Studying Beethoven

Recently I have posted a couple of bits of analysis on modern composers and their music. Anton Webern, perhaps not quite current (having died at the end of WWII), and Brian Ferenyhough (who is certainly not only current but still at the forefront of what's happening in music). I've also stated (in other posts) that I'm not particularly a Webern fan; his music isn't something I would choose to listen to. Ferneyhough might also fall into that category, although I find more in his music which I enjoy than I do with Webern. Even with this preference to not listen to their music, there is a great deal to be said for studying their compositional styles, which is why I did the analysis.

Beethoven, on the other hand, is one of those composers pretty much everyone agrees is among the best composers to have ever lived. I have studied his works too, but oddly enough I have not studied any of his symphonies. During my courses at university, we did gloss over the 3rd, 6th and 9th symphony, with a bit more attention to the first movement of the 3rd to gain an understanding of the structure. But none of my courses went in-depth into how the pieces were constructed. To be fair to my instructors, there is a great deal of music from which to study and a Bachelor's degree only has so much time it can devote to any particular piece. The first two years of music history had to cover everything from pre-renaissance music to early 20th century with enough detail as to make it meaningful, and yet get through the volumes of information available. The next year of music history was devoted 20th century music with an eye on what led us to where we are now. The final year I took an analysis course, which again studied 20th century music in-depth with a focus on analytical styles, so while I did study mostly 20th century pieces (the Webern post was actually a paper submitted in this class), it was more a focus on the forms of analysis. Beyond this I did some study directed by my compositional tutors, looking at pieces by Handel, Hayden, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Holst and Górecki. The closest I came to in-depth study of Beethoven was a paper on Schoenbergian analysis of one of Beethoven's piano sonatas (and I didn't fare very well in terms of my grade on that paper).

Since I am interested in writing symphonies, studying Beethoven and Mahler might seem like a good idea, and I've always meant to grab one of their scores out of the library and give it a thorough going over. Somehow, that just hasn't happened yet.

Then I came across a review on by Harry Rolnick of the performance of Beethoven's 7th Symphony at the Mostly Mozart Festival at the Avery Fisher Hall on August 12th. Much of the review was devoted to how lovely this symphony is in terms of joy in three of the movements or the absolutely tragic funeral march of the 3rd movement. Did the review make me regret not attending the concert? Yes (although, I doubt I would have caught a flight from Edinburgh to New York just to attend - even knowing ahead of time how good the concert would be). Even more so, it made the decision that the 7th would be the symphony I intend to check out from the library this week. I'm not sure which Mahler symphony I will eventually look at, but I have to start somewhere.

Hopefully, I will post some of my thoughts on my studies in the weeks to come.


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