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Thread: ...How to Listen To and Understand Beethoven's Symphonies?

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    Default ...How to Listen To and Understand Beethoven's Symphonies?

    Hi

    What resources are available to help me develop my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Beethoven Symphonies?

    I took 5 semesters of Jazz Theory in college (Berklee College of Music).
    I have a good idea about music theory as it applies to guitar, jazz, pop, etc.
    But I'm totally lost when it comes to listening to classical music.

    Let me try to explain.
    At 66, I've decided to take a long, enjoyable look at the Beethoven Symphonies.
    As I started to read reviews and other posts, I saw discussions on sonata form, the trio, theme development, deviation from standard form, etc.

    This was my big uh oh moment.

    More than listen to the melody, I want to enjoy the learning process - the deep dive.

    What resources can help me become an informed listener?

    While searching the internet, I found George Grove's book - Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies - the title is linked to the Amazon page.

    Is anyone familiar with this book?
    Are there other resources you can suggest?

    Many Thanks
    - Ethan

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    Quote Originally Posted by ethan417 View Post
    Hi

    What resources are available to help me develop my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Beethoven Symphonies?

    I took 5 semesters of Jazz Theory in college (Berklee College of Music).
    I have a good idea about music theory as it applies to guitar, jazz, pop, etc.
    But I'm totally lost when it comes to listening to classical music.

    Let me try to explain.
    At 66, I've decided to take a long, enjoyable look at the Beethoven Symphonies.
    As I started to read reviews and other posts, I saw discussions on sonata form, the trio, theme development, deviation from standard form, etc.

    This was my big uh oh moment.

    More than listen to the melody, I want to enjoy the learning process - the deep dive.

    What resources can help me become an informed listener?

    While searching the internet, I found George Grove's book - Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies - the title is linked to the Amazon page.

    Is anyone familiar with this book?
    Are there other resources you can suggest?

    Many Thanks
    - Ethan
    You do not state why Beethoven symphonies and not other genre or other time periods. I would suggest finding a good biography of Beethoven and start reading as most will cover the symphonies and some background of why Beethoven became the type of composer he became and how he influenced future composers. There is a member who has a website devoted to the classical era....his member name is Olias I think, close to it. If any members know the link perhaps they can post it as well. He is a teacher of music I think so good start here. Good Luck.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    If you know jazz, forget about chord scale theory (its crap anyway) and just focus on functional harmony and learn some basics on classical period forms. charles Rosen’s book The Classical Style is a great start, as it is written by a musician, as opposed to a music theorist.

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    The first thing would be to get a book on musical form. The one on my shelf is Form in Music by Wallace Berry. Sonata form, rondo, sonata-rondo, "slow-movement form, "ternary, binary, and minuet and trio form are the essential forms for the movements of classical symphonies. Being able to identify and understand the formal patterns will help you internalize the music and to know and anticipate what will happen next and how what you're hearing conforms to or defies the conventional patterns of Beethoven's day.

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    Surely, if Beethoven's symphonies work then you just need to sit back and listen? It is true that you might then have questions in your mind but they will probably be different for different people. Some will want to know about the history, others biography and some others musical theory. I am not sure that pursuing your questions is anything more than following your interests. I write this as someone who has frequently observed people approaching a piece from the viewpoint of music theory and thereby missing the elephant in the room. You have to know the piece - loving it or hating it - before you ask questions about it, don't you?

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    If you want something more esoteric and live near a good music library, try Robert Hatten's Musical Meaning in Beethoven.
    There is also a whole book about Beethoven's Eroica and its reception and critical interpretations over two centuries, Scott Burnham's Beethoven Hero.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Jun-18-2020 at 17:28.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    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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    Senior Member wkasimer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ethan417 View Post

    What resources are available to help me develop my knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the Beethoven Symphonies?
    This is an excellent place to start:

    https://www.thegreatcourses.com/cour...beethoven.html

    These courses go on sale quite frequently, discounted as much as 80-90%.

    This is presumably the same item:

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/1565853741

    And so is this:

    https://www.ebay.com/itm/The-Great-C...g/164144927931

    An excellent survey of the symphonies.

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    You said it: Get this book.

    51uU9kV-S7L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

    First published in 1896, it is THE classic treatise on each of the symphonies. Indispensable guide. Written for professional and layman alike. I've been referencing it for 50 years and still learn so much from it. Since you can read music the numerous examples won't be a barrier. It also is available for free at IMSLP.

    Pair it with a great set of recordings (Barenboim will do fine), a nice chianti, and you're set.

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    I have enjoyed Grove's book for many, many years. And the recommendation for Rosen's The Classical Style is also a very good one.


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    Beethoven's Symphonies: An Artistic Vision(Norton, 2015) by Lewis Lockwood -- may be too advanced for a first go at Beethoven, but it is very accessible in writing style, is recent, and is by a scholar who's straight-ahead original research on the man and his music is much admired.

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    Lockwood's book (and his biography), Grove's book, the relevant sections of Tovey's symphony essays and Michael Steinberg's symphony program notes (he and Rosen were roommates at Princeton), and any good, literate liner notes will get you started. Rosen's book is good, but often tangential to your purpose and presupposes a wider knowledge of the classical period repertoire than you probably have, but not musically beyond you. But, as suggested, listen to the symphonies and get to know them, and their effect, before you start in to why they work the way they do.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ethan417 View Post
    I've decided to take a long, enjoyable look at the Beethoven Symphonies.
    As I started to read reviews and other posts, I saw discussions on sonata form, the trio, theme development, deviation from standard form, etc. This was my big uh oh moment. More than listen to the melody, I want to enjoy the learning process - the deep dive.
    You might be disappointed in the answers. A lot of this "development" stuff turns out to be very simplistic, or it's so particular to the piece's ideas that it defies the categorizations that people try to lay on it. Just get in the classical mode of thought and realize it's not rocket science. A "trio" is just something in triple time. If you read the Charles Rosen book on Sonata form, you begin to realize the fuzzy conceptual logic of a lot of this lingo. There's really no "sonata form" except "fast-slow-fast," and those are huge generalizations. This classical lingo is for ****-retentive thinkers who love to get bogged down in details and meaningless differentiations.

    Let your ears be your guide; after all, you're not writing a book. You're listening to music. Music is sound, not ideas.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jun-23-2020 at 15:43.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    There's really no "sonata form" except "fast-slow-fast," and those are huge generalizations.
    I'm no expert in music theory, but this strikes me as wildly incorrect. Admittedly, Beethoven and many who came afterward bent the rules of sonata form into forms that are almost unrecognizable, but composers of the Classical era generally followed sonata form, particularly for their first movements. And it's certainly not "fast-slow-fast".

    And I think that it *does* improve appreciation of music if one has some knowledge of the major forms that composers employ. If nothing else, it gives me an appreciation for the composer's craft.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    And I think that it *does* improve appreciation of music if one has some knowledge of the major forms that composers employ. If nothing else, it gives me an appreciation for the composer's craft.
    Form is what makes most of classical music intelligible, especially if it lasts longer then 3 minutes. If see a piece titled "Sea Drift," I don't know what to expect other than somehow I'm supposed to imagine water. If I see a piece titled Sonata, Passacaglia, Theme and Variations, I know the form, so I know how to listen to it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by wkasimer View Post
    I'm no expert in music theory, but this strikes me as wildly incorrect. Admittedly, Beethoven and many who came afterward bent the rules of sonata form into forms that are almost unrecognizable, but composers of the Classical era generally followed sonata form, particularly for their first movements. And it's certainly not "fast-slow-fast".
    Then what are you saying it is? You haven't said. I think you're just disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing, and leaving your options open.

    And I think that it *does* improve appreciation of music if one has some knowledge of the major forms that composers employ. If nothing else, it gives me an appreciation for the composer's craft.
    If the forms are so generalized, they are essentially meaningless.

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