Friday, April 12, 2019

Dancing with Beethoven

Welcome to the Ludwig van Beethoven School of Dance. You can ignore those little footprints on the floor...we won't be needing them, Ever. Those are for people who think inside the box. Unlike our esteemed composer.

Yesterday, while we were discussing all the tonal peregrinations in the introduction to the Fourth Symphony, we were ignoring the third, in which even the most basic rhythmic elements are continually subverted, messed with, and otherwise played upon, to come up with a very interesting piece of music when by rights it should only be mildly entertaining. If you'd like to do some field research you'll need a recording of the first movement of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony. 5,6,7,8...

BAM! BAM! Hear that? Those two loud chords at the beginning are there to let you know that what you are about to listen to is anything but a polite little waltz.

And that winsome little theme that follows is there to tell you that you are listening to a nice little waltz. If you expect Beethoven to make up his mind you will be waiting a long time.

Now the thing to note is how many different ways Beethoven is able to accent a simple measure of three beats. Many a composer has gone most of their compositional life accenting only the first beat, and leaving the other two for getting over the shock. Not our Ludwig. Even the opening theme has a slight variation:

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3

To say nothing of what happens a few bars later when he decides he's done with dactyls and thinks he will try trochees (in other words, switching from threes to twos)

1 2 3 1 2 31 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 32 3 1 2 3

if you're dancing this one at home, you now have two measures in which you can rest your second left foot.

There is a nice "theme" on one note, in which the clarinet treats us to a steady crescendo. This is a prelude to an even longer crescendo later on. It is Beethoven trying not to tax your ears by using too many notes. How is only one, over and over?

It is hard to stress two beats consecutively; perhaps the second is even louder than the first, but they both get to be forceful.

123 1 2 3123 1 2 3

Finally, don't forget our conventional pattern, which by now seems anything but conventional. The world has been upside down for so long, that turning it the "normal" way will seem fresh and new. And anyway, Beethoven doesn't seem to want to do it willingly. It's as if Mother Waltz forced it out of young Beethoven, who responds sarcastically, putting brusque, vicious accents on the first beat:

1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 31 2 3 1

He doesn't seem to be able to quite hang on to it, though, does he?

And this has been Dancing With Beethoven. Remember to return your rented shoes into the bin by the fire extinguisher, and if you need a rest there is a fifteen-minute funeral march coming up after this movement is over. Are there any questions? Oh yes, you in the back.

No, I'm sorry, you won't be getting your Kreutzer back.

it's the last of our out-sized Beethoven weeks on the homepage of But our featured recording has taken a break from all that for Holy Week, and the rest of the page is taken up with Flashy toccatas, and how to practice by not practicing. That's what happens when one gets the flu--everything is a little off! Come for the Pianonoise Palm Sunday Potluck, this week.

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