Thursday, July 21, 2005

Analysis: Beethoven's Ninth, Prolog

This is something I've wanted to do for years: Analyze the entire Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. If you want to follow along, the materials I'm going to use are Franz Liszt's Piano Transcription of the symphony, along with Cyprien Katsaris' recording of the transcription.

The Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven's nine symphonies are a musical monument in their own right, and are no mere collection of piano reductions, but are rather scholarly works of supreme transcendency by arguably the greatest piano virtuoso/composer of all time. Liszt's own introduction to the transcriptions is as follows:

"The name of Beethoven is sacred in art.  His symphonies are at present universally acknowledged to be master-pieces; whoever seriously wishes to extend his knowledge or new works can never devote too much reflection and study upon them.  For this reason every way or manner of making them accessible and popular has a certain merit, nor are the rather numerous arrangements published so far without relative merit, though, for the most part, they seem to be of little intrinsic value for deeper research.  The poorest lithograph, the most faulty translation always gives an idea, indefinite though it be, of the genius of Michel Angelo, of Shakespeare, in the most incomplete piano-arrangement we recognise here and there the perhaps half effaced traces of the master's inspiration.  By the development in technique and mechanism which the piano has gained of late, it is possible now to attain more and better results than have been atained so far.  With the immense development of its harmonic power the piano seeks to appropriate more and more all orchestral compositions.  In the compass of its seven octaves it can, with but a few exceptions, reproduce all traits, all combinations, all figurations of the most learned, of the deepest tone-creations, and leaves to the orchestra no other advantages, than those of the variety of tone colors and massive effects---immense advantages, to be sure
 
Such has been my aim in the work I have undertaken and now lay before the musical world.  I confess that I should have to consider it a rather useless employment of my time, if I had but added one more to the numerous hitherto published piano-arrangements, following in their rut; but I consider my time well employed if I have succeeded in transferring to the piano not only the grand outlines of Beethoven's compositions but also those numerous fine details, and smaller traits that so powerfully contribute to the completion of the ensemble.  My aim has been attained if I stand on a level with the intelligent engraver, the conscious translator, who comprehend the spirit of a work and thus contribute to the knowledge of the great masters and to the formation of the sense for the beautiful."
 
Rome, 1865                               FRANZ LISZT

From the reverent tone of Liszt's dedacatory introduction to these transcriptions, it is evident that one of the main reasons he undertook this monumental and worthy task was to provide these nine musical epics of Beethoven in a form that could be studied, which is the task at hand. For years the musical language of Beethoven - hands-down my favorite composer of all time by many lightyears of distance beyond Bach, who is my second - was an impenetrable fortress of sublimnity that I simply stood in pious awe of. Lately, however, I have began to comprehend "one thing and another" about his music while perusing the Liszt transcriptions, and so the time has come for me to analyze the entire corpus of my favorite of all symphonies. Before I was successful at writing an Art of Fugue-style string quartet piece, I analyzed every intervallic relationship between every voice in Bach's Contrapunctus I, and so here I wish to finally, at long last, penetrate the mature musical language of Beethoven, just as I have done with Bach.

I will be entering the Liszt transcription into my music printing/sequencing software as I go, adding the thematic and harmonic analysis to it, and providing commentary throughout the process. For a listening reference, I will be using Katsaris' amazing recording of the solo piano transcription, which I actually prefer to most symphonic performances due to the "issues" I have with the finale: I'm one of those old school guys that does not care to hear vocal soloists and vocal choirs in a symphony.

I will be recieving a new computer and an enhanced package from a new ISP in the next few weeks, and so I am hopeful that I will be able to learn how to link to MIDI files of the musical examples I present before too awfully long that will be extremely tiny file sizes that will play via QuickTime readily, even if you have dialup internet access (If anyone is familiar with the details of how to do this - I already have the hosting part figured out, it's the linking details I'm not positive about yet - please do share).

Obviously, the orchestration will probably not be analyzed in any great detail here. I must admit to being diffident about that particular subject, as I already have very definite ideas about orchestration that are nothing like Beethoven's. I reserve the right to "revise and extend", of course, so don't be too surprised if I eventually drag the full score into this at some point. It would be untruthful of me to say that I am jumping into this with supreme confidence: while I'm certain it will be a very profitable enterprise, at the same time I must admit to having some trepidation... ah... like... permiating every cell of my entire being.

5 Comments:

Blogger Nolan said...

You are very ambitious for wanting to do such a project. I commend you for your efforts. Good Luck!

-nolan
http://pianovault.blogspot.com/

11:59 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Thanks Nolan. Fortunately, I have a fairly broad streak of brashness in my personality. Or to put it in the less kind words of my father, I have a bad case of "Open mouth, insert foot-disease". Once I started entering the music and realized the enormity of the task, I found myself taking several deep down body gulps from time to time. I'm glad I have some time before the new computer arrives, as it's allowed me to get way ahead, which I'm beginning to realize is necessary for any proper perspective on an analysis of anything so vast as a Beethoven symphony movement. I'll bop over and check out your blog!

3:20 AM  
Blogger Steven said...

Hello,
i'm a musicstudent from holland.. I'm really interested in your Analysis.. Can you send it mayby to me ? svsteekelenburg@hotmail.com
Tanx!

5:09 AM  
Blogger Steven said...

Hello,
i'm a musicstudent from holland.. I'm really interested in your Analysis.. Can you send it mayby to me ? svsteekelenburg@hotmail.com
Tanx!

5:09 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Hi Steven,

I never did finish this project because I ran into a maximum file size limit with the notation program I was using. Sorry,

George

5:15 AM  

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