Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 30

Thread: Harmony in Bach, Mozart, Beethoven: a comparison

  1. #1
    Senior Member Amadea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    279
    Post Thanks / Like

    Post Harmony in Bach, Mozart, Beethoven: a comparison

    Hi! This is not a Bach vs Mozart vs Beethoven thread. I do not care who's the greatest composer in your mind or if you find one or two or all three overrated. I am a classic music lover who has some basic knowledge of music theory (I have a license in solfeggio taken when I was in highschool). I am trying to study this composers by myself with the help of some books and I would like to understand how is the harmony in them in comparison. I would like the opinions of those who have studied their scores, not casual listeners. Also, during my research, I've heard Glenn Gould (which I know hates Mozart) saying that Bach is more of a melodist, Mozart is more of a harmonist (I thought the opposite). Also, Bernstein said about Beethoven he is not a great harmonist and "uses harmonies a child could write" (Bernstein considers Beethoven the greatest, he was probably exaggerating and meant he uses simple harmonies or simple harmonies in comparison to others). Do you agree with these statements? Yes? No? Why? Can you provide examples? In my understanding, Bach is very complex, Mozart less complex than Bach (right?) but fools the listener, you hear things which sound "simple" to the ear, but Mozart is trolling you because if you look at the score, the way he uses dissonance and chromaticism is not simple at all (right?), and Beethoven, well I don't know, I thought his harmonies were more advanced than the classic composers (Mozart, Haydn etc.) but it might be just an impression caused by the use of minor key and more drama (so Mozart is more complex, or not?). Sorry for my english.
    Last edited by Amadea; Apr-20-2021 at 01:50.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2019
    Posts
    1,460
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Oh boy .............
    Casual composer, pianist, music enthusiast

  3. #3
    Senior Member Amadea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    279
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by BrahmsWasAGreatMelodist View Post
    Oh boy .............
    Too much?

  4. #4
    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Location
    Ford Nation
    Posts
    5,746
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Hi Amadea, is your bro named Amadeus? Bad joke. I'd say, forget what Gould said. Bernstein was likely just exaggerating to make a point (that was discussed on another thread previously). I wouldn't say any one is more complex than the other. Is a Bach fugue more complex than Beethoven's 9th or Mozart's Jupiter? They were all masters of harmony and used chromaticism.
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

  5. Likes Amadea liked this post
  6. #5
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jan 2013
    Posts
    7,918
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    If you listen to Mozart's great operas first, then you will hear there are numerous instances where his pure instrumental music mirror characters of an opera singing. His later piano concertos contain many episodes that are like characters in an opera singing the libretto. Now, is that harmony or melody or simply a genius at work? It's all of the above. It was also the Classical period and during his life, he wanted more than anything else to establish himself as an artist based in Vienna, not as a music servant. You can also say this was already starting to show signs of Romantic impulse, which he would have revolutionized music further if he died at in the 19th century. Mozart's genius was so subtle that people like Gould simply didn't get it.

    To Bach, a human voice in such just a voice, just like any instrumental line. His idiom was embedded in contrapuntal techniques embodied by the fugue. He was more concerned about exhausting a musical idea with minimal material. I would think of it as a continuous line of development until exhaustion. He was on his deathbed right to the end with this true, no nonsense creative impulse.

    This is played correctly with the right articulation, pitch and instruments. You should be able to hear it sounding just like a Mozart opera, not surprisingly as it was composed around the same time as Figaro.


  7. Likes Bwv 1080, Amadea, ORigel liked this post
  8. #6
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    888
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    You really cannot understand what made the three composers great by comparing them to one another. You need to understand what their peers were writing at the time.

  9. Likes ArtMusic, ORigel, Rogerx liked this post
  10. #7
    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    8,246
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Beethoven's strength was in form and drama, building excitement and using time as a leverage, using dynamic contrasts for expression, developing (multiple) themes in unpredictable and complex ways.

    If we are looking at just harmony itself in my opinion Beethoven wasn't a master to the same degree as Bach or Mozart, (or Brahms for that matter).

    Wagner was very innovative with harmony but over all I don't consider him a master of harmony to the same extent of Brahms, if we are looking at aspects of harmony like counterpoint and how the harmony relates to form.

    The greatest masters of harmony of the 20th century in my opinion were Debussy and Ravel.

  11. Likes Amadea, ORigel liked this post
  12. #8
    Senior Member Amadea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    279
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    You really cannot understand what made the three composers great by comparing them to one another. You need to understand what their peers were writing at the time.
    In fact that's not what I am trying to do.

  13. #9
    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2018
    Posts
    888
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Amadea View Post
    In fact that's not what I am trying to do.
    But you cant understand their harmonic differences either (not that I do, just think I have read enough to know what I dont know). None of the three thought in terms of roman numerals or other theory 101 BS, i would recommend Robert Gjerdingen who recontructed 18th century theory based on how these composers were actually trained.

  14. #10
    Senior Member Amadea's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2021
    Posts
    279
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    But you cant understand their harmonic differences either (not that I do, just think I have read enough to know what I dont know). None of the three thought in terms of roman numerals or other theory 101 BS, i would recommend Robert Gjerdingen who recontructed 18th century theory based on how these composers were actually trained.
    I have a license in solfeggio taken when I attented conservatory in highschool years ago (after that I quit) and I was taught some harmony, so I think I can follow the discussion even if I am not an expert.

  15. #11
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Ashland, OR
    Posts
    17,605
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Beethoven's strength was in form and drama, building excitement and using time as a leverage, using dynamic contrasts for expression, developing (multiple) themes in unpredictable and complex ways.

    If we are looking at just harmony itself in my opinion Beethoven wasn't a master to the same degree as Bach or Mozart, (or Brahms for that matter).
    Where do you see Beeethoven deficient as a harmonist? It's true that he wasn't fond of chromaticism, but he was certainly capable of writing any sort of harmony his conceptions required, and his harmonic schemes are essential to his structures. His suspicious attitude toward the new Romantic fascination with chromaticism had to do, I suspect, with his sense of structural economy.

    Wagner was very innovative with harmony but over all I don't consider him a master of harmony to the same extent of Brahms, if we are looking at aspects of harmony like counterpoint and how the harmony relates to form.
    This I don't even begin to understand. The chief thing that makes Wagner a master of harmony is not merely a heavy use of chromaticism - he's only doing that some of the time anyway - but his ability to see how an unprecedented degree of harmonic suspension and modulatory freedom can be sustained coherently and used to build long spans of great tension and expressive power. And if you've ever sat at the piano and played through the scores of Tristan, Meistersinger or Parsifal you've had a superb demonstration of voice-leading as polyphony. Nothing in Brahms approaches Wagner's mature works in harmonic variety and complexity. That's obvious on a superficial hearing, but it's his powerful, intuitive yet carefully calculated control of form that enabled Wagner to create a stunning arch like the third act of Tristan. I don't see any point in comparing this to what Brahms was doing with his neo-Classical aesthetic.

  16. Likes ArtMusic, hammeredklavier, Allerius and 1 others liked this post
  17. #12
    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Posts
    3,916
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Where do you see Beeethoven deficient as a harmonist? It's true that he wasn't fond of chromaticism, but he was certainly capable of writing any sort of harmony his conceptions required, and his harmonic schemes are essential to his structures. His suspicious attitude toward the new Romantic fascination with chromaticism had to do, I suspect, with his sense of structural economy.
    I too think Beethoven has a unique harmonic sense. One only needs to listen to:

    It's just that he wasn't trained from youth in the same way as the "18th century church music composers" (ex. Bach, Mozart) were.
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Apr-20-2021 at 04:31.

  18. Likes Woodduck, Amadea liked this post
  19. #13
    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Posts
    8,246
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Where do you see Beeethoven deficient as a harmonist? It's true that he wasn't fond of chromaticism, but he was certainly capable of writing any sort of harmony his conceptions required, and his harmonic schemes are essential to his structures. His suspicious attitude toward the new Romantic fascination with chromaticism had to do, I suspect, with his sense of structural economy.
    Its just the way I hear his music. When I saw hammeredklavier post the quote from Brahms stating that true dissonance is found in Bach and Mozart, not so much Beethoven, I felt vindicated in my belief, because that is what I hear as well, and obviously to some extent Bernstein felt this way too. So I don't think it is just in my head, there is something to it. That said obviously Beethoven had other strengths (he was after all Bernstein's favorite composer), he is widely regarded as among the greatest composers, and his music has been incredibly successful. Whether his harmonic language was exactly as he wanted it, or just the best he could do, I think is speculation.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    This I don't even begin to understand. The chief thing that makes Wagner a master of harmony is not merely a heavy use of chromaticism - he's only doing that some of the time anyway - but his ability to see how an unprecedented degree of harmonic suspension and modulatory freedom can be sustained coherently and used to build long spans of great tension and expressive power. And if you've ever sat at the piano and played through the scores of Tristan, Meistersinger or Parsifal you've had a superb demonstration of voice-leading as polyphony. Nothing in Brahms approaches Wagner's mature works in harmonic variety and complexity. That's obvious on a superficial hearing, but it's his powerful, intuitive yet carefully calculated control of form that enabled Wagner to create a stunning arch like the third act of Tristan. I don't see any point in comparing this to what Brahms was doing with his neo-Classical aesthetic.
    I will say I feel that Wagner is simply outstanding in some ways from a harmonic standpoint. If you want to call him on par with the greatest harmonic masters I respect your view, and maybe you're right. There are elements of Wagner, that I would best describe as dazzling, shimmering and attractive in ways that Brahms music is not. However I see these elements as essentially what I would describe as effects more so than the strong substantive harmonic forms that Brahms created. Previously in another thread I made the point that fools gold can seem to shine brighter than real gold, and I compared Brahms to gold. Calling Wagner fools gold goes too far as criticism, but in my view his strengths are more closely related to surface effects more so than the depth we hear in Brahms best compositions. They are very different composers, I stand in awe of some of the moments of Wagner's compositions, which were unprecedented and brilliant, but if we look at their work as a whole I still feel Brahms was the better composer over all, and I find his use of harmony more subtle and often emotionally complex in ways Wagner is not. We tend to know what Wagner is trying to evoke through his use of harmony, (this may be in part due to the limited amount of forms Wagner composed in and the fact that in the form he primarily chose the music is following along with a narrative) with Brahms I find the effect is often more complex, layered and multi-faceted.
    Last edited by tdc; Apr-20-2021 at 06:04.

  20. Likes Woodduck liked this post
  21. #14
    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2018
    Posts
    3,916
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    1

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    You need to understand what their peers were writing at the time.
    13:00 , 1:45 , 16:45 , 7:30 , 1:50 , 15:10 , 9:30 , 3:00





    ^compare this with the quoniam and benedictus of Mozart's K.427

  22. Likes Amadea liked this post
  23. #15
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Location
    Ashland, OR
    Posts
    17,605
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by tdc View Post
    Its just the way I hear his music. When I saw hammeredklavier post the quote from Brahms stating that true dissonance is found in Bach and Mozart, not so much Beethoven, I felt vindicated in my belief, because that is what I hear as well, and obviously to some extent Bernstein felt this way too. So I don't think it is just in my head, there is something to it. That said obviously Beethoven had other strengths (he was after all Bernstein's favorite composer), he is widely regarded as among the greatest composers, and his music has been incredibly successful. Whether his harmonic language was exactly as he wanted it, or just the best he could do, I think is speculation.



    I will say I feel that Wagner is simply outstanding in some ways from a harmonic standpoint. If you want to call him on par with the greatest harmonic masters I respect your view, and maybe you're right. There are elements of Wagner, that I would best describe as dazzling, shimmering and attractive in ways that Brahms music is not. However I see these elements as essentially what I would describe as effects more so than the strong substantive harmonic forms that Brahms created. Previously in another thread I made the point that fools gold can seem to shine brighter than real gold, and I compared Brahms to gold. Calling Wagner fools gold goes too far as criticism, but in my view his strengths are more closely related to surface effects more so than the depth we hear in Brahms best compositions. They are very different composers, I stand in awe of some of the moments of Wagner's compositions, which were unprecedented and brilliant, but if we look at their work as a whole I still feel Brahms was the better composer over all, and I find his use of harmony more subtle and often emotionally complex in ways Wagner is not. We tend to know what Wagner is trying to evoke through his use of harmony, with Brahms the effect is often more complex, layered and ambiguous.
    I respect your perceptions, which I think come down largely to your preference for Brahms's artistic goals. I do think it's very problematic to try to compare these composers in any specific respect; the heroes of the "conservatives" and "progressives" of 1870 have settled down comfortably beside each other as poles of a continuum we simply called "German Romanticism," but we can certainly understand that they were doing very different things. I'm absolutely certain that neither of them could have done the sorts of things the other did, and I'm sure they believed that too. Brahms studied Wagner's scores, once called himself - and not sarcastically - a "Wagnerite," and wanted to attend the Parsifal premiere, deciding against it only because he feared his presence might cause a disturbance. Wagner acknowledged Brahms's success with traditional forms and appreciated that his own musical idioms, born of dramatic necessity, were not essentially what was required for symphonic writing and shouldn't be imported into absolute music carelessly. Those symphonies Wagner hoped to write at the end of his life would have been very unlike those of Brahms, but that may be all we can guess about them.

    I think your statement, "There are elements of Wagner, that I would best describe as dazzling, shimmering and attractive in ways that Brahms music is not. However I see these elements as essentially what I would describe as effects more so than the strong substantive harmonic forms that Brahms created," indicates a perfectly legitimate preference for Brahms's basic artistic approach. You probably haven't been motivated to look closely enough at Wagner's constructive skills, and the key role his harmony plays, to see just what he's up to. In my experience, most listeners have not; we don't easily identify his free, overlapping, dovetailing, morphing, fragmentary, motif-driven structures as they flow out of his dramatic situations. Unlike those of absolute music in a Classical mold, Wagner's forms are not generally intended to call attention to themselves. Through-composed music drama and the symphony aren't just apples and oranges, they're apples and aardvarks. Probably the nearest we can come to a reasonable point of comparison is to look at Wagner's overtures, preludes, interludes and other orchestral passages from the operas, where his need to expand his ideas quasi-symphonically is expressed. But the comparison breaks down pretty quickly. What we find there is an incredible variety of innovative structures, along with a full range of harmonic techniques, whose relationship to Classical models ranges from deliberate and clear to virtually nonexistent. I think of Brahms's (attributed) remark on hearing the Siegfried Idyll, "Yes, yes...But one can't have music like that ALL the time!" I'm sure he realized that as Wagner progressed from work to work he was constantly inventing music that wasn't "like that," music in notable ways not like any heard before, including his own. The desolate, faltering, dissoving harmonies of Parsifal's Act 3 prelude open up territory Brahms had no point of contact with, but Berg and Schoenberg certainly perceived as an inviting door.

    Wagner himself once said that he was only a mediocre composer unless he had a great poetic/dramatic idea to inspire him. I guess that makes him a quintessential Romantic, in contrast to Brahms, who kept his sights on what he felt was a timeless structural ideal. If Brahms had any "poetic ideas" in mind for his symphonies, chamber music and piano works, he kept them to himself. His genius was to find in this severe aesthetic a channel for his own very personal sensibility. And that makes him a true Romantic too, whether he wanted to be or not.

    Brahms and Wagner, by the way, are two of my top composers. I find comparing them fascinating, if only to bring home the realization that they're scarcely comparable.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-20-2021 at 07:05.

  24. Likes tdc, hammeredklavier, janxharris and 3 others liked this post
Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •