Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lesson 7.5: Beethoven


Ludwig van Beethoven.

It's not too much of an exaggeration to say that Beethoven single-handedly shaped the modern world of music composition.

Note here:  Obviously, as a lot of this is a reading and analysis of historical documents.  This is what I was taught, and this is what a lot of available documentation seems to show.  However, I obviously can't really say definitively that this is exactly how things were going down, and there are probably readings of history that have other things to say than this.  However, I personally haven't seen any reason to doubt this reading, and I've seen a reasonable amount supporting it.

We've talked about the way music was put together in history, but we haven't touched at all on how it was put together.  That is to say, what was the compositional process?  How did these dudes write this shit?  Well, it changes a bit through history, but it's pretty close in general observable in two major eras:  Pre and post Beethoven.  You see, in early music, there was this whole "Inspiration from god" thing going on, which really is just mind to paper.  In the Baroque period we're talking about a lot of formulaic composition, and in the Classical era we're pretty much mind to paper again.... That is to say, writing music wasn't really planned out in advance and edited and sketched out, it was pretty much written in a nice clean sweep.  The way we know, as much as we know anything, this is looking at the manuscripts.  Most musical manuscripts early on, including notes and originals from the composers, tend to be complete, pristine scores.  We don't really see sketchbooks or heavy editing in manuscripts in pre-Beethoven music, we just see finishes scores.  There are theories that sketchbooks were destroyed or some such... but I guess that would leave the same evidence as if they never existed, and sketchbooks are really great to keep around and are good teaching tools.

Beethoven scores tend to be horrible messes.  There are giant scribbles and entire passages moved and notes scrawled across sections and they're just impossible to read.  It's clear to see that Beethoven was composing in a large process, always changing and editing and sketching things out, really making music a wrought out process.  This is huge, because it's how we do it today.  The advancement of music from an improvisational process to a compositional process was incredibly useful, though it did have its drawbacks.

Anyways, since this technically is a history lesson and not a "Khavall rants" lesson, let's look at Beethoven historically, because he also is an interesting historical figure.

Beethoven was, we believe, born on December 16, 1770.  He was baptized on December 17, 1770, and normally back then, baptism happened the day after birth.  So we can assume Dec 16, but we don't really have any documentation supporting that in the specific case of Beethoven.  He was born in Bonn, Germany, which is a funny sounding name for a town.  Bonn.  His father was his first music teacher, but his most influential teacher before he moved to Vienna: Christian Gottlob Neefe.  Gottlob Neefe of Bonn.  18th century was the coolest time to have a name.  Anyways, Neefe taught Beethoven composition.  Also Neefe was a member of the Illuminati, because why the fuck not.  In 1787, Beethoven moved to Vienna.  2 weeks later he moved back because his mother fell ill.  Then his father became an alcoholic and he stayed in Bonn for 5 years to take care of his brothers.  And because Vienna has a stupid name compared to Bonn.  Anyways, finally in 1792 Beethoven moved back to Vienna to study with Haydn.  You may remember Haydn from pretty much inventing the string quartet and further codifying the symphony.  Anyways, Beethoven was all "This guy knows nothing!" and works with some other people while studying with Haydn.  During this time, Beethoven wasn't really trying to be a composer, but was really more of a pianist.  He was really well-known for being able to play The Well-tempered Clavier.  Which was like super-awesome to be able to do back then.

Now, I believe I touched on this idea during the baroque period, but Bethoven was 21-22ish by this time, when he was notorious for being able to play well-tempered Clavier.  Today it's a pretty common high-school pianist piece.  In fact, I believe I started learning parts of it in 10th or 11th grade, so I was... what 15?  16?  This by the way was when I would not have ever considered in a million years that I would ever be a serious pianist because I wasn't good enough.  Performers have come a loooong way.

Anyways, he started touring europe being all "I can play piano", and finally decided to write some more shit.

This is where Beethoven really starts to split from the previous composers.  We're not too sure, again, this is my and a few other much smarter people than I's thoughts, but there are people smarter than me who are also in disagreement about this.

In rock, this is a little different, but I still have several sketchbooks and about 4-5 pieces to test out ideas for every piece I've written.  Similar to how before writing a paper it's suggested to make an outline, and how if I was smart I would be outlining these posts instead of just ranting, which would probably, for instance, not have me splitting this rant between the beginning of the post and now, in composition, we basically outline our pieces first.  The result of this is that we can really plan out and work on awesome pieces.  While an improviser has an advantage that they can temper their work to the audience, in a way that the composer cannot, the composer has the advantage that they can spend infinity time to work on a part of music that may only take 5 seconds when played.  That infinity time can make that 5 seconds pretty damn awesome, if used well.  The reason we do this in music is pretty much Beethoven.  Rather, he was the first one who we see doing this, and we know that now this is an awesome way to do things.

Anyways, there's more history stuff that was going on, but you can look up Beethoven on wiki if you care about it, so I'm just going to cover the important stuff from here on out.

In 1798ish Beethoven started working on the "pinnacles", as he saw them, of Composition.  He worked on a bunch of String Quartets and some Symphonies by 1802.

Also, in 1799, Beethoven started pimping.  Technically he just "taught" "piano lessons" to hot chicks who were about his age.  And "entertaining" at "parties" at her estate. Of course, specific hot chick(I assume... I mean, he's Beethoven) was Countess Anna Brunsvik.  More important than her was her sister.  Her sister was all "Married", but marriage was of no concern for Beethoven, man of men.

He also taught some other people, like the dude who taught Liszt, but who cares, it was all about the countesses and their sisters.


Maybe I should've mentioned this earlier, but all this pimping and composing is more impressive when you remember that in about 1796 Beethoven started to lose his hearing.  So once he was deaf he was all "Well, fuck, now I'll write me some string quartets and some symphonies, and I'll have me a countess on the side".  Beethoven.

Anyways, from then on his life is really interesting in terms of what he composed, but not so interesting in terms of things happening.  His brother died and he fought his brothers wife about custody of their kid, won, and then pretty much just went on to make sure everyone in Europe knew that his sister-in-law was a dirty, dirty whore.  Because he could.  Because he was Beethoven.

Oh and that story isn't over.  Karl(Beethoven's nephew) was pretty much Beethoven's pet project.  But since Beethoven was pretty much a crazy person, he was so overbearing and intrusive in Karl's life, Karl shot himself in the head.  But, since he had the Beethoven line blood in him, it didn't work, and he was just a little more angry after that.  Later he joined the army, and Beethoven never saw him after that, so he might as well not exist.

Then Beethoven got sick and died.  There was a shitton of composition that went on during this, including ill-known works like his 5th and 9th symphony, but historically it was pretty much "compose music" for his life.

If you look at his Wiki, it says that Beethoven was "irascible".  I have no clue what that means, but it also says he was possibly bipolar and often irritable.  Probably because he had to spend so much of his time dealing with people who weren't Beethoven.

Anyways, this was waaaay too much time that I devoted to one fucking person.  However, Beethoven was basically music Jesus, and I really feel that everyone should know more than "SOMETHING ABOUT ODE TO JOY" about the dude.  Next update will be Romantic, and then I'm afraid I'm going to have to call it a day on the history lessons to go onto Counterpoint and Theory, since 19th and 20th century Music history is... well, it's pretty much a shitstorm to end all shitstorms.  I'd love to cover it, but I have to keep in mind that I only have a few more months before(If they ever schedule my damn audition) I am out of contact with the world for 8 months, so I'd like to get a basic outline of theory and history all out before then, and if I were to cover 19th cent-present it would take all the time I have.

Anyways, since I'm posting this at 11:30 on Jan 31, 2009, Happy New Years everyone.  I hope to god you're all reading this well after the beginning of 2010, and I'll see you all in the next decade.