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1. How has Beethoven helped to shape modern attitudes toward art music, the role of the
composer, and the relationship between composer, patron, and audience? Why does the
composer’s biography take on such importance for understanding his work?
Beethoven provides us with an archetype of the Romantic artist, one which we have made use of
even in modern times. The artist (as Beethoven) should be uncompromising in his aesthetics, and
draw inspiration from genius rather than the expectations of the audience. The artist is under no
compunction to make himself or herself understood: What is expressed through music are not
universal but rather personal truths, and if the present age fails to understand these, then posterity
still might. To this Beethovenian archetype, the patron is an important figure, but not one to be
deferred to and certainly never one to be adored.
With Beethoven and the rise of Romanticism, a new emphasis on subjective expression and
artistic inwardness begins. For this reason, a knowledge of the composer’s biography becomes a
prerequisite for any critical insight into his work. Thus, we find a great deal of personal
information on Beethoven almost implicitly present in our discussions of him, such as his
deafness, his thoughts of suicide and general irascibility, and his unrequited and unexpressed
2. Describe Beethoven’s early years, his successes and important influences.
Like Mozart, Beethoven was groomed by a musical father in anticipation of an artistic career.
His formal musical education was received at the hands of Haydn, for a very brief time, before
he studied with Albrechtsberger and Salieri. The sharp technical expertise which resulted from
his early education was the platform for his early successes: It was through his piano sonatas that
Beethoven first began to acquire fame. In these early years, it was Mozart who was his greatest
influence: He went to great lengths to acquire Mozart’s scores, and even made attempts at
forming a personal relationship with the composer.
3. Explain the relevance of the Heiligenstadt Testament and its influence on the ways that
Beethoven’s music was heard and interpreted.
The Heiligenstadt Testament was a letter Beethoven composed for, although never sent to, his
brothers in 1802. In it, he describes his growing deafness, the depression it has engendered, and
his resolve to overcome it through continued composition. The Heiligenstadt Testament is a
document of unrivaled importance in the interpretation of Beethoven’s music. Its description of a
man being robbed of his most artistically useful sense, and then overcoming that seemingly
insuperable difficulty, plays directly into the “heroic” view of the artist that Romanticism
fostered. Further, it gives biographic grounding to the sense of challenge and triumph which
permeates many of Beethoven’s middle- to late-period works.
4. What makes Beethoven’s middle period “heroic”? How do you hear these traits
exemplified in his Eroica and Fifth Symphony?
We often refer to Beethoven’s middle period as “heroic” as a manner of shorthand, a way of
referring at once to its monumental scope, its outward nobility, and its sense of challenge
overcome. The heroicism of Eroica is evident in its very first bars: After two violently rousing
chords, the sounding of the initial theme (robustly triadic) is marred by the unexpected
appearance of a C#. Beethoven wastes no time in introducing conflict, thereby providing himself
the opportunity to begin the heroic struggle as early as possible, and to resolve it in the most
convincing fashion. The heroic nature of the Fifth Symphony is perhaps best seen in its largescale construction: progress from the tempestuous and dire first movement to the triumphant and
transcendental finale.
5. What is meant by “organicism” in music? Explain how the movements of the Fifth
Symphony grow from a single “seed.”
“Organicism,” in music, refers to the process by which an entire work is seemingly constructed
from the simplest of thematic materials, in the same manner by which a plant develops from a
simple seed. In Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the initial four-note motive fulfills such a role. In
the first movement, after its initial sounding to begin the work, it reappears twice: once in the
fanfare which announces the arrival of the second theme, and again in the second theme’s
accompaniment. In the second movement, the theme again appears in accompaniment figures,
before making overt appearance again in the scherzo and the symphony’s finale.
6. Describe some stylistic and formal contrasts between the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. In
what ways are they “unidentical twins”?
Many of the differences between the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies can be attributed to the
inclusion of programmatic content in the Sixth. The use of madrigal-like imitation in the second
movement, and the interpolation of a “Thunderstorm Tempest” in the long three-movement
finale, are programmatic elements which would have been entirely out of place in the Fifth
Symphony, which is almost entirely driven by a purely musical thematic consistency. And yet
the works are “twins,” even if unidentical, in that they were conceived of and composed during
the same time period, share a single dedicatee, and were published almost contemporaneously.
7. What kinds of works would be performed at a typical public concert in Beethoven’s
time? How did these concerts differ from those of today?
As in the preceding age, a concert in Beethoven’s time would largely have consisted of music of
recent composition. It would have included both the instrumental and the vocal in a single
evening, and would likely include at least a few works which were excerpts of larger opuses.
Often, the music was underrehearsed and poorly performed. This differs from the concert of
today in several obvious fashions. Outside of the occasional free-standing overture, it is rare to
see an excerpted movement from a symphony or concerto performed without its larger context.
Purely instrumental concerts are, by contrast, a common occurrence. We enjoy a higher standard
of performance than was heard in Beethoven’s day, but this is at least in part due to the
inculcation of a “museum culture” in the concert hall, in which an established body of wellknown works is the most commonly performed.
8. What are the salient features of Beethoven’s late works? How are these reflected in the
Missa solemnis, the Ninth Symphony, and the late string quartets?
Beethoven’s late works exhibit a marked degree of contrapuntal activity, a thorny and obtuse
formal structure, an uninhibited approach to scope and length, and novel orchestration. The
Missa Solemnis is a fine example of a late Beethoven work’s often staggering scale: Originally
composed for the celebration of Archduke Randolph’s installation as archbishop of Olomouc in
1820, Beethoven’s endless enlargements and expansions meant that the work was not finished
until 1823; and when complete, its impractical length made it unusable in any church service.
The Ninth Symphony, although also of immense length (typically running over an hour), is most
representative of Beethoven’s late style in its formal convolutions and innovative scoring. Its last
movement, in particular, is striking in these regards, seemingly through-composed and drawing
upon a large chorus and soloists in addition to a sizable orchestra. And finally, in the late
quartets, Beethoven provides some of his most difficult contrapuntal writing. In the original
finale to Op. 130 (which eventually became the discrete Op. 133), Beethoven composed a fugue
of such length and difficulty that its publisher, Mathias Artaria, insisted upon revision.
Beethoven, usually obstinate on such points but perhaps sensing the truth in Artaria’s
complaints, agreed.