10/22/08

Twister Master, Beethoven

Of all the ways to describe Beethoven’s music...

...those flirtatious back-and-forth games Beethoven loves to play: major to minor, forte to piano, one key to another.

...that one takes the shortcake. I mean, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that describes Beethoven--and only Beethoven--perfectly. Right? Nailed it. Couldn’t do better. Eat your heart out E.T.A. Hoffmann!

By the way, Mary, ever consider turning this unique and profoundly powerful insight into a dissertation? Maybe one could contrast Beethoven with Mr. One-Key Mozart, or possibly Mr. Mono-Amplitude Haydn, just to show exactly how much of a flirty game player he really was (“Major to minor?” Wow, that’s incredible! Unheard of!). That would be a super-interesting, publishable study. In fact, I could be coaxed into providing grant money for this wonderful thesis, as long as it has a cover with a cartoon of Beethoven playing Twister, in He-Man jammies, with Mozart and Haydn, both wearing Strawberry Shortcake SS Dance Co T-shirts and tidy-whities.
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6 comments:

Gustav said...

Very funny, Empiricus. But Beethoven's use of mode mixture (especially within a phrase) and his more frequent use of distantly related key changes do stand in contrast to the vast majority of the works of Mozart and Haydn. While Ms. Goldman's listed characteristics are quite generic given the majority of romantic era extended tonality that followed Beethoven's death, they were considered trademarks of his music during his lifetime.

Again I grant that her description was ham-fisted and should probably include some nuance, but it really doesn't bother me. Classical music reviews are written for mass consumption, and I, frankly, would be happy if all classical music lovers out there would have enough knowledge to know those things that actually do separate Beethoven from his contemporaries...Ms. Goldman's comments seem at least a reasonable starting place.

AnthonyS said...

@ Gustav:

Well, yes, but what kind of "major to minor" is she writing about? Mode mixture on a local level or individual chords or key areas?

Something tells me, based on the general nature of the other descriptors, that she may be referring to key areas-- like a minor mode Rondo moving to III in the B section (common, right?). I suppose you could argue that such a move would be covered under "one key to another", so perhaps individual triads? The mode mixture claim seems too specific for the series, at least to me.

Also, I believe they are called "tighty-whities" (or perhaps "tightie-whities"; the idea is that are tighter than boxer shorts, not cleaner. Though that takes the discourse in a whole new direction...

Gustav said...

Don't discount Beethoven's more innovative use of key areas beyond mode mixture. Take for example Piano Concerto 5 where the movement key areas are Eb maj - B maj - Eb. PC #3 -- the first movement is C minor, and the second in E major (did this example at least make you smile, AS?).

Thumbing through the last several Mozart Piano Concerti, I don't see any unusual key area shifts from movement to movement (although, 25 in C maj has the slow movement in F maj).

Granted, I think that the author's labels can be read as mindnumbingly generic and rather insipid, but my point is, even as jaded as I am about musical dialogue I don't have trouble understanding her meaning.

AnthonyS said...

I'm not discounting Big B's mode-hopping street cred. I just don't think that is what she means.
However, we're talking shades of gray here.

Case in point:
The piece in question in Beethoven 2-- mode mixture does play an important role here; the opening section has an extended passage in flat VI. D major to Bb major-- i.e., both major key areas. However, Beethoven uses the minor i several times in the introduction and in the transition to the second theme (which is squarely in the dominant). This is mode mixture, but locally (we expect I and get i). My only point was that I think she was talking about that kind of movement, not large scale key area borrowing. Besides the key area plan for this piece is I-V-I-I across the four movements.

Gustav said...

Which is why I said mode mixture in my first post. She probably doesn't know that term, and if she does, she probably assumes that her readers don't. Though, I'm not quite sure what I'm defending anymore. Trite, nearly meaningless observations are a staple of the music criticism field -- this one, however to me is not offensive, if not "freshman theory class" appropriate.

Empiricus said...

I got my spelling of "tidy-whities" from the Urban Dictionary. So...you could be right. Or not.

Either way, I totally understand gustav's point. Yet in this context--"games Beethoven liked to play"--these set of descriptors misses those subtle points of cool Beethovenian invention and seems to preclude others' fascination with these very same games, albeit not in such a gnostic manner. If you ask me, these descriptors are a little patronizing, regardless if you're an "expert" or a novice, thus post-worthy.

Either, either way, there are other, deeper problems embedded elsewhere in this review. I just chose this one.