CHAPTER 1: BEETHOVEN
Dr. N. Boumpani
BEETHOVEN AS AN INTRODUCTION TO MUSIC OF THE PAST
Whether or not a person understands the elements of music, or studies the music of the past, one thing that everyone can agree on is that everyone alive loves some kind music. We have presented how music is powerful. It affects us in many ways. The music in a movie at a particularly sad point can make us cry and when the hero or heroin in a movie wins the battle, the music can be exhilarating. Many couples have a special song that they relate to as “their song.” The military uses music to inspire soldiers, and countries have their national anthems. But there was a time when composers avoided emotion in music. During the Classical Era (which we will study later) composers created music based on logic and reason, following specific forms and rules. Among the composers of this age was born someone who could not follow these rules and could not restrain his emotions. Understanding a little about the life of Ludwig van Beethoven might give you a new perspective on the music he, and others like him, wrote so long ago and yet these works are still performed all over the world today. First, before we learn anything about Beethoven, let’s hear Beethoven’s music as interpreted by Walter Murphy back in the 1970’s.
EXAMPLE: A 5th of Beethoven Walter Murphy
What you just heard was a 1970’s version of a work written by Ludwig van Beethoven over 200 years ago. We cannot know if Beethoven would have liked this rendition or not, but it shows us that his music has lived on even beyond the standard symphonic performances. There are many people in the world of music who believe that Beethoven was the greatest composer who ever lived. These people would argue that Beethoven took music to a higher level of musical sophistication than anyone who preceded him. At a time when composers were supposed to create works based on reason and logic, Beethoven created works with such passion that he singlehandedly changed the direction of music. When we consider why people like music, very few would say that their love of music is based on the way the notes and instruments are put together, in a logical manner. We love music because it appeals to us on an emotional level. Whether or not one truly understands the form of a work of music, or can name all of the instruments that are being heard is inconsequential to one’s enjoyment of that music. The beginning of appreciating music begins on an emotional level. From that point on, as a person understands more and more about the music and the composers who create that music, a person’s appreciation of music can only deepen.
We are going to listen to short sections of the first and last movements of Beethoven’s Symphony #5 in c minor, Op. 67. (The Op stands for “opus” which means “work” and the number is added in order to catalogue a composer’s pieces.) Before we discuss Beethoven or what his life was like at this time, let’s just listen and then discuss what we hear. We can start by explaining that a symphony is a composition for an orchestra that is usually written in four movements (meaning 4 separate works that can stand alone by themselves but, as a whole is greater than the sum of the parts). Symphonies can range anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour. We will hear only a few minutes at this point.
Most symphonies followed a general guide. This guide may be generalized:
The 1st movement is usually fast
The 2nd movement is usually slower and in a different key.
The 3rd movement is usually related to a type of dance. For most composers this would be a minuet and trio.
The 4th movement was usually fast and in the same key as the first movement.
Also, symphonies followed rules with regard to “key.” We will discuss scales and keys later, but for now we will make a generalization. Major keys are often used for moods that may be described as bold, heroic, happy, or positive. Minor keys are often used for moods like sadness, death, anger, darkness, etc. As you will learn later, this is a gross simplification, but, for now, it will serve our purposes. Symphonies of Beethoven’s time followed the rule that the key of the first movement and the key of the last movement were supposed to be the same. One of Beethoven’s most famous works was his Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67. As the title implies, the work starts in c minor, and, if it followed the rules of the day, the fourth movement should end in c minor. Beethoven wrote his 4th movement in C major. He did not do this just to be different. For now, you will listen to the beginning of the first movement, and then complete the short discussion assignment written below. After that you will listen to the beginning of the 4th movement and do a similar assignment.
Now we will listen to the beginning of the first movement of this Symphony. This clip will play only the main theme of the movement. This is in a minor key.
EXAMPLE: Symphony #5 in c minor, Op. 67 Beethoven clip1
DISCUSSION: Post a statement regarding the emotions you believe Beethoven is trying to convey.
Now let’s listen to the beginning of the last movement.
EXAMPLE: Symphony No 5 in c minor, OP 67 Beethoven clip 2
DISCUSSION: Post a statement regarding the emotions you believe Beethoven is trying to convey here.
NOTE: Later in this book we will hear the entire 5th symphony.
Beethoven broke tradition by composing the first movement of this symphony in c minor and the last movement in C major. Again, do not worry if you do not understand the idea of keys as we will explain them later; for now, the most important fact is that Beethoven “changed the rules” by doing what was not expected. Perhaps what was even more revolutionary than just changing the keys, he did the one thing that music of his time was supposed to avoid: he wrote passion into his music. The rules of the Classical Era were based on the widely-held belief that all human activities should be governed by logic and reason. This included the arts and music. The intellectuals of that era believed that they were going to create a better world though logic and reason. Mozart and Haydn (two composers who we will study later) wrote a great deal of excellent music during the same time as Beethoven, yet failed to create the level of passion in their music that Beethoven did. Haydn and Mozart were master composers and their music is still played to this day, but they simply followed the rules of the Classical Era (we will discuss this later in the book). Beethoven was someone who would not be told what he could and could not compose.
Although Beethoven wrote passionate music, he never explained what he was trying to “say” through his music. People have argued for over 200 years about what Beethoven thought as he wrote this symphony, as well as many of his other works. Beethoven simply never explained why he wrote what he wrote. Perhaps he wanted it to mean whatever the listener wanted it to mean? People do not argue over why Mozart or Haydn wrote their music, but Beethoven remains the constant subject of debate. We will discuss one such theory regarding this particular symphony. Please understand, this is only a theory that happens to fit the music. Before we discuss this theory and before you can understand it, a little of Beethoven’s life needs to be covered.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. He was the oldest of three siblings and showed a great aptitude for music at a very young age. Ludwig’s grandfather had been music director at the Court of Cologne, and his father was a tenor singer in Bonn and an excellent music teacher. His father first taught Ludwig and the youngster showed great musical talent and ability. Ludwig’s father, however, was also an alcoholic who wanted to use young as a child prodigy. Years earlier a child by the name of Mozart had traveled all over Europe entertaining Kings and Queens and other important people, as well as making Mozart’s father quite wealthy. Beethoven began playing the piano at the age of 5 and was performing in concert at the age of seven. His alcoholic father was a strict task master and would punish young Ludwig if the father felt he had not practiced enough. This discipline included beatings and even being locked in a cellar without food or water for days. In spite of this treatment, young Beethoven continued to pursue a career in music. At the age of 10, Beethoven was earning money as the courts 2nd organist.
DISCUSSION: If you were Beethoven, do you think your father beating you and locking you in a cellar would have affected you wanting to be a musician? Would you have come to hate music and quit?
When Beethoven was 16, he travelled to Vienna to be among the great composers of the day. After Beethoven performed a piano piece at one gathering, Mozart was in the audience and was heard to marvel at Beethoven’s skill. Upon returning to Bonn, he found his mother near death, and she would die soon thereafter. Beethoven’s father’s alcoholism had made it impossible to work. At the age of 17, Beethoven became responsible for the family. Over the next few years, he would develop a style of writing for the piano that would begin to bring him attention.
Political instability, as well as the need to further his career, took Beethoven back to Vienna at the age of 24, to live and to study with Haydn. In Vienna, over the following years, Beethoven studied with some of the best teachers and, before long was making his name as an independent, free-lance composer. He was also known as an amazing pianist and often sought out to entertain the nobility of Vienna.
Beethoven was known to walk the streets of Vienna and, when he felt the mood, he would walk into one of the salons (like coffee houses or small restaurants today) sit down at the piano and improvise, sometimes for hours on end. Merchants in Vienna not only came to expect this, but they welcomed it. The merchants of Vienna were happy to have Beethoven live there because it brought people to Vienna and helped the merchants gain wealth. When Beethoven told people that was thinking of moving out of Vienna, some of these wealthy merchants got together and offered him a yearly stipend – just to live in Vienna. He was not required to write any music for them; he only needed to live there. This stipend continued until the end of his life.
Throughout his life, Beethoven was frustrated and angered with the idea of “nobility.” He did not believe a person was better than anyone else, just because that person was born into a “noble” family. Beethoven knew that he was an amazing composer and musician, and he believed that nobility should look up to him; however, that was not the way the world worked at that time. Can you, as a student, relate to this in any way? Even though we live in a democracy, our society has created classes and there are those who seemingly look down at others for a variety of reasons. Maybe they are extremely wealthy, or highly educated, or in positions of power. Perhaps you can relate with Beethoven in this way. Still, in our society it is possible to improve yourself and become successful; in Beethoven’s day, it did not matter because nobility was decided by blood.
Beethoven would continue show his disdain for nobility throughout his life. During his time, when musicians were hired by the wealthy to perform for parties or gatherings, the musicians had to enter through the back door, and not interact with the other people at the event. Later in Beethoven’s life, when he was hired to perform at such events, Beethoven not only refused to enter by the back door, he would boldly enter through the front doors and stop to talk to many of the important people at the party, and also flirt with the noble women. Because the rich nobles wanted to show that they were important and rich enough to hire Beethoven, they put up with his antics. Beethoven went even further with his disdain for nobility by having affairs with the wives and daughters of many of the nobles. Although Beethoven’s love life remains shrouded in mystery, he was known to have had affairs with many “noble” women. In his later 20’s, shortly before the premier of his 1st symphony, Beethoven was given news that he was losing his hearing, and he would eventually go deaf. Beethoven was so despondent over this news that he even considered suicide. Of course, he did not go through with it, and he did give us a reason for this. Beethoven believed that he was put on the earth to give the world great music, and he had had too much music in him to kill himself and deprive the world of the music he was yet to write. This can be seen in one of his famous quotes: "...music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am the Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken." L. van Beethoven. (Bacchus was the Roman name for the god of wine and partying to excess.) Within 15 to 20 years from that time Beethoven would become totally deaf. In spite of his total deafness, in his later years Beethoven wrote some of his greatest works.
Beethoven died on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56, of post-hepatitic cirrhosis of the liver. Autopsies and studies have led scholars to believe his deafness and eventual death was due to contracting typhus in the summer of 1796. Although many questions about Beethoven’s life and music will never be answered the one thing that many scholars agree on is that Beethoven was perhaps the greatest composer to ever live.
ABOUT HIS WORKS AND LIFE
Beethoven wrote only 9 symphonies in his life, as opposed to Mozart’s 41 and Haydn’s 104, but almost all of his symphonies are performed today. (Please do not worry if the following names confuse you; we will cover them later in the course). He wrote only one Opera, Fidelio, and one Mass, his Mass in D, Op.123 (a4, 'Missa Solemnis'). His complete output of works included many wrote piano sonatas, piano concerti, piano trios, and hundreds of short works for the piano. He also wrote string quartets, string quintets, string trios, overtures, ballets, folksong arrangements, sacred and secular choral works, and many other works Many of Beethoven’s works are performed around the world today. According to IMDB.com, the music of Beethoven appears in almost 1500 film and television shows.
Beethoven never married although his writings demonstrate that he was deeply in love with a woman he called his “Immortal Beloved.” In spite of how highly he thought of himself as a musician, he was somewhat shy because he not a very attractive man. Once he became totally deaf, he became a recluse. Others thought that he was avoiding them because he believed he was above associating with them, but, in reality, his deafness was a source of deep pain in many ways and he did not want people remembering him in that way. Beethoven did not have a family, but, when is brother died, he fought in court to get custody of his nephew. After Beethoven got custody of his nephew, he tried to make his nephew into a concert pianist, but it was never to be. The relationship with his nephew was never a close one.
As originally stated, Beethoven’s music would pave the way from the Classical Age to the Romantic Era. He composed many works that defied the rules and added new dimensions to music that composers who came after embraced and built on. His 6th symphony, the Pastoral Symphony, was a programmatic work of 5 movements (more than the standard 4) that depicted the countryside in Beethoven’s day. (Beethoven often traveled to the country to think, walk, and compose.) His Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, included a complete choral movement as the 4th movement that was based on Shiller’s “Ode to Joy.” Still, the point in his life where the Classical Era ended and the Romantic Era began was the premier of his Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 that was introduced earlier in this chapter. Today, almost 200 years after his death, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, is one of the most recognized musical works on Earth. It is now that we can discuss the theory of this work.
A THEORY FOR BEETHOVEN’S 5TH SYMPHONY
Over the centuries, it has been suggested that the four-note rhythm at the beginning of the 5th symphony was like “Fate” knocking on the door and telling Beethoven that he was going to lose his hearing. This accounts for the dark, minor character of the opening that, to some people, seems so angry. Perhaps Beethoven was shaking his fist at Fate and complaining how unfair this was. We will discuss the 2nd and 3rd movements later, but to frame our theory, let’s jump to the last movement. As stated earlier, the 4th movement should have been in the key of c minor, like the opening movement. Instead of the movement starting in the darker mood of the key of c minor, the first C major theme sounds triumphant, as if victory has been achieved. The theory is that, with the beginning of this movement, Beethoven was saying that he had beat “Fate” by overcoming his handicap, and that he would go on to continue to create great music. Like Rocky reaching the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and throwing his hands up in the air, Beethoven knew he would win. When you posted your thoughts in the earlier assignments, were they anything like those in the “theory?” Later, when we study the Classical Era, you will have the opportunity to hear the rest of this symphony.
BEETHOVEN’S PIANO WORKS
Beethoven not only poured passion into his orchestral music, but into all of his music. Beethoven was an amazing pianist and his piano works are also unique to the times. We will examine 2 of his most famous works. For the first you are asked to use a listening guide, but not for the second.
Beethoven completed Fur Elise (meaning For Elise) on April 27, 1810 as part of a bagatelle medley. Bagatelles are short, light-hearted piano pieces. The piece was not published until 40 years after Beethoven’s death when it was found in his belongings. The actual manuscript of Beethoven has been lost to time and the actual identity of Elise is unknown. This is among Beethoven’s most famous piano pieces and you probably have heard it somewhere. As you listen to it, notice the contrasting sections that are heard in between the return of the main theme. After you hear it, think of the kind of person who might have written it and the kind of person for whom it had been written.
As we explained, the composers of the Classical Era used specific forms that helped audiences understand the music upon first hearing it. This piece is in a rondo form (we will discuss later). To make this simple, at the beginning you will hear the main theme section (a theme is an instrumental melody). We will label this section “A” and call this melody the rondo theme. The theme then is followed by a new section with new melodic material that we will call section B. After the B section, the A section returns with the same melody you heard in the beginning. The second “A” followed by another new section, which we will call the “C section.” The C section then feeds into the final A section. In some rondo works, this can go on and on, but, for this piece, the form is a simple A-B-A-C-A. Please follow with the listening guide below.
EXAMPLE: Für Elise WoOP 59
FŰR ELISE WoOp. 59
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
FOCUS: How the main A theme returns; the mood of the A theme.
|0:00||A section – rondo theme|
|1:27||A section – rondo theme|
|2:31||A section – rondo theme|
Beethoven once again broke the Classical rules with this sonata. As we will learn in a later chapter, a sonata is a work with multiple movements for a solo instrument. Piano sonatas of the classical age were always written with a first movement that contained 2 contrasting melodic themes. The second theme was meant to add contrast and keep the work interesting. For some reason, Beethoven never introduced a second theme in his first movement. Even though this piece uses the same theme for over 5 minutes, it maintains the listeners’ attention because of the passion that pulls the listener in. Before you associate the title with what Beethoven may have been trying to tell us, please know that the title of this work “Moonlight Sonata” was not Beethoven’s idea. A German music critic gave this sonata its name after hearing it performed and, somehow, the title simply “stuck.” The critic believed that when Beethoven wrote this work, he was looking out over a lake with the moonlight shining down on the lake. We will not use a listening guide for this work. Please listen to it completely for the assignment below.
EXAMPLE: Piano Sonata No.14 in C#-, Op.27, No.2 Beethoven
ASSIGNMENT: Imagine that this music is in a scene from a movie. Imagine that you are writing the scene. In a Word document write your scene. Include where it is taking place, who is there, and what is happening. It should fit at least the first three minutes of the music. You do not have to write pages and pages, but please try and make the scene fit the music, especially when there are slight changes in the music.
This course was introduced through the music on one of the greatest composers of all time, Ludwig van Beethoven. We discussed how this basically unattractive, moody man who never gained great wealth, and even lost his ability to hear, went on to overcome his handicaps and change the course of music. Even though he was totally deaf in his last few years, he wrote some of his greatest music. Through this understanding we hope you will be open to learning more about the music of the past.
ASSIGNMENT: Write a few paragraphs about what you learned about Beethoven and how it has affected your outlook towards the study of music of the past.