Beethoven hard at work on one of Eric Wagner's favorite pieces, the Missa Solemnis
This week please read sections 4 - 6 of chapter 8 (pg. 242 - 268) and listen to Op. 132 repeatedly. Please comment on this week’s reading/listening and continue to comment on previous weeks’ readings/quartets.
I hope all goes well. Tom suggested we all name our favorite Beethoven pieces. I would choose the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the last four piano sonatas (op. 106, 109, 110, and 111), and the late quartets.
This week’s quartet features the famous Heiliger Dankesang. Beethoven wrote this in the Lydian mode. Almost all music composed during Beethoven’s lifetime fell into either a major or minor key. This proved true of almost all music during the Common Practice Period, the period in classical music from the early seventeenth century until the late nineteenth century. In the late nineteenth century composers after Wagner such as Mahler, Debussy, Strauss, and Scriabin started pushing tonality to the breaking point. Before the Common Practice Period composers often used other modes besides the major and minor.
If you play all the white notes from C to C on a piano, you get a major scale. If you play all the white notes from A to A, you get a natural minor scale. If you play all the white notes from D to D, you get the Dorian mode, from E to E the Phrygian, from F to F the Lydian, and from G to G the Mixolydian. Medieval and Renaissance music used those latter four modes. Beethoven decided to go back to the day before yesterday to compose the third movement of Op. 132 and used the Lydian mode. (Miles Davis and Gil Evans used these modes in jazz in the 1950’s).