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Monday, September 10, 2018

Kerman/Beethoven reading group, Week Five!

Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman

Kerman Week 5 – Op. 18, No. 4 – The Middle Third of Chapter 3

By Eric Wagner, guest blogger

This week please read section three of chapter 3 (pg. 65 - 71) and listen to Op. 18, No. 4 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. We near the end of Op. 18 and Beethoven’s early quartets. After week six we will take a quantum jump into Beethoven’s middle period, often referred to as his heroic period.

Doing this week’s reading I marvel at the amount of scholarship people have devoted to Beethoven’s life and work over the past two centuries.

Joseph Kerman wrote a wonderful essay on Beethoven’s minor mode pieces, “Beethoven’s Minority”, included in his collection Write All These Down. Beethoven had something of an obsession with the key of C minor, especially as a young composer, as Kerman discusses in this week’s reading.

When Kerman refers to Mozart’s C minor Concerto, he means #24, K. 491.

Kerman sees this quartet as the weakest of all the Beethoven quartets, so we have nowhere to go but up. I look forward to joining you there. In my own listening I find myself going back and forth between this week’s quartet and Chopin’s Mazurkas.


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

After reading about how bad he C Minor quartet was, I was quite curious and stayed up later than usual to listen to it. I agree it's not great, and it's probably not one I'll return to over and over, but I didn't hate it, either.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


Can you describe again please your listening project for listening to Beethoven's piano sonatas?

Eric Wagner said...

Tom, I have included a description of my 11:32 project in Monday's blog.

Louis Zukofsky suggested that each poet writes a single work over their lifetime. One might say the same about composers, so every bit of their work contributes to the whole, even what might seem like a less than perfect quartet.

Joshua Hallenbeck said...

Eric, your comment about works of art contributing to the whole makes me think of Finnegans Wake.

Oz Fritz said...

This quartet does grow fonder with familiarity. At first, I thought Beethoven kind of phoned this one in (probably biased by critics), But I hear more subtle dynamics and more emotional content in it with repeated listenings.

This section of the book features some second order criticism. Kerman brings in Riemann's views then gives an opinion of his "musicological method."

I love the first half of this sentence and disagree with the last part: "However this composer was eminently capable of dignifying cliche into aesthetic bullion, it is important to take the further step and point out that in this case he did not." (p.67)

Eric Wagner said...

Tom, me too. Bob Wilson's writing led me deeper into both Beethoven and Finnegans Wake.

Oz, I just went back and listened to all six Op. 18 quartets in the car. So much music! I love Kerman's commentary, but sometimes I have trouble connecting his observations with my experience of listening to the music.