View Full Version : Just Starting Out

02-20-2001, 05:02 PM
Although I've been 'into' decent music for many years, I've only just started to appreciate the musical genius that is Beethoven. And, as such, for my Advanced level Music, my topic is 'A study into the periods of Beethovens compositions, in particular how movements from his symphonies show these changes.' This brings in the question of whether there were three, four or eight periods in Beethoven's life.
Does anyone have any opinions on this probably already exhausted topic of conversation? Also, I was thinking of using his 2nd, 5th and 8th symphonies in my comparisons. Is this a wise choice, or does anyone feel that other symphonies show more vivid changes?
Any comments or views would be appreciated.
Stay Beautiful

'I talk to God but the sky is empty'~ S.Plath.

02-20-2001, 06:54 PM
Welcome to the forum - nice to have a Welsh voice here ! You are fortunate in doing Beethoven for your Advanced level music - I had Italian Madrigals, Brahms and Bartok to contend with !

Firstly I would say that there are 3 definitive Beethoven periods. The 2nd Symphony is a good choice as the closing bars of the finale reveal the dawning of B's middle period - the first major work of the middle period being the 'Eroica'. Although some may dispute it, I think the finale of the 8th Symphony has more in common with the late period (even though it was written a few years earlier than the commonly accepted 3rd style date of 1815/16). The Sonatas really offer the best examples of changes in Beethoven's style, but you're restricted to the Symphonies. If you want to make comparisons between the 3 styles, I'd choose Symphonies 2,3 & 9 - Contrasting The first movements of 2 & 3 provides an excellent example of the revolutionary changes in Beethoven's style that took place in a very short space of time, only a year between these 2 works, yet they belong to different worlds.
'Man know thyself'

[This message has been edited by Peter (edited 02-20-2001).]

02-20-2001, 09:06 PM

Yeah, I always thought the break down was:

1st Period: symphonies 1,2
2nd Period: symphonies 3-8
3rd Period: symphony 9

It's pretty wild, but the whole third period is represented by just ONE symphony but then again the 9th is no ordinary work, many say (that includes me) that each mvt. in the 9th is like a symphony onto itself. In that light, the 3rd period really constitutes four "symphonies" -- now that would be something to write about!

Also, I find it amazing that B. composed the 2nd symphony while in the mist of his most severe depression -- the time of the Heiligenstadt Testament when his hearing loss seemed inevitable. I mean the 2nd is such a joyful work. How could this man, even in the worst time of his life, compose something so sparkling and upbeat? Amazing.

Or for that matter, how could he create the phenomenal 9th when he'd lost so much -- nephew, hearing, health, immortal beloved, and even the public who thought him "finished"? Incredible -- just totally mind-blowing. Each time he appears to be "crushed," he rises up like a Phoenix -- even stronger than before.

BTW, for the longest time I had difficulty with Brahms who was often touted as the "heir" to Beethoven and his 1st symphony referred to as the Master's "10th". I think the problem was that I came to Brahms hoping to hear Beethoven, but instead got a totally different personality. You take his 1st symphony for example -- yes, he applies the same strategy as the Master in using that minor key turns into major key deal, but what I hear from him is "Control." That is "control your fear" -- you have the struggle (if you wanta' call it that) in the outer mvts and then these two ruminative inner mvts -- what's that about? For me, Brahms is saying, "You have to reflect and control your fear, restrain yourself, before darkness can turn into light." While B. is more about facing fears head-on and conquering them. I don't get this sort of "conquering" exuberance from Brahms. He's much more dignified and stately.

And sorry to digress further, but do you know if Brahms brings in the C major key in all three mvts. leading up to his C major quasi-Ode to Joy theme (that is C major right?)? I think I heard a variation of his theme in the 3rd mvt., but the first two kinda' baffle me. Thanks!

[This message has been edited by euphony131 (edited 02-20-2001).]

[This message has been edited by euphony131 (edited 02-20-2001).]

02-22-2001, 12:08 AM
Euphony, you are absolutely right about the 2nd symphony. One can listen to it either as a worthy successor to the last 3 of Mozart (& B`s 1st), or as the ground-breaker for all those that followed. It`s a watershed work indeed, & there are times when I rate it as his best.

Peter (PDG)

02-22-2001, 07:36 PM
Avoid the popular pieces. The essential Beethoven is in the piano sonatas and string quartets. I would jump straight into the metaphysical world of the late piano sonatas and quartets - in numbers

Piano sonatas 28-32 Op. 101, 106, 109, 110, 111

Quartets 12-16 Op. 127, 130, 131, 132, 135

For the quartets, I recommend the Guarneri or Julliard Quartet. For the sonatas, Maurizio Pollini. The latter just released a new recording of the Diabelli Variations (Op. 120), another profound piece.

The symphonies are not really very characteristic of Beethoven IMO (I know this is a heretical opinion). His style of expression is far too concentrated to be best served by a massive orchestra. The use of fugue and variation forms which is so characteristic of him is not well represented in the popular works. It is into these strict forms that he puts his most intense expression.

If you play the piano, try the Bagatelles Op. 126. They are a little universe in themselves and very characteristic.

02-23-2001, 05:25 AM
Reading someone say that Ludwig's symphonies aren't really indicative of him was startling. The truth is, I think Beethoven expresses things differently in his solo and chamber works than in his orhcestral works. Ludwig is much more intimate when he's writing for the soloist or small group. He says things more abstractly and subtle than he could with a 100-piece orchestra.

His symphonies are like little marvels, each and every one. No wonder everyone keeps listening to them and recording them. Each one tells a unique story, as disparate and distinct as they can get. Their messages are spoken with force, their effect maximized for the larger audience; played by a crowd for a crowd. Ludwig's nine are a treatise for the masses.

Beethoven's solo works must be appreciated on an entirely different level, I think. I cannot really enjoy them unless I'm utterly alone with them. I often won't even put his sonatas on speakers; just headphones. I can intimately correspond with Beethoven that way, because I am sure that is how he wanted the future to understand him. Private, one on one. If ever you are forced to look at a troubled part of your past or find a sympathetic voice to your human condition that must be shared alone, then Ludwig is who your turn to. No one else, so far as I'm concerned.

It's funny, I don't ever look at anything Beethoven wrote as truly happy. Everything he composed was tinged with a sort of contemplative-ity, sadness, heaviness, or dark mood. Did Beethoven become the world's greatest composer because he was musically gifted or because he was the first to recognize that life often sucks? Boy, I sound a lot like an existentialist...

02-23-2001, 09:57 AM
Originally posted by Serge:

It's funny, I don't ever look at anything Beethoven wrote as truly happy. Everything he composed was tinged with a sort of contemplative-ity, sadness, heaviness, or dark mood. Did Beethoven become the world's greatest composer because he was musically gifted or because he was the first to recognize that life often sucks? Boy, I sound a lot like an existentialist...

I'm sorry that you see such a pessimistic message in Beethoven - I see him as optimistic and life enhancing ! You must be listening to the Ode to Joy through very weird speakers - Yes their is often sadness in B, he was a complete artist and presented every emotion in his music (he wasn't the first to do it either - the music of Purcell,Scarlatti ,Handel and Bach is full of emotional depth). B's over -riding message is one of hope and triumph over adversity - certainly not the fatalistic despair that tinges a lot of Romantic composers (Mahler and Tchaikoksy for example - much as I like some of their music). It seems to me Serge that your tastes in music are primarily from the Romantic period which is possibly why you are seeing Beethoven through negative eyes.

'Man know thyself'

02-23-2001, 06:15 PM
Beethoven is HUGELY optimistic! Even something as doleful as the return of the recitativo in the Op. 110 sonata is conquered by a tremendously positive burst of indomitable will. It is true however that B's work can be stressing - the enormous will that went into these works is a lot of energy to contain in oneself. It's not "feel good" music in the sense of middle Mozart or Haydn. And it's not "long sufferer" music in the sense of Schumann or Mahler. It's in a class by itself - mabye I would put Chopin in there as another person who you can hear fighting off demons, successfully.