Kerman Week 15 - Fugue
By Eric Wagner, guest blogger
This week please read chapter 9 (pg. 269 – 302) and listen to Op. 133 and the first movement of Op. 131 repeatedly. Please comment on this week’s reading/listening and continue to comment on previous weeks’ readings/quartets.
I hope all goes well. I love this chapter, and I find these two fugues endlessly fascinating. The theme of fugue links this chapter with two works of central importance to Bob Wilson, the Hammerklavier and the Ninth Symphony.
Pg. 272 – Kerman sees the first movement of Op. 131 as a clue to the music Beethoven might have written if he had lived longer. Phil Dick said the same thing about the new ending to Op. 130. (I sometimes think of “I’ve Got a Feeling” as a clue to the sort of music the Beatles might have made if they didn’t break up.)
Pg. 274 – I find it interesting that Kerman finds the Op. 131 fugue Beethoven’s most accomplished. I love the reference to Alice’s White Knight on this page.
Pg. 276 – The connection with Bach “Art of Fugue” makes me think of Goedel Escher Bach, another Wilson favorite.
Pg. 300 – I like that Kerman comes right out and calls Op. 131 Beethoven’s greatest quartet. I don’t know if I agree, but I like his forthrightness.
Pg. 302 – Kerman emphasizes the power of repeated listenings. Kerman wrote a wonderful textbook called Listen, and he often emphasizes the power of listening, for which one needs neither virtuosity nor a deep knowledge of music theory.
Kerman observes that Beethoven’s interest in folk music owes something to “Rosseau and his natural man” (p. 254) revealing that Beethoven got influenced by philosophy. He goes on to mention a couple of Romantic poets who influenced LVB’s exercises with church modes.
My love for philosophy ignited 3 or 4 years ago upon discovering the writings of Deleuze and his wonderful ability to bring philosophy to life. The first thing I read by him gets recommended for all musicians. It’s a chapter called “1837 Of the Refrain” in the book with Guattari, “A Thousand Plateaus.” There appears no specific starting point for reading him, by his own philosophy things begin in the middle of a process. “Proust and Signs” would seem as good a place as any to dive into Deluezian waters. It reads as an important work and taxonomy of different kinds of communication.
Last week when I read: “That a modulation to F to D via A can stabilize the hymn – that a modulation can stabilize – is perhaps the supreme paradox of this movement,” (p.257) I immediately thought of Crowley’s “Change = Stability” formula. Later, the same day, I was looking at Jerry Cornelius’ “Essays 7” (Thelemic commentary) and he brought up the same formula in this context: “You have brought something into the light of day to intellectually let it live in order to consciously explore it, and then you must acknowledge its inevitable death in what the Alchemists termed ‘mortificatio’ so that it can be changed, for ‘Change is stability’ (Liber B vel Magi). ‘Change is what we call Love’ (Commentaries to Al I:20) which is why the path of Death is connected to the Qabalistic sphere of Netzach or Venus, the Goddess of Love.
This struck a chord: “… to confuse the genesis of a work of art with the work of art itself. The heroic struggle for personal mastery – that is biography; what matters is the aesthetic mastery manifest in the finished work of art.” (p. 273) It recalled many conversations making the distinction between Aleister Crowley’s work and his personality + personal life.
Last week’s chapter mentioned cadence frequently which an online dictionary defined as: “a rhythmic sequence or flow of sounds in language.” It sounds related to the idea of “series” I brought up recently. We find another example of this holistic viewpoint on p. 267 regarding how to look at a Beethoven quartet: “… what matters is not any single ‘crucial” part,’ but the total sequence of feeling.”
For this weeks’s chapter I researched the definition of ‘fugue” and found:
“A fugue uses counterpoint, a form where multiple melodic lines can be followed independently but together form harmony. It is a type of polyphonic texture.”
This video appears a good primer on the subject:
So if you don't know if you agree, is there a late quartet you like even better?
I love the last six quartets without having a real favorite. I have many favorite movements: the finale of Op. 18, No. 6, both endings to Op. 130, the opening fugue of Op. 131, the second and fourth movements of Op. 135, and the Heiliger Dankesong.
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