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Thread: Beethoven the contrapuntist

  1. #61
    Senior Member gardibolt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Could you be thinking of Mozart perhaps? He arranged five fugues from Bach's WTC for string quartet that are cataloged as K.405.
    Beethoven arrangements of Bach WTC:

    https://unheardbeethoven.org/search....ntifier=hess35

    https://unheardbeethoven.org/search....ntifier=hess38

    I believe premiere recordings of both of these are contained in the forthcoming Bach 333 megabox.

    Handel:

    https://youtu.be/VzS6QlvJa3I
    Last edited by gardibolt; Oct-17-2018 at 20:10.
    Hours of unrecorded, unpublished and unknown Beethoven works at The Unheard Beethoven

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Yet, you can look at Bach in a harmonic sense, and all sorts of "out-of-the-box" things occur harmonically. From the Sinfonia Nr. 9 in F minor, at 1:28 and again at 3:01 we hear a major seventh sonority, albeit arrived at by melodic means, but nonetheless creating the harmonic sense of a major seventh chord, which didn't really exist back then. At 4:03 we hear a minor chord with a major seventh and a ninth, even more unusual, although the "seventh" is a leading tone. But many of these harmonic effects are "hangover" effects of preceding chords, and are very subtle. I know what I'm talking about, and I also know what I hear.Those are just a couple of examples..So Bach was aware of the harmonic consequences of his counterpoint, and exploited that. So why not view him as a "harmonic thinker" if that's how we hear it? It seems like academic hair-splitting to say otherwise.

    Maintaining a distinction between harmony and counterpoint is not academic hairsplitting. It's basic music theory.

    "Hangover effects?" — You mean suspensions?

    "albeit arrived at by melodic means, but nonetheless creating the harmonic sense of a major seventh chord?" Do you really think it makes sense to use 17 words instead of "passing tone?"

    So why not view him as a "harmonic thinker" if that's how we hear it?

    If you don't care how Bach understood it or how music theorists have understood it for centuries, by all means view it as harmonic thinking.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    A "proper fugue" sounds like something academic, dry and dusty - something a composer would be eager to get away from after passing his counterpoint exam. I wouldn't say that Beethoven's highly original fugues are evidence of a lack of patience, or that a lack of patience was characteristic of a composer who went to the trouble of writing four different overtures for his only opera. I'll bet he could have churned out a "proper fugue" any day before breakfast if he'd been too impatient to write an interesting one.
    Beethoven wrote exactly what he wanted to write and thought was adequate to write at his moment in music history. All these theories that the music he wrote and the particular directions he took were a consequence of his supposed almost amateurish limitations are laughable. He took the directions he took due to his amazing musical vision and conception. Conception that all these actual amateurs, who call his counterpoint mediocre because he supposedly 'couldn't write a good ordinary, proper fugue', lack. Thank god he didn't waste time in trying to do so and he instead left us his amazing experimental and visionary contrapunctal works.

    It's like that myth that Einstein "wasn't good at math". Also based on some letter he wrote to the mathematician who invented the math he was using for his theories and which contained some remarks which were modesty more that anything (what else he could say? "I'm better at your math than you"?, something which was probably true in any case), and also that he had some help from a mathematician friend when he was learning it. But after all that, he surpassed them all.

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  6. #64
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    A "proper fugue" sounds like something academic, dry and dusty - something a composer would be eager to get away from after passing his counterpoint exam. I wouldn't say that Beethoven's highly original fugues are evidence of a lack of patience, or that a lack of patience was characteristic of a composer who went to the trouble of writing four different overtures for his only opera. I'll bet he could have churned out a "proper fugue" any day before breakfast if he'd been too impatient to write an interesting one.
    By proper fuge I don't mean anything dry or academic. I am just thinking of a piece where the musical argument is conveyed entirely by counterpoint, the conflict between melody and harmony. In the great fugal writing of Beethoven other elements are invariably deployed, dramatic homogeneous passages, dramatic orchestration, startling effects that are something other than the working out of counterpoint. I don't doubt that Beethoven could have written a perfectly executed fugue in the style of Bach, but Bach's intangible genius was somehow infused into that counterpoint but Beethoven's intangible genius came from a different direction. Just my impression, of course.
    Last edited by Baron Scarpia; Oct-17-2018 at 22:07.

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  8. #65
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gardibolt View Post
    Beethoven arrangements of Bach WTC:

    https://unheardbeethoven.org/search....ntifier=hess35

    https://unheardbeethoven.org/search....ntifier=hess38

    I believe premiere recordings of both of these are contained in the forthcoming Bach 333 megabox.

    Handel:

    https://youtu.be/VzS6QlvJa3I
    Thanks! There are several fugues in the Hess series. They're here, but without adequate descriptions.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...ss_(H)_numbers


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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Maintaining a distinction between harmony and counterpoint is not academic hairsplitting. It's basic music theory.
    I just care how it sounds.

    "Hangover effects?"
    — You mean suspensions?
    No, I mean short-term memory effects. The moment in question is influenced by what just happened. It could be a suspension, but not always.

    "albeit arrived at by melodic means, but nonetheless creating the harmonic sense of a major seventh chord?"
    Do you really think it makes sense to use 17 words instead of "passing tone?"
    The only thing that matters to me is if you hear it as a harmonic effect. And you do, probably.

    So why not view him as a "harmonic thinker" if that's how we hear it?
    If you don't care how Bach understood it or how music theorists have understood it for centuries, by all means view it as harmonic thinking.
    I'm saying something more radical than that. I'm saying Bach understood the harmonic implications of what he was doing, and even exploited that.

  11. #67
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I just care how it sounds.
    No, that's not all you care about. You clearly care to write about it. In doing so it helps to demonstrate an awareness of basic terminological distinctions like that between counterpoint and harmony.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    No, I mean short-term memory effects. The moment in question is influenced by what just happened. It could be a suspension, but not always.
    Yeah, it could be other things that also have names in the vocabulary of linear counterpoint.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The only thing that matters to me is if you hear it as a harmonic effect. And you do, probably.
    I tend to hear it as Bach wrote it: as dissonant counterpoint.

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I'm saying something more radical than that. I'm saying Bach understood the harmonic implications of what he was doing, and even exploited that.
    Then offer some evidence. The burden of proof is on you and the evidence you need to provide is obvious. For example, you need to show where Bach uses the sonorities you describe (like M7 and 9th chords) as stand alone harmonies rather than as linear events conforming to traditional contrapuntal practices.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Oct-18-2018 at 01:56.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Back to Beethoven as contrapuntist: While much attention is lavished on his full-fledged fugues, he inserted very effective fugatos in much of his music, often to impressive dramatic effect. Two examples are the fugato in the Funeral March from the Eroica, which rises to a climax of anguish and then fades to the musical equivalent of sobs; and the fugato in the Allegretto of the 7th, which has its own sense of strict inevitability. Also, of course, the extensive and windswept orchestral fugato in the finale of the 9th.

    Bach provides the background for all of these; but the music is put to aesthetic purposes that Bach could not have envisioned. To simply say that Beethoven wasn't good at counterpoint is absurd.
    Last edited by KenOC; Oct-18-2018 at 02:24.


  13. #69
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    Back to Beethoven as contrapuntist: While much attention is lavished on his full-fledged fugues, he inserted very effective fugatos in much of his music, often to impressive dramatic effect. Two examples are the fugato in the Funeral March from the Eroica, which rises to a climax of anguish and then fades to the musical equivalent of sobs; and the fugato in the Allegretto of the 7th, which has its own sense of strict inevitability. Also, of course, the extensive and windswept orchestral fugato in the finale of the 9th.

    Bach provides the background for all of these; but the music is put to aesthetic purposes that Bach could not have envisioned. To simply say that Beethoven wasn't good at counterpoint is absurd.
    Yes to the above. But why all this fuss (in the thread in general, not your post specifically Ken) about fugues? Fugal writing is just one narrow variety of contrapuntal writing and there is counterpoint all over in Beethoven.

    What greater comfort does time afford than the objects of terror re-encountered and their fraudulence exposed in the flash of reason?
    — William Gaddis, The Recognitions

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
    Basil Valentine

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  15. #70
    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Yes to the above. But why all this fuss (in the thread in general, not your post specifically Ken) about fugues? Fugal writing is just one narrow variety of contrapuntal writing and there is counterpoint all over in Beethoven.
    Let me answer that. Certainly Beethoven was a quite contrapuntal composer. He was noted as a "learned" composer, and sometimes criticized for it, from early in his career. But when he announces (usually quite clearly) that he’s launching into a fugue or fugato, and sounding very strict about it, you know that something special is about to happen – special even within the context of the surrounding music, which is usually pretty special to begin with.

    Whose ears don’t perk up when he begins that fugato in the Funeral March of the Eroica, or the full fugue in the finale of the Op. 101 piano sonata, or the slow fugue opening the Op. 131 string quartet? Or even the imitation fugue that serves as the finale of the third Razumovsky Quartet, possibly the most exciting music ever written for that combination of instruments?

    His fugues, and their variants, served Beethoven as a way to make very special statements and to amplify the emotional and aesthetic messages set forth in the works they appear in.
    Last edited by KenOC; Oct-18-2018 at 05:46.


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  17. #71
    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Yes to the above. But why all this fuss (in the thread in general, not your post specifically Ken) about fugues? Fugal writing is just one narrow variety of contrapuntal writing and there is counterpoint all over in Beethoven.
    Indeed. I saw the same argument recently, but applied to Chopin (that he wasn't good at counterpoint because he didn't write great baroque fugues between his Polonaises, Preludes and Ballades). I think neophytes tend to identify counterpoint with fugues since it's in the latter when the former is so obvious that even them can see it. And if Beethoven or Chopin challenge their notions, do they change them? Of course not! They, Beethoven and Chopin, must be, sure, they ones that have no clue!
    Last edited by aleazk; Oct-18-2018 at 05:59.

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    Member Doctuses's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J Swafford View Post
    I think this thread has proceeded under false premises because it involves a typo. The Swafford bio quote is not that Beethoven lacked "faculty" at counterpoint, which actually makes no sense. The line is that he lacked *facility* at counterpoint, which is simply to say that it did not come easy to him as it did, say, to Bach. He struggled with counterpoint all his life--and partly for that reason, wrote it all the time. To cite another quote, from Beethoven himself: "What is hard is good." Whether he ever wrote a "good" fugue I'm not sure is worth debating. Did he ever write one as good as Bach's better ones? Possibly not, and neither did anybody else. But he turned fugue to his own purposes. The one that opens the C# Minor Quartet is incomparable, and debating whether it's as "good" as Bach's is beside the point.
    LOL omg... I checked and I was so wrong. Wow. Well hey, looks like this turned into a decent discussion anyway!

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  21. #73
    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by aleazk View Post
    Indeed. I saw the same argument recently, but applied to Chopin (that he wasn't good at counterpoint because he didn't write great baroque fugues between his Polonaises, Preludes and Ballades).
    I think there is a difference between "trying something more original in an area you're already good at" (Beethoven) and "staying at rudimentary level in an area you need to improve" (Chopin). Not only did Chopin essentially 'fail' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0X6w-XSG-M writing a fugue at the most basic academic level. Much of the bassline in his output, for example, (Waltzes and Mazurkas) are repetitions of ta-da-da, ta-da-da accompaniment. In the last few Mazurkas, like Op.68 No.4 in F minor, Chopin does try some canonic devices, but honestly, Johann Strauss II's Nordseebilder Op.390 has richer, advanced counterpoint. Counterpoint in Etude Op.10 No.4 in C sharp minor or Nocturne Op.55 No.2 in E flat is rudimentary level compared to Beethoven. Beethoven even shows certain craftsmanship in lesser works, and could have written far better 'academic fugues' than Chopin if he wanted to. Whereas Chopin had hard time just writing one at the most basic academic level. However, I also agree (as some people pointed out) that Chopin would have developed it further (like Liszt and Mendelssohn) had he lived longer.

    I think the first movement from Beethoven's Op.131 is one of the most beautiful pieces of contrapuntal music ever written, ("After this, what is left for us to write?" -Schubert) Beethoven's contrapuntal prowess is overlooked in some quarters considering the fact he's one of the very few composers after JS Bach who had enough skills and aptitude to attempt a "double fugue" to create a masterpiece.



    Many other composers 'attempted' writing them and produced 'academic' ones: Shostakovich (Op.87 No.4 & No.24), Brahms (German Requiem), Verdi (Requiem, Sanctus), Max Reger, Grieg, etc etc, most of which are not very memorable or striking compared to Beethoven's Grosse Fuge. Stravinsky famously remarked, "an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will remain contemporary forever."
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Dec-07-2018 at 13:08.

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