September 13, 2004

More Beethoven Blogging

The O.F. weighed in with some comments on my remarks about Beethoven over the weekend and also forwarded this interesting piece on old Ludwig Van's 5th Symphony, providing not just background but also a survey of current recordings. It's quite interesting and informative if you like this kind of thing. (As a footnote, I know why the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique nearly beats Toscanini himself for speed - John Eliot Gardiner, for reasons known only to himself, takes the second movement waaaay too fast.)

I suppose I should clarify that what I was getting at earlier about Beethoven's music was the underlying sense of the presense of a large, if somewhat insecure, ego. The article discusses this a bit in its brief outline of the rise of Romanticism. I should also clarify that I don't hold this against Beethoven's music, rather just that I am aware of it while listening.

On the whole, I don't much care for Romanticism precisely because it invites an artist to indulge in the worst sort of self-centered bloviation. (Yeah, I'm talking to you, Percy "Bysshe" Shelley! I got yer unacknowledged legislator right here, pal!) I don't think Beethoven overdid this. But I sometimes wonder how much of his restraint was a product of the fact that he was an early innovator coming out of the Classical tradition. A Beethoven writing, say, forty years later would have produced a completely different kind of music and I wonder how much of a brake he would have maintained on his inner demons in such circumstances. Not much is my guess.

Also, as a matter of general temperment, I usually find the shouting of naked feelings from the rooftops to be rather ickey-pooh. (Not in the street, children. It will frighten the horses.) Every now and then I wallow in it myself, of course, but I just can't take all that emoting on a day to day basis. I suppose this is why the bulk of the music I listen to is from the Classical, Baroque and earlier periods and why I listen to more modern music relatively less often.

UPDATE: Following Fausta's comments back to her site, I found this nifty post on piano playing. I'm in total agreement with much of what she says and often paraphrase Oscar Wilde when asked why I don't play for people: The trouble with sight-reading is that when one plays well, nobody listens. And when one plays poorly, nobody talks.

Posted by Robert at September 13, 2004 08:50 AM | TrackBack

I know whereof you speak!...nothing's a bigger turnoff than emotional showboating. But I do have a soft spot for affect in music if it's genuine and artful (easy to say, hard to do).

Posted by: Chan S. at September 13, 2004 10:57 AM

In my younger days I was a huge Romantic music fan. For several years now I've lost my linking of the Romantics as a steady diet, and I've evolved into a Baroque fan, with lapses into Early music. The simmetry and restraint are most refreshing.

Posted by: Fausta at September 13, 2004 11:08 AM

I thought your comments on how Beethoven might have been in the era of, say, Liszt, were very perceptive. Thank God it didn't happen. I also think that Mozart might have done the same thing! Nevertheless, in my opinion (not humble!) people who concentrate heavily on the classical style, as exemplified by Mozart and Haydn, are made somewhat uneasy by the emotions elicited by Beethoven and tend to keep an intellectual distance from much of his music. Too bad for them since there is much to experience.

Posted by: O.F. at September 13, 2004 12:52 PM

I love Beethoven and I don't think his music is too Romantic. So much depends on the performer. I hate overly enthusiastic pianists. I always want to yell at them, "Hey, what did that poor, innocent piano ever do to you?"

Posted by: Lynn S at September 13, 2004 04:25 PM

Oh, make no mistake - I love Beethoven too. My original point was just that I can often sense the need to overcompensate for some personal insecurities in his music that I don't see in some others. The fact that he wrote when he did allows just enough of this emotional energy to come out without totally overwhelming the intellectual forms. Had he lived any earlier, he probably would not have blossomed the way he did. Any later and he probably would have been unbearable to listen to. Lynn is also right that the noticeability of this emotional issue is largely a function of performance.

I'd also say that there might be people who are afraid to confront the emotions aroused by Beethoven's music (wasn't that an ongoing theme in E.M. Forster's Room With A View?), but there are also those of us who simply prefer the subtler approach to emotional expression permitted by a commonly understood intellectual framework.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at September 13, 2004 05:03 PM
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