and writes, astonishingly:

It is difficult to imagine how a melody might paint such words as triompher, gloire, or victoire, and in fact there is no characteristic movement these melismas [successions of different notes sung on one syllable] take to suggest that composers had any more precise motive in mind than simply to draw attention to the words with a punctuated phrase or flourish.

I do not understand this point, and would think that an example of the chorus from Handel’s Saul would explain how music could in fact reflect triumph and victory and do so in a way that continues from Handel until the second act of Verdi’s Aida and beyond. Not even early eighteenth-century theorists were naive enough to think that it is entirely by melodic types that music imitates, leaving out rhythm and orchestration.

At the end of the book, Johnson confronts what he feels is the “irreducibility of musical meaning,” and writes:

The only solution is to resort to the language of metaphor, with its inevitable approximations, to discuss musical meaning. Without metaphor we are reduced either to silence or to highly technical structural analyses like those of Heinrich Schenker—analyses that tell us about as much about musical meaning as a purely grammatical analysis might reveal about the meaning of Saint John’s Gospel.

There is a double misunderstanding here: Johnson thinks that metaphor is necessarily imprecise, and he does not realize that technical analysis, certainly Schenker’s, is fundamentally metaphorical.1

Some metaphors are fuzzy, of course, but others are as precise as a proper name. There is nothing approximate about

Her Voice was like a hidden Bird that sang:
The thought of her was like a flash of light
Or an unseen companionship, a breath
Or fragrance independent of the wind…
[Wordsworth, Home at Grasmere]

And simply to say, for example, that a harmony is dissonant is to use a metaphor. A dissonance is literally a disagreeable sound, but there is nothing disagreeable or unpleasant about a “dissonance” in tonal music; many dissonances are much nicer to listen to than consonances. A dissonance in triadic tonality, the musical language from 1550 to 1900, is a chord that is “unstable,” “needs” to be resolved, “calls for” resolution, “demands” to be followed by a consonance—use whatever metaphor you find suitable. Metaphors work by analogy, by resemblance. Music acts on us by metaphor, by its analogy with our sensations and our emotions, our impulses. In short, like almost all elements of music, a dissonance itself is a metaphor and is described by technical terms which are themselves metaphors.

The basis of Schenker’s theory, furthermore, is that a work of tonal music is a large metaphor for a single tonal phrase. The whole piece works by analogy with the simple phrase, it acts by “suspending” and “prolonging”—metaphorically, of course—various parts of the basic “line” until the final chord. Even this final tonic chord has a metaphorical power conferred by the piece as a whole, as the tonic is conceived as a satisfying resolution of all the preceding tensions.2

It is only when the historian’s account (largely metaphorical, I might add) of the social and historical setting of music is tied to the metaphorical power of the technical details (or can clearly be related to this aspect) that we have any chance of saying something that is not either a form of free association or idle guesswork. And, of course, all analyses, technical as well as ideological, are controlled by our knowledge and experience of the traditional metaphors in the history of music, the conventions of meaning that have been given to the grammar and syntax of music as well as to the elements of harmony and melody.

In turn, if a technical analysis of a work of music is not a dramatic scenario, an account of the power that enabled the music to act directly on the composer’s contemporaries and on successive generations of listeners, then it is an empty academic activity. It is true that most writing about music is either insubstantial speculation or a mechanical exercise, but then so is much writing about anything else. I take it that Johnson is bored by most technical analyses, and so am I, but if he is incapable of appreciating the dramatic power implicit in the best of them like some of Schenker’s, he ought not to boast about it.

2.

William Kinderman’s Beethoven is consistently interesting and will be read by every Beethoven specialist. The book is primarily analytical, but what Kinderman has to say as he goes over the whole of Beethoven’s life and work is always directly related to the power of the music to act upon the listener. He seems to venture into insubstantial speculation only when he is presenting someone else’s ideas. For example, he quotes my apparent ascent into the intense inane about the cadenza before the fifth variation in the Arietta of Beethoven’s Sonata opus 111:

As Charles Rosen has observed, this episode seems to suspend the flow of time.

This is the kind of facile observation which, by itself, reads like an attempt to coerce the reader into thinking that something very elevated is going on. The technical device I was characterizing occurs in fact a few bars later than the passage to which Kinderman applies it. After what seems like the final trill of a cadence, Beethoven refuses to resolve, and then, avoiding all accents on a strong beat, proceeds to go around the circle of fifths—that is, a modulation that goes through a sequence of harmonies and comes out where it began in a circular motion that has no feeling of urgent direction. The postponement of resolution and the revolving modulation create a wonderful suspense.

Kinderman similarly quotes Alfred Brendel about the end of the Sonata opus 110:

Yet the true conclusion lies beyond this chord in a rapport with silence, as (in Brendel’s words) the work throws off even “the chains of music itself.”

Floating out of context in this way, this image has a commonplace, pseudomystical poetry that would normally make me wince, and I presume that Brendel must have meant something more precise and down-to-earth.

It is true that writing about Beethoven leads critics insensibly and inevitably into grandiose rhetoric. With his work, music achieved an exalted status that it had never known before, not even with the Greeks and their well-known coupling of music and pure mathematical thought. Beethoven’s life coincided with the economic development of concert life, and the immense popularity of his symphonies and sonatas suggests the growing public recognition of the entrance of music into the sublime, reserved before this for religion. Johnson’s book shows that with the triumph of Beethoven, public concerts in Paris were listened to with religious awe; as he writes, we now had “the bourgeoisie transfixed and silent before the Artist.” It was not the music of Beethoven that was the direct cause of the change, of course, but his music was the most suitable vehicle for the experience of the sublime, and this gave him and his work a prestige that no deconstruction can dissolve as long as music is listened to with the attention that Beethoven’s achievement demands. No proper account of Beethoven, therefore, can avoid dealing with the aureole of grandeur now inseparable from his work.

The quotations from Kinderman above exemplify one of the few major faults of his book. When he has something original to say he presents it cogently and persuasively. However, no one can write a book about Beethoven that covers its subject adequately for the general reader—or even for the musically trained reader—entirely out of his own head. What most specialists already know about Beethoven is badly conveyed by Kinderman, and important aspects of Beethoven’s work are left in the dark for anyone who has not been working on the subject for a decade or two.

He has a brilliant discussion of the second movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto, particularly original and illuminating on the cadenza, the emotional crisis it represents, and the way it foreshadows the harmony of the finale. The first movement, however, equally important in the history of Beethoven’s development, gets short shrift, and the last movement is hardly mentioned. About the first movement, Kinderman writes only:

The first movement of this concerto had already given particular prominence to the dialogue between solo and tutti [i.e., the orchestra] by beginning with a short piano passage, marked dolce. Such an opening was unusual, although Mozart’s Concerto in E flat K271 provided a precedent.

In Mozart, the soloist makes a sprightly appearance only after a brief opening fanfare, and there is no precedent for the lyricism of Beethoven’s opening—in fact, what is astonishing is its apparent modesty, with its quietly expressive line. Equally crucial in the history of music is the entrance of the orchestra with the second phrase, still quiet, but with a harmony very distant from the key established by the pianist. The moment we hear the orchestra’s first chord, Michael Steinberg once remarked, we know that this is a work of great breadth. It is by the sense of quiet distance that Beethoven achieves the effect of grandeur here, and it was an essential element in his domination of musical style, which lasted from Schubert to Wagner, Bruckner, and Strauss—even to Boulez, who imitated the “Hammerklavier” with his second sonata. The average music-lover knows this concerto of Beethoven, but is he or she expected to appreciate the nature of its originality? Perhaps Kinderman had nothing to say about it that had not already been better said by others, but surely a general book on Beethoven should include a hint of matters so important.3

On the Quartet in C sharp Minor, opus 131, completed in 1826, the year before Beethoven died, Kinderman has interesting remarks about what he calls “one of the richest of all narrative musical designs.” He writes about the way the emphatic accents on D natural in the fugue theme of the opening movement in C sharp minor help to establish the D major key of the second movement, and he cites Robert Winter’s study of the sketches Beethoven made for this work. He does not, however, mention the most brilliant of Winter’s observations, that it was only when Beethoven decided on the key of the second movement that he finally worked out the way the initial fugue would go. In the first sketches, the theme had a traditional and ordinary continuation (an “answer” at the dominant) which produced accents on an E. Having studied the sketches where Beethoven laid out not the individual details but the quartet as a whole with all its movements, Winter remarked that it was not until Beethoven realized that he wanted the second movement to be in D that he altered the theme of the fugue to a much less traditional form, which gave him the necessary emphasis on the D natural. Winter’s research is the most revealing that has been done on the actual process of Beethoven’s composition of this quartet. After one hears the final version, the banality of the first sketch is a shock, but it was Beethoven’s vision of the large structure that inspired the more expressive form of the opening theme.

His ability to keep an entire work in mind and to plan the details in view of its larger structure conferred on Beethoven his unique prestige among the professional musicians who eventually imposed his figure upon the public. It is for this reason that Beethoven may not be more of a joy to play than Mozart, for example, but he is more interesting to practice: it is while working on Beethoven that one realizes how the individual details have a significance that goes far beyond their local context. His style established an ideal of complexity which continued to rule music until first Erik Satie and then the recent minimalists expressed their disgust and horror at all this intricacy and opted for a bland surface which suggests that there is nothing underneath. The familiar metaphor of musical depth, in fact, is dominated by the figure of Beethoven.

Kinderman comprehends this splendidly, but his idea of the way one movement acts upon a later one is too often the oversimple one of foreshadowing its melodies. He generally bases his account of Beethoven’s sense of musical narrative on this foreshadowing, and underestimates the play of rhythm and texture. He badly misreads the final fugue of the Sonata for Piano in A flat Major, opus 110, when he writes that the theme not only “appear[s] against itself in diminution and augmentation, but it appears in double diminution at the Meno Allegro, i.e., played simultaneously at a faster tempo (diminution) in one voice and a slower one (augmentation) in another. The “double diminution” is a misunderstanding of the scenario—a misunderstanding shared, it might be said, by many pianists.

In this finale, an Arioso, a half-aria half-recitative filled with grief, marked Adagio ma non troppo, is followed by a fugue, Allegro ma non troppo. The Adagio returns (“exhausted, like a lamentation,” is Beethoven’s direction, and the music is now almost choked with grief), and then the fugue reappears. At the opening of this second and final fugue, Beethoven inverts the theme,4 indicates the original tempo of the fugue and the soft pedal, and adds “little by little with new life.” As the music proceeds, the theme is played both twice as slow (augmented) and three times as fast (diminuted). There are no dynamic indications of any kind for more than twenty bars, and then the pianist must lift the soft pedal gradually (“gradually” was an effect possible on Beethoven’s piano) and make a crescendo. Suddenly—a point which is the subject of misapprehension—Beethoven writes all the rhythms twice as fast, but directs the pianist to play more slowly (Meno Allegro). This is where many pianists sound as if they were shifting from second to fourth gear, and it is what Kinderman mistakenly calls double diminution. Four bars later Beethoven directs the pianist to accelerate gradually again with a crescendo.

Beethoven reinvents tradition here. The techniques of inversion, augmentation, and diminution are among the most traditional in writing fugues. Beethoven gives them a totally new significance. Inverting the upward-moving fugue theme into a downward motion becomes a symbol of exhaustion, enforced by texture and dynamics. Transforming the theme played at half tempo back to the first tempo renders the experience of the return of energy, and the diminution at triple tempo beginning softly represents the source of new life. This is the first time these commonplace devices of fugue are given a narrative meaning.

The second fugue, therefore, dramatizes the return of life and energy after the exhausted and desperate Adagio: first inverting the fugue theme, Beethoven plays it grandly twice as slow and three times as fast, and then accelerates little by little until the augmentation is transformed from twice as slow back into the original tempo, and the diminution has become an energetic accompanying figure. This made a problem of notation, since Beethoven wants to end in the original tempo, but he also wants his augmented theme to accelerate into it.

Little by little with new life” conveys Beethoven’s intention of a gradual acceleration; the direction to get louder and to raise the soft pedal comes much later. In order to end with the original notation as well as the original tempo while everything is getting gradually faster, when the acceleration has reached a certain point, Beethoven had to halve the tempo and double the notation, but the change is only on paper, since, for the ear, the doubling and halving cancel each other out. (Of course, at the point this happens the tempo cannot be precisely half of the original, as the direction “little by little with new life” has already been in force for thirty-two bars.) The idea of transforming a theme played twice as slowly gradually back into the original tempo is an absolutely unprecedented concept in music, and it was not simple to notate. What is unprecedented, of course, is the idea of doubling the tempo only gradually, and every indication on these pages demonstrates that Beethoven did not want any sudden alteration: “little by little with new life,” “little by little raise the soft pedal,” “little by little faster again”—all of this tries to enforce the idea of an absolutely continuous process.

When we further consider that Beethoven’s Adagio ma non troppo is intended to sound at the same tempo as the Allegro ma non troppo of the fugue (the relationship need not be mechanically exact, but it is clear that there must be no sense of rhythmic change from one into the other),5 we can see that the whole drama of this third and final movement must unfold in one continuous impulse. Beethoven moves with unbroken continuity from Allegro to Adagio and back again, and the dramatic augmentation of the fugue is enhanced by our understanding that it is played at the same speed as the Adagio: the tempo of the grief-stricken Adagio reappears within the Allegro and is transformed by the new accelerated energy.

There should be no pause after the first and second movements as well. Playing a long work of Beethoven with no pause between the movements is a tradition well attested by the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was a response to Beethoven’s way of enforcing a sense of unity. This unity of tone among successive movements is already a feature of Mozart’s style, and James Webster has demonstrated it cogently for Haydn as well, but no one carried it out with the power and intensity of Beethoven. Later composers tried to achieve it with much more obvious devices.

Kinderman is not deeply interested in Beethoven’s relation to musical tradition, and what he owed to Haydn is not discussed with any depth. When Kinderman writes in detail about sets of variations, he does not indicate how Beethoven combined all the different traditional ways of ending such sets in an extraordinary synthesis. Composers before Beethoven could bring back the original theme at the end, or they could have an ornamental Adagio followed by a brilliant virtuoso fantasy, or an expressive minor variation followed by a return of the major mode, or a final fugue. With ambitious virtuosity, Beethoven would do all of this at the same time: at the end of the Diabelli Variations, for example, Beethoven has three expressive variations in the minor, including one in emulation of Bach, followed by a grandiose and brilliant Handelian fugue with a virtuoso coda and a fantastic free development of the thematic elements. Then in the greatest inspiration of all, he realizes that he cannot bring back Diabelli’s trivial little waltz tune after his monumental variations, so he transforms the waltz into the most exalted of minuets, an evocation of the courtly grace of a world that has disappeared. Yet it clearly works like a return of the dance. The final minuet is not only the “sublime transformation of a commonplace waltz” but the transformation of a long history of the conventions of variation form.

Kinderman wants this minuet to be sublime, and compares its “ethereal texture” to the Adagio last movement of the Sonata opus 111, which it resembles.6 He acknowledges its “gracefulness,” but does not, I think, fully appreciate its exquisite urbanity, its elegance, and its ultimate refusal of the sublime. He does not remark on Beethoven’s tempo direction: “don’t drag” (non tirarsi dietro). The minuet does not end pianissimo like opus 111, but finishes with a suggestion of the comic spirit that has informed the whole work, with a sudden forte on an offbeat. This urbanity is the side of Beethoven that Kinderman understands least; indeed, it is an aspect of Beethoven not often considered. He has not a word to say, for example, about the third movement of the Quartet in B flat Major, opus 130, a lyrical scherzo in D flat major of unparalleled grace and eloquence, which may appear old-fashioned, a nostalgic remembrance of Mozart, but is actually a modern and sophisticated achievement that is the equal of Beethoven’s most heroic creations.

These moments of amiability, delight, and grace are an essential part of Beethoven’s aesthetic, as much as his grotesque humor and his tragic vision; the D flat scherzo of opus 130, like the final minuet of the Diabelli Variations, is Beethoven at his most sociable. It embodies an ideal of an intimate society as much as the Eroica Symphony incarnated a public political vision.

While Kinderman has neither the provocative verve of Joseph Kerman nor the penetration and elegance of Lewis Lookwood, he has a long-range vision of his subject which is often persuasive. In the most original aspect of his book, Kinderman relates the ambitious musical ideals of Beethoven to the contemporary considerations on the sublime found, above all, in poets like Schiller, whose ideas on aesthetics did indeed command all speculation for many decades. He also finds analogies with the philosophy of Schelling, and pursues the subject with imagination. What I miss is a sense of the musical world in which Beethoven lived, the world in which these abstract ideas could be realized.

There is little attempt to convey to the reader what the concerts were like, or for what kind of an audience the quartets would have been played, in short, how an ideal of the sublime worked itself out in the restricted, constrained, and yet liberating musical world of Vienna, and came to dominate the concert life of all the European capitals. For a more complete and satisfying view of Beethoven, the analytical interests of Kinderman need to be backed up by social history and by the history of reception, not a view of the music which reduces it to its social function within the narrow society of Vienna, but one that acknowledges the independence of the music at the same time as it recognizes its implication in contemporary international life and culture.

Letters

Getting Back to Life February 1, 1996

Beethoven’s Triumph’ November 16, 1995

Beethoven’s Triumph’ November 16, 1995

  1. 1

    Johnson claims to have adapted these points from Professor Leo Treitler, who should know better.

  2. 2

    In a forthcoming book, Beethoven Hero (Princeton University Press), Scott Burnham has brilliantly demonstrated the kinship of the “highly technical structural analyses” of the twentieth century and the picturesque stories that critics in the nineteenth century made up to account for works of music.

  3. 3

    Kinderman feels that too much attention has been given to the individual or local word-painting of the Missa Solemnis, and he writes much more about the large structure. But should the less experienced reader not be told about Beethoven’s astonishing effort to find a musical meaning for every word of the mass? This includes the word “and,” as every appearance of “and” in the “Credo” is given a dramatic emphasis, as if to say “AND I believe” with each new affirmation of faith.

  4. 4

    I.e., all the intervals which went up now go down, and vice versa.

  5. 5

    The Adagio has four strong beats per measure, and the Allegro only two, so the Allegro seems twice as fast, although the beats should remain approximately equal. Of course, many performers play the Adagio too slowly and the Allegro too fast, paying no attention to Beethoven’s directions of “ma non troppo” (not too much) for both Adagio and Allegro. In Kinderman’s elaborate discussion of the work, no reference is made to tempo relationships, but these are crucial to Beethoven’s conception.

  6. 6

    It is a bad mistake of Kinderman’s to speak only of the “ethereal” texture of the fourth variation of opus 111 when it alternates and contrasts the highest register with the lowest and earthiest piano sonority.

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