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Monday, September 24, 2018

Beethoven/Kerman reading group, Week Seven

Composer Anton Webern

Kerman Week 7 – Op. 59, No. 1 – Chapter 4

By Eric Wagner, guest blogger

This week please read chapter 4 (pg. 89 - 116) and listen to Op. 59, No. 1 over and over again. Please comment on this week’s reading/quartet and continue to comment on previous weeks’ readings/quartets.

I hope all goes well. One may model a study group on the Beethoven quartets as three study groups. We have entered Beethoven’s middle period, his heroic period. I wonder if perhaps we have spent too much time on the early quartets and will spend too little on the later quartets, but I think a week on each quartet will work out OK (with two bonus weeks for the final quartets).

The references to Webern in this chapter remind me of his vast influence on post-World War II composers like Stockhausen and Boulez. I listened to all of Webern’s string quartet music this week. He certainly uses the medium in a very different way than Beethoven did.

Anapest, according to Google, means “a metrical foot consisting of two short or unstressed syllables followed by one long or stressed syllable.” I tend to think of it as an-a-PEST.

The mention of Chapman’s Homer on page 100 refers to Keats’ poem:

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

By John Keats

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The reference to “a descent into the dark night of the heroic soul” sees the development section of the first movement of the Eroica Symphony as a sort of Chapel Perilous.  I remember in 1983 I heard the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, conducted by Iona Brown, perform the Eroica at ASU and then I ran across campus to hear a lecture demonstration by Robert Fripp.

Pg. 110 mentions Beethoven’s note about “A Weeping Willow or Acacia Tree over my Brother’s Grave.”.Maynard Solomon suggests this may mean a Masonic brother. We have no evidence that Beethoven ever joined any secret society, but a number of Masons and members of the Illuminati played a role in his life.

On page 115 Kerman says “the links mentioned above.” In 2018 this makes me think of links on a computer screen.


Oz Fritz said...

It seems very insightful of Kerman to realize that his critique has to change and step-up to Beethoven's heroic period; rise to the occasion as it were. "In response to the difference, criticism has to bring in new techniques and methods of articulation, learn a new metabolism, and at the very least commit itself to a new intensity of attention." (p.92)

I think listeners too would benefit from a "new intensity of attention" to keep up with Beethoven's development.

Eric Wagner said...

I agree, Oz. Oz, I see that Deleuze wrote a book on Proust. I have never read Deleuze, but I love Proust. Proust loved Beethoven. Due to his health, Proust couldn't go out too much, so he hired a string quartet to come into his home and play late Beethoven quartets for him.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

The middle quartets were the first ones I listened to closely and I really like them. If people have not been participating in the discussion, this is a good time to jump in.

Eric Wagner said...

I look forward to the rest of this study group. The remaining quartets include some of the greatest music ever written, and I love Kerman's analysis.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

As usual, I had to skip Kerman's more technical analysis because it's over my head, but the comparison of the string quartet to the Third Symphony was fascinating. I did notice that this string quartet was longer than the previous ones, and that's one reason the Eroica was important -- Beethoven dared to write a really long symphony.