Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Beethoven, Second Edition, by William Kinderman

Possibly the worst cover photo in all the history of Beethoven biographies.

This book is excellent in terms of scholarship, but I found it a slog to get through. Musicologists discussing composers and their compositions does that to me. Lots of eye rolling. To his merit, Kinderman is reputedly a virtuoso pianist, so when he gets on the topic of things to be aware of in interpretations of Beethoven, it does get interesting. Still, if you want fascinating Beethoven lore, Beethoven as I Knew Him by Beethoven's friend and secretary Anton Schindler - which I'm reading now - is a much more delightful read (I'll save criticisms of Schindler for when I review him).

Still, no one who is a Beethoven fan - and has some musical education - should skip this book. I'm atypical insofar as not being the target audience for it. And one amazing insight I got from it was in his discussion of the Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp Minor. That quartet starts out with a fugue, and it's got one lone sixteenth note in it - a setup for the scherzo to follow - otherwise it's mostly quarter notes with passages of eighths. I have wanted to analyze a late Beethoven piece, but most of his individual movements are way too long (I tried the first movement of the Ninth, from the Liszt transcription, near the beginning of this weblog, but it was actually too long to fit in my music printing program!). At 122 measures of 4/4 and with an adagio tempo, this will be perfect. Also, because it is Beethoven's late third period, it contains some of the deepest musical rhetoric of all time.

When I was a doctoral candidate at UNT back in the '90's, I did a highly detailed objectivist analysis of Contrapunctus 1 from Art of Fugue. In it, I analyzed all six intervalic relationships - S/A, S/T, A/T, A/B, T/B, and S/B - and every vertical sonority to the resolution of a sixteenth note, actually naming the chords, as a jazz analyst would do (I'm thankful every day that I got my BM at Berklee). Plus the functional analysis (Which turned out to be the easiest part). That was the key endeavor that allowed me to cop that style, and I've been riding that wave for twenty years now. Since I've outlived Beethoven at this point in my life, it's time to allow myself to be more technically influenced by him. Also, I've recently had some breakthroughs with Fuga Scientifica - The five-voice exposition and recap/coda are done for Volume 1, and Volume 2 is essentially finished - so I'm coming to the end of my Bach-inspired journey. Now that I've boiled fugue writing down to it's irreducible essence, it's time to cut the chromaticist in me loose - something I've purposefully held in check - and get more expressive with fugue. I happen to already have the perfect fugue subject for this.

Unbelievably, I already have the fugue entered into Encore, so I'm ready to start the analysis. Moments of inspiration with Fuga Scientifica are the only things holding up the analysis, and since that is tantalizingly close to completion - 2, 3, 4, and 5 voice fugues on two different five measure subjects that make five-part canons with themselves - that is my primary focus at this point. Perhaps I'll have one or the other done by the end of next month.


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