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View Diary: Thursday Classical Music OPUS 62: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (33 comments)

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  •  A couple of questions, Dumbo. (1+ / 0-)
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    Theodor Adorno identified what he called paratactic musical structures in Beethoven's late style -- my understanding of Adorno was saying that Beethoven presented one musical episode after another without the the "dominant logic" of an overarching sonata-allegro form.  Adorno also said that this late style of Beethoven amounted to a polemic against logical synthesis in favor of a free, flowing form in which any part of the composition is equal to any other.  Do you agree with Adorno, and if so, could this free, flowing form -- this rebellion against domination -- be what is so attractive to political activists?

    •  A couple of years ago, I hadn't ever heard (1+ / 0-)
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      of Adorno.  Or had and didn't bother to remember him.  Now I'm very familiar with him, I think, from all the places he keeps showing up in my researching for the diaries, although I still haven't read any complete books by him.  I was reading about some of what you're talking about now in excerpts from the book (the parts online) "Beethoven's Ninth, a Political History," which quoted and paraphrased Adorno.

      There are so many ways of listening to Beethoven, I guess.  I hear, in Beethoven, a SUPREME ARCHITECT, and I can elaborate on that, I guess.  Adorno is cool, but he tends to spin off into outer space with some of his commentary on other composers, like his attacks on Bartok.  

      When you talk about Dominant Logic, I think you might misunderstand what he meant, although I'd have to see the quote to know.  Most symphonies before Beethoven were very strict about making them a contest between two keys: the tonic and the dominant.  For instance, C major and G major, in the Jupiter Symphony, G being the dominant of C.  Beginning early on in his career, he started using more remote keys.  He liked to set up contrasts with keys a major third away, for instance, like C and E, or C and A-flat.  In the 9th Symphony, first movement, the two keys he plays off against each other are Dminor and B-flat major, B-flat being a major third down.  That seemed strange to his peers (at first).  

      Another thing he did was he often didn't set up the dominant chord before the recapitulation.  See, one of the advantages of having a dominant-tonic dynamic is that at the end of the exposition, you to to build up to a big G dominant 7th chord, making the final return to the tonic key a more powerful experience.  Beethoven often fucked with that.  For instance, in the Sixth Symphony first movement, he slides into the recapitulation without using the dominant.  

      I'm not sure what political dimensions any of that imply, but it does show a kind of rebellion against the strictures of the time and a desire to create his own structures based on creative new relationships.

      The Seventh Symphony is another example of weird key choices.  The whole symphony is based on the contrast of three keys rather than two: A (the key of the symphony), F (the subdominant) and C (a minor third up).  He uses that pattern in all four movements, although it's so arcane to try to explain why he did that I sort of quit trying to.  (I did mention it in the first diary, but briefly).  And in the 7th symphony recap beginning -- I can't remember the keys for sure -- he blew off the normal dominant to tonic return there.

      Fun to talk about -- way over everybody else's head, I'm afraid, eh?  Close to the limits of my own head.  

      I've noticed on my own dime how many of my favorite Beethoven melodies have a major third hitch in them, a III chord.  Like, in the Fifth symphony slow movement -- the melody goes from I to III in the middle, and does it rather seamlessly, even though that ends up sharping three of the notes.  Or in the C minor piano concerto slow movement(which I covered last year), same thing, although I think he goes to VIb, which is a major third down.  In the middle of the melody of the Violin Concerto's slow movement, too, he does a slick little VIb chord.  So eerie the way he just slides into it.  Not changing key mind you -- he just does these things as color chords in the middle of the melodies, which come back very quickly to the I tonic.

      Here's a clip of the Violin Concerto.  Watch how easily he goes to VIb at 0:21.  The whole movement plays off that I-something-III progression.  (I think it goes I to IIIb to VIb.  Can't remember now).  

      How do I know this shit?  From trying to play it on my dinky recorder flute between TV commercials and wondering how he does it.  No genius stuff required here, although it took the Internet for me to learn how to describe this stuff in roman numerals.  My limited musical home-schooling is all garage band chords and guitar tabs.  

      Learning about roman numerals does make it easier to talk about this shit.  My brother, who is a long time rock musician, composer, and recording engineer, despises Roman numerals and wasn't much help when I was trying to understand them.  He told me about how he would get studio musicians with formal training that came in and tried to say, "This should go from I to III to flat seven..." and nobody else would understand them.  And he'd have to translate it for the others into "G chord then B then F, you guys."  As he said, "If I tell a guitarist to play a III chord, I have no fucking idea what he'll play.  If I tell him 'Play a B chord there', he right away knows where to put his fingers and I don't have to explain shit."

      •  Oh yeah, the Violin Concerto clip... (2+ / 0-)
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        ybruti, Fresno

        The VIb chord at 0:19.  Sweetly done.

      •  Wow, thanks so much for your detailed response! (1+ / 0-)
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        I'm really learning a lot from your diaries.

        I'm sure I'm misunderstanding Adorno. I find a lot of his prose nearly impenetrable, and I actually haven't read too much of his writing on Beethoven.  When I wrote "dominant logic" in my comment above, I was trying to paraphrase Adorno's writing in his essay "Parataxis," published in volume two of his Notes on Literature. "Parataxis" is mostly about Friedrich Hölderlin's poetry, but Adorno does mention Beethoven a couple of times in the piece.  Here's one instance:

        In a manner reminiscent of Hegel, mediation of the vulgar kind, a middle element standing outside the moments it is to connect, is eliminated as being external and inessential, something that occurs frequently in Beethoven's late style; this not least of all gives Hölderlin's late poetry its anticlassicistic quality, its rebellion against harmony. What is lined up in sequence, unconnected, is as harsh as it is flowing.

        As I try to follow Adorno's argument, my understanding is that by placing "moments" in series without explicit logical connections between these moments, Hölderlin was able to

        evade the logical hierarchy of a subordinating syntax.
         And instead of undertaking the typical Enlightenment quest for an understanding of cause and effect in nature (and therefore of control of nature), Hölderlin allows nature to unfold one moment at a time and
        takes the side of a fallen nature against a dominating Logos.

        So while I didn't intend to allude to dominant chords -- and I am also at the limits of my head here -- your response with your discussion of some of the choices Beethoven was making has me wondering whether he was, as Adorno put it, eliminating "inessential" connecting elements between the moments in his symphony and allowing the music to move in a way "as harsh as it is flowing."

        Thanks again!

        •  Interpreting that is probably out of my (1+ / 0-)
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          league, but I'm game for trying.

          If you're saying that Beethoven deliberately leaves out connecting material necessary to smooth out the musical moments and prepare from one to the next, in his Late Period (which is what Adorno mentioned -- and the Ninth is Beethoven's only Late Period symphony), then, yeah, I can see that.  And in his late quartets.  There's a deliberate cutting out of the fat that you would normally expect, leaving it strangely harsh at times.

          The Grosse Fuge quartet piece stands out as probably the greatest example of that -- so dissonant they wouldn't publish it, and possibly the most brilliant work of them all.  But there are other examples of that, where he just launches from one key to another unrelated key without all the necessary SET UP that you would expect from Mozart and Haydn.  And since he knew very well how to do all that, the fact that he didn't do it was a deliberate statement in itself.

          Here's a moment from his Beethoven String Quartet #16, the final movement, which is in Sonata-allegro form, like just about everything.

          The interesting point here is at 2:18, the end of the first exposition, before the repeat of the exposition.  (My little blue graphic outline at the top would indicate we're talking about the end of 2c, beginning of 3a, if you prefer to understand it that way.)  He goes back to the main key, but he starts in an alien key... and Beethoven deliberately does barely ZILCH to get us back comfortably to the home key before starting the 3a repeat.  It's unusual and jarring.  That would not be unusual at all in a 20th century piece by somebody like Prokofiev.  Not a bit.  But for that time in history, those kinds of things were STRANGE.  Back up a bit before 2:18, get all comfortable in that key he's playing, and then wait for the sudden disconnect he gives you at 2:18.  And all he is doing there is beginning the exposition again!  He just left out the shock absorbers.  

          I'll have to think now if there are any moments like that in the Ninth, one where something normal is given without the usual preparation, and thus shocks us.

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