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Thread: Beethoven's voice leading

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    Default Beethoven's voice leading

    This may be too technical for me to understand the answer to – or even to be easily explainable -- but I’ll ask, with the understanding that no one, including me, may have any idea what anyone is talking about.

    I may be a bigger Beethoven appreciator than anyone here but Bettina. Over the years I have frequently read that Beethoven in his late period remarked to someone that he had discovered/developed/invented/made use of (?) “a new kind of voice leading” that presumably at least helped make his late works what they are from a technical point of view. I barely know what voice leading is to begin with, but I presume that over the years at least one musicology student has seized on this for a thesis topic and tried to codify what Beethoven was doing that hadn’t been being employed before the late 18-teens. Is this explainable to a literate non-musician?

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    Hmmm. If Beethoven actually introduced kinds of voice leading no one else - or even he - had used before, I would be pleased to know what they are.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    On his late quartets, Beethoven said to Karl Holz: "You will find a new manner of voice treatment and – thank God – there is less lack of fancy than ever before."

    Whether this relates to voice leading, I don't know. I have never seen this discussed further.
    Last edited by KenOC; Aug-11-2017 at 07:02.


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    I've sometimes seen it translated as "part-writing" rather than "voice-leading." Here's an interesting essay which interprets the quotation in terms of Beethoven's new approach to writing for cello. It starts on page 45 of this book (I hope it shows up OK, if not I might be able to get a PDF of it):
    https://books.google.com/books?id=ga...riting&f=false
    Last edited by Bettina; Aug-11-2017 at 07:05.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Thanks Bettina, just what is called for!


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    Thank-you so much!

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    Jan Swafford has an excellent and detailed discussion of this issue in his biography of the composer. In composing the late quartets Swafford notes a striking change in Beethoven's working methods, one suggesting an unprecedented emphasis on overall texture and the interaction of voices. To that point Beethoven usually did his continuity sketches (those where he is trying to capture the overall progression of the movement) on a single staff, just sketching the main line with a few other details. With the late quartets Beethoven began to sketch on four staves, which Swafford suggests "indicated his intention to be steadily contrapuntal and to find new textures and new kinds of part writing. On virtually every page, the quartets show that kind of attention to the individuality of the voices." (p. 879) The point is that quite often the continuity of passages can't be captured as a distinct melody in one instrument, but lies in the way fragments are passed from one voice to another. He further writes: "[Beethoven] veered further from the norms of logic and continuity he had learned from the Viennese Classical tradition, delved further into effects of juxtaposition and discontinuity." This is seen in the mercurial changes of texture and material.

    Anyway, Swafford elaborates these points for 20 or 30 pages and doesn't boil it down to a single distinct technical issue.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Aug-11-2017 at 15:04.

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    Duplicate post, but while I'm here: For Swafford the issue is much more comprehensive than voice-leading.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Aug-11-2017 at 14:00.

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    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    Voice-leading? Is that like Da-da-da-daaaaa?

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    Mystery solved. "Voice-leading" is an inaccurate translation of what Beethoven said in German. "A new kind of part-writing" can certainly describe the diverse and fresh effects of texture and sonority we hear in the late quartets. The sonorous "gestalt" of these pieces always seemed to me strikingly different from earlier quartet-writing. I think he experimented similarly - maybe sooner? - in his piano-writing.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Merl View Post
    Voice-leading? Is that like Da-da-da-daaaaa?
    Voice leading means the way the voices in a series of harmonies move linearly, including the way dissonances and non-harmonic tones are resolved.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Jan Swafford has an excellent and detailed discussion of this issue in his biography of the composer. In composing the late quartets Swafford notes a striking change in Beethoven's working methods, one suggesting an unprecedented emphasis on overall texture and the interaction of voices. To that point Beethoven usually did his continuity sketches (those where he is trying to capture the overall progression of the movement) on a single staff, just sketching the main line with a few other details. With the late quartets Beethoven began to sketch on four staves, which Swafford suggests "indicated his intention to be steadily contrapuntal and to find new textures and new kinds of part writing. On virtually every page, the quartets show that kind of attention to the individuality of the voices." (p. 879) The point is that quite often the continuity of passages can't be captured as a distinct melody in one instrument, but lies in the way fragments are passed from one voice to another. He further writes: "[Beethoven] veered further from the norms of logic and continuity he had learned from the Viennese Classical tradition, delved further into effects of juxtaposition and discontinuity." This is seen in the mercurial changes of texture and material.

    Anyway, Swafford elaborates these points for 20 or 30 pages and doesn't boil it down to a single distinct technical issue.
    But Beethoven had already been doing that for a long time. As early as the Fifth Symphony, he distributed the motivic material across the entire orchestra, introducing a motive in one instrument and then transferring its continuation to a different instrument. I don't see how that technique could be considered a new development in his late quartets.

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    Senior Member Gabriel Ortiz's Avatar
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    Default A Brief Outline of Gestalt

    Thank you for creating this thread.

    Voice leading acts entirely as a separate concept from 'gestalt' as Wooduck mentioned. To elaborate quickly on what gestalt is, imagine any shape.

    Triangle.gif

    Your first thought was that it was a triangle. However, you merely viewed the shape as a whole, rather than thinking about the smaller details of the shape. Soon after, the smaller details are revealed:

    1200px-Triangle.Equilateral.svg.png
    Vertices, angles, equilateral, etc, etc. The connection is quickly brought to music.

    Sonata Form:


    400px-Simple_sonata_form.png

    The tonal Gestalt of a piece focuses on the bigger picture, rather than the monotony of voice leading and melodic inversions etc.


    ge·stalt
    ɡəˈSHtält/
    nounPSYCHOLOGY

    an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.



    The definition becomes easier to understand now...








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    Would it save everybody a lot of time if I gave up and went mad now?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    But Beethoven had already been doing that for a long time. As early as the Fifth Symphony, he distributed the motivic material across the entire orchestra, introducing a motive in one instrument and then transferring its continuation to a different instrument. I don't see how that technique could be considered a new development in his late quartets.
    The passages from the late quartets Swafford cites explain the differences: one from the Adagio of Op. 127 where the cello and viola parts cross one another every beat, the opening of Op. 132, four-part imitation with voice-crossing that would look like undifferentiated chords on one staff, the opening page or two of Op. 130 in which there are numerous voice-crossings and unsortable tangles, and a number of others examples. If we are thinking of the same passages in the Fifth Symphony, those motivic repetitions are consecutive, not overlapping.

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    Are voices reliable sources to trust your lives with? they corrupt like the next man

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