2010年12月25日 星期六

Was Beethoven a hard-selling salesman, or really an innovative artist?

This brief discussion about Beethoven's Sonata in F major op.54 is contributed to all pianists and piano teachers. In order to offer audience a stylistic performance, this short article may open a wider perspective for all of you to understand the underlying marvellous pecularities of Beethoven's work.  If you are interested in reading the whole analysis and intrepretation of this work (the whole article), you can send me a request.

Abstract: Generic Ambiguities in Beethoven’s Sonata in F major op. 54:
An Innovation or Self-enterprise?

Lying between the two gigantic neighboring sonatas, Waldstein and Appassionata, Beethoven’s op.54 in F major, a sonata of only two movements, must be considered one of the most original if somewhat neglected piece of the composer. Of the three concomitant sonatas written around 1803-1805, the years marking the beginning of Beethoven’s middle period of compositional style,[1] Sonata op. 54 stands relatively on its own.  Carrying no specific dedication to any individual patron, this work amounts to the only exception with the composer’s works written in the same period.  The Waldstein Sonata (op.53) and the Appassionata (op.57), for instances, were dedicated respectively to Count Waldstein and Count Brunsvik; while both the Triple Concerto op.56 and Symphony no.3, “Eroica,” op.55 were dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz.  The fact that Beethoven decided to keep the “miniature” for himself seems to lend support to the argument that the piece has a character all of its own.

In the following discussion, I shall offer an analysis of the F major sonata in an effort to lay bare its generic ambiguities.  I shall also attempt to postulate how generic choices were made, taking into account both the socio-cultural milieu of the early 19th-century Vienna, and the innovative and revolutionary instinct of Beethoven.   I shall argue that it is the external socio-cultural environment as well as Beethoven’s internal innovative, self-enterprising attitudes that constitute the creative force for this tiny work.  I shall start off my exploration by reviewing the historical background of the years spanning Beethoven’s middle style-period.  Next, I shall attempt a structural analysis of the work.  The discussion of Beethoven’s innovative features reflected in the music then follows.  I shall also observe the formation of this revolutionary attitude with reference to both the internal and external factors, namely, Beethoven’s self-constructed image of “genius” and the mass-produced image of “genius” in the early 19th-century Vienna.  Finally I shall explore Beethoven’s own marketing strategy in promoting this generically ambiguous sonata, to see how he built himself up as one of first self-enterprisers in the music publishing industry of the early 19th-century Vienna.

Tovey, among others, considers the F major Sonata a work of extraordinary beauty and subtleties.  It represents what can be regarded as Beethoven’s “Socratic humor” carried to the full.[2]  A “sonata” in name but of materials more suited for a minuet and a toccata, this “Socratic irony” is also evidenced in his grouping of two monothematic movements in the same key.  The piece was as much applauded for its subtlety and humor as for its experimental nature.  Charles Rosen regards it as essential to the composer’s stylistic development.[3]  Frohlich Martha, siding with Rosen, refers to it as the first important two-movement sonata by Beethoven.[4] William Kinderman, another Beethoven scholar, claims that the directional process and ongoing synthesis of experience explored in the second movement of the sonata, described as a perpetumn mobile, have received further development in some of Beethoven’s late sonatas, such as the “Arietta” of op. 111.[5]  Kinderman discerns a variety of innovative approaches to the genre amongst the composer’s middle-period sonatas, particularly regarding to the problem of welding the successive movements into a unity.[6] 

    While scholars long regarded op.54 an anomaly, few undertook the task of considering the auditory experience of the work, let alone exploring the implication of its generic ambiguity, which, however, is what makes it one of the most original works for the piano in the composer’s middle style-period.  Marked “In Tempo d’un Menuetto,” the first movement has been variously interpreted as a monothematic rondo, a variation, or a minuet-scherzo with da capo reprises.  Yet it is the absence of a sonata-allegro movement, rather than what has sprung up to take its place, which holds a challenge to, and helps extend the boundary of, the very notion of the genre. 

    The two-movement structure of the sonata may, as some argue, have its precedents in some of the piano sonatas of Haydn’s, but its substance is almost entirely of its own.[7]  For in Haydn’s case, generic expectations are always met by the presence of a sonata-allegro movement, whereas it is the sole purpose of Beethoven to defy what has often been taken for granted.  By introducing a minuet-scherzo like movement in his sonata, and by compressing the formal plan into a pair of movements, Beethoven tries consciously to break the generic contract set up between the audience and his work, inviting the former to question previously held assumptions of the genre.

    The finale of the F major sonata can be understood either as a two-part contrapuntal toccata suggested by Tovey, or, as I would argue, as an etude.  But the enormous development section launched after an extremely short exposition may, alternatively, remind us of a monothematic sonata in a nascent form.  But what is certain, however plausible the interpretation, is the ambiguity of the genre, the very element by which Beethoven has succeeded in extending the “sonata” legacy in the development of the genre.
    Apart from its contribution to the overall meaning of the sonata, op.54 also reflects Beethoven’s attitude toward the genre.  Presented as neither preeminently “heroic” nor “lyrical”, the F major sonata comes closest to what Rosen had in mind when he said, “the most prestigious form of serious music was Beethoven’s piano sonata.”[8]  Once considered a kind of “Hausmusik” (music in the home) confined to the aristocratic salons and amateurs at home, the piano sonata, a genre Beethoven had much to contribute, had come to be regarded as one of the greatest achievements in the Vienna’s musical culture of the 19th century. 

    Beethoven’s piano sonatas also helped toward effecting the change from a patron system dominated by the church and the court to an open system of music publishing and concert performance.  They formed a bridge that served to connect music practised at home to that performed in the concert hall.  The F major sonata, for one, and in particular its second movement, typically presents the kind of technical challenge that often remains a formidable obstacle to all but the most accomplished musicians.

David Leung

2008/04 (Written)
2010/12/25 (Published)

Selected bibliography

Beethoven. Beethoven’s Letters: With Explanatory Notes by Dr. A.C. Kalischer, transl. by J. S. Shelock. New York: Dover publications Inc., 1972.

Downs, G. Philip. Classical Muisc: The Era of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1992.

Kinderman, William. “Beethoven” In Nineteenth-century Piano Music, ed. by R. Larry Todd, New York: Routledge, 2004.

Frohlich, Martha. “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Major Op. 54, Second Movement: The Final Version and Sketches.” The Journal of Musicology 18, no. 1 (Winter 2001): 98-128.

Rosen, Charles. Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002.

Somfai, Laszlo. The Keyboard Sonatas of Joseph Haydn: Instruments and Performance Practice, Genres and Styles, transl. by the author in collaboration with Charlotte Greenspan. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995.

Tia, DeNora. Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792-1803. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1995.

Tovey, F. Donald. A Companion to Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas, Southampton: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1931.

Truscott, Harold. “ The Piano Music I.” In The Beethoven Companion, ed. by Denis Arnold and Nigel Fortune. London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1986.


[1] I will suggest that 1803-1823 is the middle period of Beethoven’s musical style.  In 1803, the renowned symphony no. 3 op. 55, Eroica, was started composing, marking the revolutionary spirit of Beethoven’s compositional manner.  First piano sonata of the middle-period musical style was Waldstein op. 53.  Of the thirty-two Beethoven’s piano sonatas, twenty were written in his first-period and twelve for the middle-period.  The last piano sonata was finished in 1822.
[2] Donald F. Tovey, A Companion to Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas, (Southampton: The Camelot Press Ltd., 1931), 161-62.
[3] Charles Rosen, Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), 189-91.
[4] Beethoven has written seven pieces of two-movement sonata during his career.  Please refer to Martha Frohlich, “Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Major Op. 54, Second Movement: The Final Version and Sketches,” The Journal of Musicology 18, no. 1 (Winter 2001): 100-101.
[5] William Kinderman, “Beethoven,” in Nineteenth-century Piano Music, ed. by R. Larry Todd, (New York: Routledge, 2004), 63.
[6] Kinderman regards Beethoven’s revolutionary middle-period of Beethoven’s musical style began from 1802 onward.  It is a bit earlier than my suggestion.  Please refer to footnote 1.  For further information, also see: Kinderman, Beethoven, 59.
[7] Of nine Haydn’s mature two-movement sonatas, only the op. 54 G does not contain sonata form movement.  Please refer to Laszlo Somfai, The Keyboard Sonatas of Joseph Haydn: Instruments and Performance Practice, Genres and Styles, transl. by the author in collaboration with Charlotte Greenspan, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), 195.
[8] Rosen, Beethoven Piano Sonata, 4-6.

一個美學問題: 聯想空間

早前跟朋友傾談有關 D S Likhachev 就文化和記憶所作的有趣評論。看來他們都欣賞他的論點,但說來又不甚了解其中幾個字的含意。

D S Likhachev 的評論英文翻譯如下:

Memory is active. It does not leave a person indifferent, idle.
It takes over a man's heart and mind.
Memory challenges the destructive force of time 
and accumulates drop by drop that which we call culture.

當時我隨意問了朋友,為何時間 (Time) 會有毀滅性的力量? 為何回憶 (Memory) 可以挑戰 (或可戰勝) 這種毀滅性的力量,從而一點一滴地纍積起來? 他們也沒有即時回答。故勿論這對回憶的形容應否叫作文化,Likhachev 所描述有關回憶和文化的關係的條文,所用的修辭可以說是充滿詩意,美得叫人拍案叫絕,也玄得令人深思嘴嚼。

我相信任何朋友只要有一般英文水平,大都可以明白 Likhachev  對文化所作的定義。但若要百份百理解每個字詞,從而欣賞其美,讀者就不能不運用聯想 (Association) 了。



對於 destructive force of time 這個描述,作者與讀者對時間的理解的一個共通點就是: 一般來說,記憶隨著時間過去,就會逐漸消失。人就不再有回憶,忘掉了已往。所以時間是記憶的敵人。假如有一些記憶,能夠成功地挑戰時間,點滴地留下來,這就成為回憶了。

可是 Likhachev 用回憶來為文化作定義,留下給讀者的聯想空間就更大,需要讀者先對文化這個字詞有一些理解,才能欣賞這對文化充滿詩意的描述。Likhachev 在這裏所談到的記憶,當然不是指個人的回憶。很明顯是指集體回憶 (Collective Memory),是屬於一個社群的共同記憶。對於一個社群而言,其留存的文化可以是有形的,可觸摸的 (Tangible),見到的。但也可以是無形的,不能觸摸的 (Intangible),只存在社群中個別人心中的一份回憶。舉一個例子,如果中環及尖沙咀舊天星碼頭的鐘樓沒有拆掉,這個建築物留給香港社群的是一份具有歷史價值的有形文化遺產。現在鐘樓拆掉了,看不見了。可是建築物的形像,及鐘樓所敲出的鐘聲,mi do re sol -- sol re mi do ,卻仍然活在大多數香港人的記憶中 ,成為遺留下來的屬於香港人的文化的一部份 -- 如果記憶能戰勝時間的毀滅性力量,從而將這份回憶世世代代地保存下來的話。當然,如何將集體回憶保存,令脆弱,容易消逝的文化記憶留住在整個社群裏,則是令外的一個討論題目。

不過,對於原文,我還是喜歡用 The Unforgettable (難忘) 去代替原文的 Culture (文化)。這樣,回憶  (Memory) 的力量  (Active Force) 就更能發揮了。



下一篇文章, 我將會探討一下如何在文學,特別是詩學和音樂作品裏營造聯想空間。

David Leung