The "Minimalistic Setting" in Wagner’s Das Rheingold


Historians always seek the first. If they examine a style, they try to locate the first artwork that reflects such style, or the first artist to create such style. Quite interestingly, after the  so-called the ‘first’ is found, not lasting for a long time, another  the ‘first’ appears. For the now-famous minimal style which has swept through many of the 20th century musical works, we always speak of Terry Rily’s “In C” or Philip Glass’s many minimal pieces. But could you think of Richard Wagner’s music dramas?
The following discussion may lead you to a new terrain of understanding of the so-called musical minimalism. Be it a style of 20th century music only, or through broadening its definition, that we can also find some extraordinary works which may also be called minimal music before the 20th century.


The “Minimalistic Setting” in Wagner’s Das Rheingold

       Wagner’s four minutes length prelude Das Rheingold unquestioningly shows three significant Romantic traits: 1. sublime orchestral sonority; 2. kaleidoscopic timbres; 3. prolonged melodic line. The overall mood portrayed in this grand passage is extensively dramatic, yet profoundly poetic and sensationally touching, rather than only elegantly classical under the aegis of well-proportional and symmetrical. Apart from the apparent Romantic appearances, however, this inspiring passage is not without having other novel features that invite further scrutiny. 

       Although the entire passage lasts almost four minutes, the musical motion merely depends on the projection of one single element, the Eb major tonic triad. The thematic melody, the sustaining pedal and the orchestral accompaniment are all derived from this lonely Eb major chord, continuously repeated again and again throughout the prelude section until the tenor vocal enters. Doubtless the monothematic setting here is extremely minimal. This unreasonable economical use of materials probably reminds us of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero (1928), which could be regarded as one of the precursors of the Postmodern Minimalism in the years sixty. Boleroonly consists of a single Spanish dance theme and a snare drum rhythmic ostinato unfolding throughout the whole piece. Similarly, Das Rheingold also reflects such conspicuous feature. 

Another significance that is worth considering is the restless subtle changes within each repetition. By adding different instruments to the texture and changing the accompanimental pattern in the inner parts, the musical tension is built up gradually. These nuances of change not only enhance manifold timbres so as to avoid monotonous, but also thicken the orchestral sonority step by step, providing a gradual increase of dynamic from the soft to the climatic loud tutti near the ending. The effect is that musical tension is held for the entire passage. As a result, neither a single repetition of the melodic nor a harmonic pattern generates the same sonic sound.   Such small-scale continuous changes within each repeated pattern is very similar to the art painting work, Coca Cola, drawn by Andy Warhol in minimal style in 1962. In Coca Cola, a matrix of numerous coca cola bottles of the same size is orderly displayed on the canvas, but in fact no single bottle is exactly identical. Doubtless the subtle shift within similarity is one of the most salient attributes of Minimal Arts. Das Rheingold, in this regard, can be understood as an embryonic minimal work. 

    In short, Wagner’s prophetic setting comprises much novelty and innovation, despite its apparent Romantic outlook. The single Eb tonic triad successfully maintains the entire musical motion and tension. In order to retain audience’s interest within a monothematic background, the orchestration, timbre, dynamic, harmonic pattern and texture are altered incessantly. This restless small-scale change is the key factor for the gradual growth of musical tension, building up a more complex texture and bombarding sonority until the climatic conclusion. Das Rheingold, therefore, can be regarded as an extraordinary example of hybridization of Romanticism and somewhat nascent Minimalism.

David Leung (theorydavid)
2013-03-02 Published

The Eroica in Beethoven’s Eroica

Foreword:  I have been teaching Beethoven’s Eroica for these few weeks. So I would like to share an article about this unusal symphony. In addition, this writing may be a good reference for the students to learn how to express musical sound in words.

Beethoven’s Eroica


“It represents not only one of the most incredible achievements in the history of symphony, but also the most important step on the progression of the whole western music history,” Paul Henry Lang, the renowned musicologist and critic, once stated it when he commented on Beethoven symphony no. 3, Eroica (1803).  Although Eroica was written more than two hundred years ago, its impact on today’s listeners remains tremendous. 


It has already been widely known about Beethoven’s admiration for Napoleon Bonaparte and he dedicated this symphony for him.  But after Napoleon’s self-coronation as the French Emperor, Beethoven gave up the idea.  In fact, this legend has nothing related to the magnificent power of Eroica.  Compared to the stormy impact Eroicabrought to the audience of different times and nations, the political turbulence caused by Napoleon was but a slight summer breeze.  In no more than a few decades did Europe recover from Napoleon’s devastation.  Eroica, on the contrary, had changed the entire concept of symphony and effectively brought the genre to a new stage.


Before Eroicawas premiered to his main patron Prince Lobkowitz in 1804, Beethoven had built up his fame as a composer-performer by writing several instrumental pieces, including at least two symphonies, three piano concertos, in the classical style of Haydn.  If Beethoven were merely satisfied with these achievements and continued working in a similar style, he might still had his name appeared in history with those contemporaries, such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel or Lugwig Sphor, but he certainly would not have become a revolutionary hero standing uniquely in the history of music. 


Beethoven’s revolutionary spirit has already been unleashed in the slow movements of both the piano sonata no. 13, Pathetique and Piano Concerto no. 3.  But it is still difficult to envisage the later development of Beethoven’s musical style from these movements.  Doubtless Eroica has a particular attribute that no previous works of his possess.   From the first note to the last, the music seems to narrate the life of a dramatic hero struggling from a tragic opening to a triumphant ending.  In fact, this narrative character enhanced by pure instrumental music is pioneering.  Neither Mozart’s mature symphonies nor those of Haydn can exert such expressive power.  In Beethoven’s hands, the classical ideal of balance of emotions and intellects is no longer maintained.  The fact that Beethoven boldly gave up the classicism of Haydn and Mozart proved to be far-reaching.  Eroica becomes the first symphonic work stepping into the terrain of Romanticism.


In the outer appearance, Beethoven basically maintains the principles of what his predecessors did to classical symphony for Eroica.  For example, it is a symphony of four movements, which is a typical classical style developed by Joseph Haydn.  Also, Beethoven uses different keys to express various contrasting moods in all movements and let the home key returned after modulations, in order to keep unity.  However, Beethoven makes a great change in the design of structure.  This change not only makes an unavoidable expansion of the length, but also destroys the classical balance between movements, and replaces it with the unceasing dramatic impulses.  Both the length and complexity of the first movement has gone beyond all past instrumental works.  The first theme appears only in a brief glimpse in the opening few bars, and thus, tonal unity has been broken just after the first ten seconds.  Not until the music reaching the coda can a comparably stable theme be heard.  This completeness makes the ending theme looks like an opening theme, as if it should have appeared in the exposition.  In retrospect, Beethoven seems to have raised a thirteen-minute whirling storm over the first movement. 


Beethoven’s revolutionary “storm” commences by two Eb tonic chords calling in tutti.  The “heroic” theme, which is based on the arpeggiation of this Eb triad,  then follows.  Putting tonic materials in the very beginning of a movement are the most direct and effective ways to establish the stability of a work.  But it is only a fleeting stability because of the sudden intrusion of a C# note.  According to the principle of harmony, this dissonant C# must be resolved.  This unpleasant intrusion disappears shortly afterwards by resolving to another unstable dominant seventh chord.  Music is said to go back to its stable “home” again.  But this “home” only reflects a temporary placidity.  A terrible storm is forthcoming.


To our modern ears, the chromatic C# note is only a piece of black cloud in the sky.  Twentieth century music has been notorious for consisting the ‘black cloud’ notes of what the principles of classical harmony regard as “wrong.”  To understand the disturbance caused by this C#, we need only to recall the audience of the late eighteenth-century Vienna.  


Just before the private premiere of Eroica to Prince Lobkowitz, the revolutionary spirit has already pervaded the entire Continent.  The success of American Revolution in 1776 and French Revolution in 1789 brought a chain of impacts to the socio-political structure of Europe.  One of the results was the rise of the social status of bourgeoisie and layman.  But this rise simultaneously denotes the fall of the aristocracy.  Doubtless the late 18th century is a time for the blossom of humanity and equity, but it is also a time for the growth of anxiety and frustration.  When the princes and nobles listened to symphonic works, they have already accustomed to the so-called Haydnian elegance and nobility for years.  This fading classical style was still a highly revered beauty.  The aristocratic Viennese did not need anything brutal to raise their anxieties, or to increase their worries.  Thus, when Beethoven “Eroica” stood before them in the concert, this inflected C# was seen as a loss of social balance, or even a symbol of brutal invasion.


 But even greater anxieties were bought to those Viennese laymen.  Just a few days before Eroica’s first public performance in the concert hall (1805), Vienna was occupied by Napoleon’s army.  The nobles fled the city.  The audiences in the concert were the ones threatened by military invasion.  Thus it is not hard to understand why they easily link the music of the first movement to a sonic description of a battlefield, where they can think of general, soldiers, horse rearing, sabre shining or column of men streaming through the mountain.  The awed sounds of war, being fused with the stirring music, were hovering among listeners.   This inflected C#, therefore, was certainly seen as a symbol of brutal invasion.


Instead of the unstable C# note in the heroic theme, the other stormy feature embedded in Eroicais the scalic running passages.  These passages can always arouse listeners a feeling of spirited forward motions.  It is essential for an overwhelming musical storm.  Although Beethoven begins his heroic theme with triple time, he makes use of syncopation and shift of dynamics to enhance a sense of two-beat march rhythm after the short opening.  In addition, using the fragmented heroic theme as the main developing cell is another important source for generating motions.  The turbulent storm first starts blowing in the low strings by the heroic theme.  The high strings then answer.  Every time when repeating, the theme is raised a tone until it reaches the climax.  Only the first four notes of the main theme can survive after the climax, and are taken gradually by the woodwinds and brasses.  This is not a moment for rest, but the anticipation for another flow.  Shortly afterwards, the four-note heroic fragment reoccurs with increasing frequency, arresting every listener in a moment of high tension.  


Another example of Beethoven’s whirling storm happens in the second movement, the Funeral March.  After two-third of the music, the opening theme returns softly in the first violin, hovering along the high register without any support.  The whole orchestra then roars with an Ab.  The brass at the same time repeats the C, then the F over the agitated string triplet-tremolo.  The music now is like a whirling storm, seeming to engulf everything without any intention to stop.  What the orchestra playing is no longer the Mozartian slow movement of elegant singing, but a hysteric growl of extreme pain that goes beyond any listener’s imagination.  Never has such thing happened in previous symphonies.  Never such thing has happened in the previous symphonies.  Furthermore, Beethoven seems to let his hero added with a little tragic, dark color.  He fragments the funeral theme and let it dissolves in the quietness at the end of this movement, symbolizing the death and getting buried of the hero.  Is this tragic hero Beethoven himself or other?  Perhaps, no one knows the answer, even Beethoven himself.


The replacement of minuet and trio with scherzo in the third movement also reflects Beethoven’s another innovative character.  In order to maintain the stormy motion of this movement, Beethoven gives up his predecessors’ favorite, the courtly dance of minuet and trio.  The music is no more “lofty” enough to please the Viennese upper classes, or to extend their vanishing noble dreams.  It is reformed to a spirited and energetic chapter, seeming to mock at the hypocrisy of the Viennese upper class.  In fact, the use of a scherzo to replace the Minuet and Trio in the third movement of a symphony becomes one of the major characteristics of Beethoven’s symphonies.


If Beethoven were asked why he made such bold reformation, he might have answered like this: “Why not!”  A storm is still a storm.  There is no reason why the finale of Eroica is not a storm.  If the finale of Haydn and Mozart’s symphony is only the dessert, without any question, Beethoven’s finale will be the main course, or in the other words, the most powerful part of the storm.  Usually, the classical symphony focuses on the first two movements in which all important ideas are displayed.  The classical finale, thus, will be lighter and more relax in mood.  But Eroica is absolutely different.  The overwhelming power of the revolutionary storm can be easily felt in this triumphant ending.  Beethoven must have known that a light and vivid finale could not counterbalance the gigantic and complex preceding movements.  Therefore, Beethoven not only uses the duple meter, a March design for this spirited movement, but he also increases the complexity of the music and makes the length two times longer than the usual classical finale. 


Furthermore, the structure of this movement does not follow any classical model.  Sometimes, the music flows in form of a variation suite.  But in another time, it freely appears as a fugato.  The heroic theme propels forward like a fierce storm, seeming to use one man’s strength to break all bondages of the old social hierarchy and set all the people of any class free to a land of liberty, equity, and fraternity.  This is why Sir George Grove has commented: “The title of Eroica is about a portrait of Napoleon, but it is Beethoven who paints his own protrait on it.” 


 In short, from no. 1 to no. 9 (Choral Symphony), Beethoven’s symphonies can always enter into a new terrain that no one has discovered.  In fact, Eroicawas Beethoven’s most favorite symphony throughout his life.   But not many Viennese contemporary listeners showed the same appreciation.  Some critics fiercely attacked it by saying that it is the most difficult symphony to understand.  They criticized that Beethoven could not control many parts of the music, letting them flowing illogically.  If Beethoven cut off some unmanageable parts, the music could be more bright, fluent, and understandable.   As such, the Viennese mass seems being unready to accept Beethoven’s revolutionary storm.


        However, whether the 18thcentury Viennese aristocratic listeners disliked this symphony, the old epoch has passed.  Eroica was just like a short gleam from dawn after a long deep night, anticipating a splendid coming of a new and dazzling era.

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-09-10 (published)

何為壯美? Sublimity and Beauty in the19th Century Romanticism

前言: 當我們談到十九世紀的歐洲浪漫主義,總不免說到這時期的藝術作品的宏偉與壯麗。查實,浪漫主義,也跟各類藝術發展起來的美學觀點有著千絲萬縷的關係。其中一種美學感受,就是 sublimity,我現在翻為壯美。但凡壯美的作品,必定是宏偉與龐大的。可予人一種然生畏的感覺,就如你看著波濤洶湧的海浪,翻騰不息,那種感覺經驗,就是壯美了。


                                                       The “Sublime” and “Beauty” 

When E.T.A. Hoffmann’s imaginative criticism of Beethoven’s symphony no. 5 was published in the 19th century, the concept of “musical sublimity” was also come across as a novel way of understanding of pure instrumental music, and symphony in particular. As Hoffmann suggests in his writing, Beethoven’s music has a power of transporting listeners to the realms of the monstrous and the unfathomable, which is different from that of Haydn’s sensational delight and Mozart’s emotional touching. Indeed this listening experience of transporting audiences to a new “realm” is somewhat similar to Fetis’s concept of aesthetic experience. For Fetis, music can present two levels of aesthetic experience to the listeners. One is commonly described as the experience of beauty, and the other, the experience of the sublime. He declared: “We listen to a piece of music……It disturbs us; it carries us away…… how beautiful, we exclaim, how great, how sublime!”
According to Elaine Sisman, a (present day) contemporary musicologist, the sublime is regarded as an aesthetic category that usually appears as a component of the elevated or grand style of rhetoric. The rhetorical modes of thought which operated in 18th century instrumental music was a mind-set-like theory affecting the structure and design of a work, as well as the audience’s understandings of that work. But the concept of sublime has gone beyond a kind of figurative mode of speech and has been elevated to a form of aesthetic state akin to an echo of a noble mind, a grand conception and a sense of beauty. To use the term “sublime” to describe the expressive power of music shows a change of emphasis from expression as a mirror of the human emotions of Classical aesthetics to expression as the revelation of the ineffable of Romantic aesthetics. Edmund Burke further argues that sublime objects are vast in their dimensions and this “sublime” ought to be dark and gloomy, being beyond any comprehension and presenting an overwhelming but irrational experience to the listeners. The concept of vast sublimity undoubtedly leads to the notions of “sublime terror” and “monumental simplicity” that sheds a new light on understanding the music of late Mozart, Beethoven and even many Romantic musical giants afterward. As such, when the concept of sublimity was applied to instrumental music, in order to manifest the notion of “grand, monumental and terrifying design”, the simple songs were no longer appropriate to such ideal. It was the symphony, a genre which as Haydn had demonstrated, was capable of creating a form spanning hundreds of measures using mainly the logic of harmony and theme without recourse to text, was generally considered as the highest form of all arts. And the metaphysical aesthetic of 19th century Romanticism was then fully developed under the aegis of this concept of musical sublimity and the rising importance of the musical genre — symphony.
David Leung (theorydavid)
2011-03-29 (published)


前言: 這也是一篇資料相當充實的文章。討論範圍相當廣泛。文體不太艱深。可是,我也不期望現在的學生哥會仔細閱讀。他們怕看文字的態度,垣白說,已到了無可救藥的地步。可是,對於喜歡藝術的朋友,我相信他們會喜歡,因為,通過這短短的文章裡,他們可以略略明白某種藝術風格,不限音樂,是如何在二十世紀與起。這是歷史學,也是社會文化學的一篇文章。


The Influence of the 19th Century Intellectual Thoughts on the Modern Arts
The end of the 19th century was a time of relative peace and optimistic faith in technological progress and human productivity. Industrialism provided the economic and military basis for the west’s rise to a position of dominance over the rest of the world and at the same time, took certain impact to the modern arts.
Sigmund Freud’s theories concerning the nature of the human psyche, the significance of dreams, and the dominating role of human sexuality had a revolutionary effect on the beliefs, attitudes, and morals of modern society. They were equally influential upon the arts. In literature, Proust, Kafka and Joyce are representative of the modern novelist’s preoccupation with the subconscious life and with the role of memory in shaping reality. Their fiction reflects a fascination with methods and principles of Freudian psychoanalysis. Stream of consciousness narrative and the interior monologue are among the literary techniques used by modern authors to develop plot and character. In the visual arts, Freud’s impact generated a wide variety of styles that gave free play to fantasy and dreams.
The expressionism of Munch and Kirchner, the metaphysical art of de Chirico, and the fantasies of Chagall examined the mysteries of repressed fears and desires. The dada movement spread the gospel of irrationality in randomly organized words and images. Duchamp, the most outrageous of the dada cultists, championed a nihilistic, antiart spirit that had far-reaching effects in the second half of the century. In 1924, Andre Breton launched surrealism, an international movement to liberate the life of the subconscious from the bonds of reason.
Strongly influenced by Freud, the surrealists viewed the human subconscious as a battleground of conflicting forces dominated by instincts. Miro, and Klee explored the terrain of the interior life in abstract paintings filled with playful and ominous images.
Dali, Magritte, Kahlo, and O’Keeffe manipulated illusions of the real world in ways that evoked the visionary incoherence of the dream life. In motion pictures, Dali, Bunuel, and others devised cinematic techniques that exposed the dark and unpredictable passions of the mind.
In music, Satie embraced mundane sounds with the same enthusiasm that E.E. Cummings showed for slang in poetry and Dumchamp exercised in his glorification of found objects. It was in the expressionistic monodramas of Schoenberg and the sexually charged operas of Strauss, Bartok, and Berg that Freud’s impact was most powerfully realized.
During the second half of the 19th century, as the social consequences of the western industrialism became increasingly visible, realism came to rival romanticism both as a style and as an attitude of mind. The ideologies of 19th century of liberalism, conservatism, Utilitarianism, socialism and communism offered varying solutions to contemporary problems of social injustice and inequity.
In the arts, realism emerged as a style concerned with recording contemporary subject matter in true-to-life terms. Such novelists as Dickens in England, Zola in France, and Twain in America, they described contemporary social conditions sympathetically and fidelity to detail.
Photography and lithography were invented during the 19th century; both medium encouraged artists to produce objective records of their surroundings. By the mid nineteenth century the camera was used to document all aspects of contemporary life as their compositions. In painting, Courbet led the realist movement with canvases depicting the activities of humble and commonplace men and women. Daumier employed the new technique of lithography to show his deep concern for political and social conditions in rapidly modernizing France. Manet shocked art critics by recasting traditional subjects in contemporary terms.
America’s realist painters, including Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer, recorded typically American pastimes in an unembellished, forthright manner. In music, Puccini wrote operas that captured the lives of 19th century Europeans.
On the whole, the varieties of realism in 19th century cultural expression reflect a profound concern reassessment of traditional western values.
Art for art’s sake was neither a movement nor a style but rather a prevailing spirit in European and especially French culture of the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
Of all forms of art, there was a new attention to sensory experience rather than to moral and didactic purpose.
At the same time, advances in optics, electricity, and other areas of science and technology brought attention to matters of motions and light. Theses affected the French impressionists, led by Monet, were equally representative of the late 19th century interest in sensation and sensory experience. These artists tried to record an instantaneous vision of their world, sacrificing the details of perceived objects in order to capture the effects of light and atmosphere.
Paralleling the radical changes in technology and art, the German iconoclast Nietzsche questioned the moral value of art and rallied superior individuals to topple old gods, that is, to reject whatever was sentimental and stale in Western tradition.
Amidst new theories of sensation and perception, the French philosopher Bergson stressed the role of intuition in grasping the true nature of durational reality. He claimed that time is the continuous progress of the past, which gnaws into the future and which swells as it advance. Time cannot be measured in such a quantitative way, it is a quality, not a substance. The application of Bergson’s theory of time to the arts of the late 19th century can be very illuminating. The philosopher often cited the motion picture as an example of what he meant by the perception of duration. The separate frames in a motion picture film are still; but when the series is run through the projector, the mind melds them together in a continuous flow, and they appear to be animated and alive. So also are the separate colors on an impressionistic canvas, the separate scenes in a Maeterlinck play, the separate chords in  a Debussy progression-all are molded by the mind into a continuum of time.
In visual impressionism, the eye mixes the colors and in a symbolist poem, the symbolist poets devised a language of sensation that evoke feeling rather than describing experience and let the mind supplies the connecting verbs for the so-called fragments. In Maeterlinck play, the imagination gives the irrelevancies speech and action a dramatic meaning and in Debussy’s music, the ear bridges over the pregnant silences. In sculpture, the works of Degas and Rodin reflect a common concern for figural gesture and movement and left parts of the stone uncut. The postimpressionists van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Cezanne moved beyond the impressionist infatuation with fleeting effects. Van Gogh and Gauguin used color not as an atmospheric envelope but as a tool for personal and visionary expression. Seurat and Cezanne reacted against the formlessness of impressionism by creating styles that featured architectural stability and solid, simplified forms.
In all arts, this ceaseless flux leads toward the improvisatory, the consciously incomplete. Each work tries to be a product of inspiration rather than calculation. With visual impressionists, all pictorial substance is broken down into an airy mixture of color sprays, fleeting shadows, and momentary moods.
With industrialization came a specialization in which people were concerned more with fragments than with wholes. Industrial workers were rapidly forfeiting to the machine their place as the primary productive unit. In Mallarme’s ‘Afternoon Faune’, images unfold as sensuous, discontinuous fragments. Similar effects occur in the music of Debussy, where delicately shaded harmonies gently drift without resolution.
During the late 19th century, atomic physicists provided a model of the universe that was both more dynamic and more complex than any previously conceived, e.g. Newton. Einstein produced his special theory of relativity, a radically new approach to the concepts of time, space and motion. Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty stated that since the act of measuring subatomic phenomena would alter those phenomena, the position and the velocity of a particle could not be measured simultaneously with any accuracy.
Therefore, at the onset of the twentieth-century, modern physics had replaced the absolute and rationalist model of the universe with one that seemed chaotic and uncertain.
Paralleling the advancement of atomic physics, Nietzsche’s new philosophical concepts also had a certain impact on the artists. He asked: ‘Is man merely a mistake of God’s? Or God merely a mistake of man’s?’ Agreeing with Nietzsche’s remark that history was the process by which the dead bury the living, Marinetti declared in his manifesto in 1909 that futurism was being founded to ‘deliver Italy from its plague of professors, archeologists, tourist guides and antique dealers.’ All these new intellectual points of view are also mirrored in abstract art.
In the arts, new ways of seeing and listening were being worked out. In painting, for example, the cubist system of multiple visual viewpoints was explored, whereby several sides of an object could be presented at the same time in 2-dimenional space. In sculpture, a new theory of volume was developed, whereby open holes or gaps in the surface suggested the interpenetration of several planes, and the interpenetration of several planes, and the existence of other sides and surfaces not immediately in view. In architecture, the international style used the vocabulary of steel and glass to incorporate in structure of outer and inner space.
Similar developments occurred in literature and music, which found new ways of presenting materials in time dimension. In music, the so-called atonal method of composition was formulated. Such novel organizations of space and time demanded new ways of thinking about the world, new ways of looking at it, listening to it, and reading about it. Abstraction includes such various developments as cubism, futurism, the mechanical style, non-objectivism, the twelve-tone method and the international style of architecture.
From the above brief discussion, one can understand how a form of art is developed through historical course under the influences of sociol and intellectual thoughts. The emergence of Modernism in the 20th century was not a coincidence. It deeply stemmed from human life and thoughts. If one wants to uncover the veil of this artistic process, one should not avoid examinating the history of socio-culture and science in relation to that of the humanity.
David Leung (theorydavid)
2011-03-25 (published)

Beethoven’s Influences of Symphony – 2

前言: 這篇文章接續上一篇探討貝多芬對後世交響樂發展的影響。

我已經常常說,香港的現代教育,簡直是混賬到極,不知所謂到不能忍受的地步。香港那所訓練未來老師的最高學府裡頭的 “教授” 們給了 assignment 同學,又驚同學們沒有時間做,又驚他們不識做,又驚題目出得深,就說叫他們抄書就可以了。我有一位私人學生急急 call 我,並告訴我看完 Palisca 那本 History textbook 天書,都沒有直接答案談及有 Beethoven 對後世音樂 和音樂家的影響。現在是江湖告急。嗚呼! 連那些修音樂為主科的學位學生,隨口也不能 present 十分鐘有關貝多芬對音樂的貢獻和影響,還敢說自己是讀音樂,懂音樂的嗎? 看著書本也不懂 “抄”,(應該是偷),怎辦? 我們常說,熟讀唐書三百首,不會吟詩也會 “抄” 嘛。坦白說,平時我指導這些私人學生,也常常提及不同作曲家和作品的風格特色和對後世的貢獻。些個同學是學 AMusTCL 考試研習的,Set piece 是 Schubert 的第五交響曲,我也談及過這首作品和 Beethoven 的交響作品的相同和不同的關係。我也曾教過同學,舒氏一生以 Beethoven 這位同期的前輩大師為學習對象,連死前也想學習 Counterpoint (這是Beethoven 最精,但 Schubert 最弱的技巧),皆因要寫偉大的交響曲,沒有精練的對位技巧是不行的。可是同學們就當私人老師是補鑊助理,”求其” 要他們改改 past paper 就算是跟他們學了。他們就只關心學校是否給他們一張證書,所以對校內的課就比較認真,私人嘛….嘿嘿….


5. The whole symphony could be unified through thematic links or a program:

What is program music? This is a slippery term indeed. The definition of such musical genre is different from people to people. If we think of symphony with a programmatic title in a rather loose way, it is quite easy to remind us of Beethoven’s first program symphony. He marked the literal description about the music on the score with a clear title. What is this symphony? Yes, it is symphony 6 in F major entitled ‘Pastoral’. Listeners can understand the work through reading the descriptions. Indeed, no one would denies that Beethoven also used a title to referencing his renowned symphony no. 3 with a title: dedicated to a anonymous Hero after he tore the front page of the manuscript of this symphony when he heard the new of the self-coronation of Napoleon. That is why we called Beethoven’s third symphony in Eb major as Eroica.  Apart from using a program to cohere the work, Beethoven also favored to used short motive to structure his lenghy symphonies. He used cyclic form to link the separate movements. For example, the third and finale movements of symphony no.5 are connected together without break, in order to push the music to the climatic triumphant closing moment, glorifying the victory of fighting against ones’ destiny. All these innovative settings in symphonies provide an exemplar to the forthcoming composers in the nineteenth century. Not only Mendelosshn wrote program symphony, but also Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak liked to employ title for their symphonic works. Wagner, a self-claimed  follower of Beethoven, invented the use of leit motive, an adaptation of an unifying motive used in symphonic work, for his musical drama, inauguarte a new chapter for the late coming compositional writing of Hollywood film music to follow.

6. Use of dynamic scherzo and the sublime hymn-like slow movement:

Beethoven liked to use scherzo to replace the conventional third movement of Minuet and Trio in the symphony. This is a widely known fact. While Haydn employed the courty dance of Minuet and Trio to please his patrons, Beethoven changed the elegance and grace of this court dance to a more vigorous and energetic movement to serve his extended form of symphony. We still remember that Beethoven’s symphonies are heard as a pschological journey. Scherzo is more suitable to be placed in the third movement, since the third movement, in the hands of Beethoven, is now becoming a storage pool to provide sufficient energy and motions for the outcoming of the triumphant finale. Minuet and trio, quite obviously, is not energetic enough to propel the forthcoming of the glorious finale. Therefore, to replace dynamic scherzo and solemn slow movement are a reflection of Beethoven’s pschological journey of a figurative hero. In the other words, his symphonies are embedded with rich extra-musical meanings that forced Beethoven to change the form and structure of the conventional design of the classical symphony.

7. Large Orchestra: If you think of Beethoven’s use of three horns in symphony no. 3, trombones in symphony no. 5 and four horns in no. 9 with a Turkish March Band, you will not surprised top see why the late coming symphonic composers tended to use a large orchestra for their symphonic works. Whether Wagner, Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky or Mahler, employing large orchestra not only for serving  their expressive means through a gigantic symphonic works, but also for delineating a sense of sublimity to the audience. This was indubitably a reflection of the nineteenth century German Romanticism.

8. Beethvoen move the center of gravity of the symphony more towards the last movements: In the hands of Haydn and Mozart, the last two movements of a symphony are only a suffix of the main chapter. The most important part of a symphony is the first Allegro movement and its counterpart, the slow second movement. The last two are only additional, in order to enhance the so-called classical perfection of balance and well-control. However, after Beethoven’s triumph of the triumphant ending setting of a symphony, Romantic symphonies could be categorized according to the success or failure of their finales.

9. Symphony became a more earnes, more ‘self-conscious’ compositional exercise than before, one that had to be undertaken with considerable caution and preparation:

Of course, this point may link to the rise of the individualism in the 19th century Romanticism. When ‘genius’, a composer with talent gift, created an art work, originality was the most important than anything. He/she put forth all his/her emotions and reasons to the artistic creations. It is a chance to bring himself/herself out that is different from the others. Brahms, for example, spent almost twenty years to wrote his first symphony, which was regarded as the symphony of Beethoven Tenth. Mahler, furthermore, spent almost his life time to wrote his nine symphonies, and through symphony, Mahler seeked his understanding of universal truth, as well as the meanings of life and death. To him, symphony is a transcendental medium to attain a new level of immortality and eternality.

As such, almost every composer after Beethoven could hardly write more than nine symphonies throughout his life, since they treated symphony writing carefully and cautiously.

Therefore,  many music scholars agreed that the symphony is the most important musical genre in the19th century European community. Since symphony is so important and must be carefully to deal with, almost no major absolute symphony were composed between 1850 and 1870.  Not until 1870 did the emergence of a “second age of the symphony” arrive. With the works of Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bordoin, Dvorak and Frank, in the 1870s and 1880s, the symphony once again dominated a large part of the concert repertoire till to this day.


David Leung (theorydavid)

2011-03-16 (published)

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