Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Beethoven's Ninth: Allegro, I

First of all, I have to admit that this is a totally 100% self-centered endeavor: I want to get out of this project what I want to get out of it. Precisely, I want to understand Beethoven's late symphonic compositional style in terms I can personally digest in order to further my own compositional goals.

I've been down this path before. Back in the mid nineties, I did this treatment on Bach's Contrapunctus 1 from the Art of Fugue. There is no way to explain in words how valuable an experience that was for me. After many years of writing so-so fugues, that analysis project enabled me to "touch the face of God" and write a string quartet movement that is the first large piece of mine that I can legitimately consider to be "masterful". Obviously, I'm hoping for a similar result here.

If you've been following this blog at all, you know I've been piddling around with a few ideas for a sonata-process symponic movement. That's how this all got started: I wanted to analyze a few of B's linear cadential formulas to get some ideas for that piece, and I suddenly realized that since "The Ninth" is my favorite composition in all of symphonic literature, I ought to damn well analyze the whole thing. Fortunately/unfortunately, or whatever, I'm not a particularly even-tempered individual: My brashness has often gotten me into things that were over my head before, and perhaps this is another in a long list of replays of that recurring theme in my life, but I am determined to proceed nevertheless.

As I have been entering Liszt's transcription into Encore, it has occured to me that the enormity of this task is overwhelming. After a couple of weeks, I am about half way through the Allegro. I hope that I'll be able to finish the analysis at about the time I finish entering all the notes. So, I'm going to ease into this as smoothly as possible to give readers the chance to get aquainted with my analysis terminology, and also to give myself a chance to continue with the tedium of entering the music. So, here we go.

Every single analysis of this movement I'm familiar with calls the first sixteen measures an "introduction". While it's true that these measures perform the function of an intro, they are nonetheless much more than that: They are in fact the first theme, which I have labelled t1 for theme one. The reason for advancing this classification promotion is that these measures return many times in the course of this movement with further levels of development. A quick comparison would be with the introduction to the Allegro of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony: Those measures never return, and in fact that movement is a failure in my eyes because the rest of the symphony does not live up to the potential of the intro. Here, B uses the intro as an integral part of the movement and incorporates it completely into it's subsequent development.

Not only that, but the opening sixteen measures organically develop within themselves to theme 1a. This organic and natural developmental style is a trademark of Beethoven's late works. He was so far advanced as a composer by this point, that all of his works of the 1820's are holistically integrated within themselves via this/these techniques.

Another thing to note here is the nebulous incompleteness and ambiguity of the music: The open fifth I have labelled as V(5/0) is only possible to rationalize because Beethoven says the key is D minor, and so we know the fifth is functioning as a dominant sonority. If a listener were to encounter this music "cold", there would be no way to know that: The open fifth could be tonic major or minor for all that's available to digest at this point. Beethoven continues to use this trait of incompleteness throughout this movement (Which has made it a bit... er... bear to analyze, by the way).

So, t1 develops organically into t1a, complete with all of the 32nd note "slams". At t1a we finally get an arpeggiated statement of the tonic minor triad, which I have dutifully labelled as i. This is the first point at which the key is actually established more or less definitively, but there has still been no real cadence.

t1a then leads organically into t2, which is the main theme of the movement. What t2 amounts to is one measure of tonic harmony, followed by one measure of dominant harmony. It is important to note here that the measure of dominant harmony has no third, just as the t1 area had no third. Like I said, Beethoven is intentionally using ambiguity to keep the tension level and uncertainty factor exactly where he wants it to be.

The phraseology is very regular tyranny of four-oriented to this point, and in fact, it pretty much remains that way with a few notable variations throughout the movement. Beethoven was no Brahms in this regard: His phrases are fairly regular, but never ever entirely predictable.

As for the overall subjective effect that this music has on me, it seems as if the primordial fifth episode is Beethoven garnering his resources, which come as a revelation from The Most High. Bit by bit they are given, and then in measure fourteen, lightning strikes. As he sees the light, the main theme is able to be revealed. But hey, that's just me.

If you have any suggestions or observations, please do feel free to share. It would be supremely cool if this could turn into a collaborative effort, regardless of the selfishness of my personal reasons for doing this.


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