Zimmer-Holsbergen: Official Sites
Zimmer-Holsbergen Site: The Unheard Beethoven
This month a very curious and interesting journey through the extra-rarities, the many snippets and sketches and the various intriguing unfinished works left by L. van Beethoven, which all constitute an incredible really voluminous corpus (ca. some hundreds of neglected works by the great master!) and the many contemporary projects to prepare or reconstruct new performance editions for the modern Concert Halls…
1. Your project and your work on Beethoven certainly reached a particular status of recognition, when it left the Internet to reach the Concert Halls. First of all, with the great Leonard Slatkin, conducting the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington in 2001 and then in 2011 with the Naxos Records Belgian conductor Patrick Baton. Can you tell us about your experience and some major anecdotes on the live premieres and such a special passage from the Internet to Concert Halls?
Mark S. Zimmer
I still remember well the phone call I received from our friend and supporter James F. Green, who is also on the board of the American Beethoven Society. He had, unbeknownst to us, leaned on some supporters of the National Symphony, and somehow received an audience with Maestro Slatkin, in order to show him the score of the Macbeth Overture as realized from Beethoven’s sketches by Willem. As Jim tells it, Slatkin was receptive, agreed to look at the score, and thumbed through it saying, «this is good… I like this… I think we have room in our opening concert of the fall». It’s far beyond what Jim had expected and certainly a massive surprise to us. It’s amazing what doors can be opened with just a little persistence. It’s really a tribute to Slatkin’s willingness to try new things and make an impression.
The premiere was shaping up to be a major event, with dignitaries and ambassadors from across the globe penciled in to attend. Unfortunately, the concert was scheduled for September 2011, and the premiere was just over a week away when the World Trade Center was hit in New York. All flights were shut down, and it looked as though the concert might even be cancelled. It was exceedingly doubtful that Willem would be able to make it, coming from Europe. Finally the concert was confirmed, and some rules were loosened to permit air travel, and both Willem and I were able to attend. On my flight to Washington DC there was only one other passenger, a fellow on crutches, so I figured I could take him if he caused any trouble. But the trip was uneventful for me.
Once in Washington, I met up with Green and Willem, and also met a number of other Unheard Beethoven supporters: the late musicologist Avishai Kallai from Israel, writer Gail Altman, Annie Moss Moore the creator of the sadly now-defunct Beethoven recording database, pianist and musicologist Susan Kagan, William Meredith then the director of the San Jose Ira F. Brilliant Beethoven Center, and others. It was an amazing time, and it was incredibly thrilling to attend the rehearsal of the orchestra as they worked their way through the Macbeth; it was clear that the basses in particular enjoyed the meaty parts that Willem had written for them. While I’d heard the synthesized version from our website many time, to finally hear it with a live orchestra was simply overwhelming. It was the second time I’d met Willem face to face, but we had spent so much time talking over the Internet it was like we were brothers immediately.
I attended all three performances of the Macbeth by the National Symphony, and it was a wonderful experience. The ABS had also arranged for some of us to venture to the National Archives and actually handle (with white gloves) some Beethoven manuscripts. It’s such a connection with history to physically touch the papers that Beethoven himself wrote upon. I happily translated in my best woeful singing voice what was written there and conducted in my white gloves, to the amusement of the other spectators.
Willem had more involvement with Patrick Baton than I did.
We also had another live presentation at the Kennedy Center about ten years after the Macbeth premiere, where Willem’s realization of the second movement of the lost oboe concerto Hess 12 was presented, with H. David Meyers as the soloist.
The Unheard Beethoven:
Beethoven, Choral Fantasy Op. 80 (New Version World Premiere)
After Beethoven’s own sketches (Hess 16)
Conductor Patrick Baton
Liege, March 2011 (first 3 min. 36)
As Mark said, I was on the first plane from Europe after the 09.11. There were many Americans on board, who had been stranded in Europe for 5 days, because all flights had been cancelled. When we flew over New York, the Americans went to the windows looking for the disappeared Towers. A solemn moment. An inaudible, silent gasp went through the plane…
… Later on, when I reached Washington, of course, I never believed the theory that a group of Avantgarde composers had carried out the attack, and that their actual aim had been… the very Kennedy Center, just to sabotage the premiere. That’s just too silly… these people would never have been able to carry it through…
Anyhow one… I must really call him a journalist!?… (but we must really call him this way…!?) had been making a lot of noise for several weeks, protesting against the performance. He said that the time allocated to the Macbeth ought to have gone to a contemporary piece… But he totally missed the point that the Macbeth, by its very nature, could equally be called a contemporary piece, indeed, that is precisely its raison d’être…
What he actually meant to say is that the emotional states expressed in that piece, and the use of 19th century skills, are strictly forbidden by the rules of the Avantgarde ideology, and… that these should be kept repressed…!?!?!?
As for Patrick Baton, he is a very intelligent musician, and passionate about the music he performs. I enjoyed our conversations very much. He has a rare insight, and the ability to get to the essence very quickly.
We did a special version of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, Op. 80. The piece starts with a long introduction for piano solo. The interesting thing, however, is that Beethoven sketched a string accompaniment for that intro, probably after he had published the score. These string parts are numbered as Hess 16, and Baton did the world premiere of that version. The main takeaway from the event was that the introduction does indeed sound much better with the strings.
So, pianists planning to perform the Choral Fantasy should really take that into consideration… Not doing so is, frankly, a real musical shame.
Belgian TV announcing
Beethoven: New Choral Fantasy Hess 16 World Premiere
Liege, March 2011
The Unheard Beethoven:
Oboe Concerto (Hess 12) World Premiere
Patrick Baton (Conductor), Nathalie Rompen (Oboe)
Liege, March 2011
2. What’s the origin of your project? How have you been developing it through the years? What have been the great challenges and the great accomplishments, you experienced during these years?
Mark S. Zimmer
The project began in a haphazard sort of way back in the 1990s. I was fresh to the Internet and had discovered DALNet, an Internet Relay Chat host, through an acquaintance who was using it to talk with friends about a mutual interest in carnival glass. I got onto it as well and wondered if there was a Beethoven discussion on the internet. In fact, there was a #beethoven channel, which was either run by Willem or he was one of the major participants, under the name of ‘xickx.’ We both were inveterate collectors of Beethoven recordings, and at some point the discussion turned to the complete works of Beethoven, and whether it was possible to amass a collection of recordings that would in some sense be complete. As a frustrated librarian and historian (I’m actually an attorney since neither of those things pays very well), I dove into the question with gusto.
The first issue was, what exactly constitutes the complete works?
Obviously, there are the 138 works with opus numbers, but there were at that time 205 more WoO (Werke ohne Opuszahl, or Works without Opus numbers) in the Kinsky-Halm catalogue. And then we found out about Willy Hess’s catalogues of Beethoven’s works, which in its 335 works overlapped somewhat with Kinsky-Halm’s catalogue. Thankfully, I live in Madison, home of the University of Wisconsin, and they have a splendid music library that has copies of both Kinsky-Halm (and its supplements) and the Hess catalogue. Then we found out that Giovanni Biamonti had in 1968 assembled an even more complete catalogue, with many more works, some of them fragmentary, some of them complete, that had been missed by both of the others, running up to… 849 numbers!
So complete was obviously a moving target that was elusive.
But it was shocking to us how many of these works had never been recorded!
At that time, the vast majority of the folksong arrangements had never been recorded, many of the piano bagatelles, some of the lieder and choral works, and many others. In addition, the recordings of some of the others were quite rare and hard to come across. I combed through the library’s old Schwann catalogues covering the entire LP era trying to track down recordings. I had standing orders with a number of record search services to find the more elusive items. For several years Willem and I swapped cassette tapes of recordings across the Atlantic in those pre-MP3 days, in an effort to fill in the holes in each others’ collections.
In the end, we were still left with a great many Beethoven compositions that we would never be able to hear. Willem then introduced me to midi sequencers, which allowed one to synthesize a crude version of a composition so you could hear something of what it would sound like; he shared a number of his efforts and it seemed like a great idea. In the meantime, I was also in touch with the San Jose Beethoven Center and its gloriously helpful librarian/archivist Patricia Elliott Stroh, about getting scores for a number of Beethoven pieces that hadn’t been recorded. We began synthesizing them and sharing them with each other and the participants on DALnet. I no longer remember what Willem’s first efforts were, but I remember that mine were the string quintet version of WoO 62, the last thing of substance Beethoven wrote, and his setting of Erlkönig, WoO 131, written decades before Schubert’s famous settings but nevertheless quite similar indeed.
As we proceeded, getting copies of scores from the UW-Madison Music Library, which had a set of Hess’s Supplement to the Gesamtausgabe, and more scores of rarities from San Jose, we soon had close to 100 midi files. While it was fun to swap them and share them on DALnet, it was clear that there was an opportunity being lost there, and it would be nice to share them more widely…
I think Willem suggested a permanent website to host them. I had a friend, Steve Lange, who did website design and hosting, and asked if he’d be willing to help us out. He was more than willing—I think his exact reaction was something like: «This is exactly what the Internet should be about». We puzzled about a name for a while and came up with The Unheard Beethoven, which is a little clunky, but certainly distinctive, since it both suggests what people are missing and plays off Beethoven’s own deafness.
It took a few months, but Steve got us up and running and we’ve been adding things in fits and starts ever since. The website still resides at http://unheardbeethoven.org after nearly 20 years.
At some point Steve Lange got another job and no longer was doing website design; he tried to help us over the years but eventually he had to turn it over to another fellow who did some nice work for us. Unfortunately he had some personal problems and we had difficulty reaching him.
That was unsatisfactory, and we asked Steve for help again. He suggested another of his friends, composer Kevin McLeod (who provides a massive library of his royalty-free music at https://incompetech.com/music/ ). Kevin was wanting to do more web design and he agreed to help us bring The Unheard Beethoven back to life in the 21st century. Kevin got us set up with a new website in February of 2013, running on a WordPress framework that allows us to (mostly) do all the updating we want ourselves.
We celebrated by converting many of the MIDI files to mp3s to take advantage of the greater bandwidth availability and the ubiquity of the format… not to mention improved sound quality, since we could use our sample libraries that were much superior to the run of the mill libraries that our users generally had, in order to generate the mp3s.
Among the new features of the new site, probably The Unheard Blog is one of the features we like best, since it allows us (and guest writers) to spout off about topics that we are interested in.
We’ve been adding things steadily and there’s still more in the works; I’m currently working on the recently-published volumes of Beethoven’s counterpoint studies with Haydn and Albrechtsberger; they’re not the most interesting things in the world (especially the studies with Haydn), but the knowledge of fugue and counterpoint that Beethoven developed in these works is vital to the understanding of the fascination that the fugue held for him throughout his life. And of course, precious few of these fugues and exercises have ever been recorded, so much of this will be new to listeners.
The great challenge in completing the sketches has been to feel one’s way into the emotional states of these sketches.
In some cases the emotions are pretty obvious, in other cases not at all. It is wrong to think that if you just rake together some notes you get melodies expressing wonderful things, and that is certainly not always the case in the Beethoven sketches.
You have to be able to recognize the synergetic effects between the notes, and then become aware of the emotional charge of these effects. This is essentially the same way I work on my own melodies in their early stages. However, in the case of Beethoven the additional challenge is to get emotional states that are at his level (while in my own work I have, in principle, the right to go for whatever trivialities I choose). Sometimes small changes in the notes are required to get any synergetic effects at all, which is then considered controversial by those who do not understand how these things work. By the way, recognizing the synergetic effects was in the old days loosely referred to as having an ear for melody.
Once you know the emotional charge, then things will come together, and what has to be done at the technical level becomes obvious. The technical issues are trivial compared to the first stage, but can still be quite challenging. Of course a lot can be said about these issues, but going into that would be somewhat beyond the scope of this interview. Anyone who is interested should write to us at the Unheard Beethoven, and we will discuss it there.
3. A fundamental part of your project is also dedicated to the Seldom-Heard Beethoven, an important reference tool for any musician interested in the music by Beethoven. In fact, while now the Complete Mozart Edition has two great monumental products as reference, which are both easily available to anyone, the old Complete Beethoven Edition 1997 (Deutsche Grammophon) and the following projects by other classical music record labels are neither easily available nor so complete, after all. Can you trace out a state-of-the-art about the recordings of Beethoven’s works and their availability?
Mark S. Zimmer
It’s correct that the Complete Beethoven Edition of 1997, while it was good, was woefully incomplete and now it’s long out of print and can be quite expensive to acquire (not to mention that it was never cheap in the first place; I paid close to a thousand dollars for it the first week it came out, but I was ecstatic to be able to do so since it offered the first more or less complete recording of the folksongs and many other items that were never before recorded, so for that we owe Deutsche Grammophon a great deal of thanks).
Much of the slack since that now twenty-years-old set has been picked up by Brilliant Classics, which has had at least three different versions of its Beethoven Edition box over the years, which not only covers much of the ground that DG had done for a tenth of the price, but has also added new recordings. Their set of the confusing Italian part-songs Beethoven wrote for Salieri is to date the best, and is more or less complete; they also have added the very first complete recording of the lied Der Bardengeist WoO 142, previously available only in badly truncated and incomplete recordings.
There was also an inexpensive complete set of CDs from Cascade Records that had a number of problems (missing the first bar of the First Symphony being but one of them), and we understand that a number of licensors never were paid. But it also includes as of this writing the only commercial release of Erlkönig WoO 131 (in Reinhold Becker’s completion, not our version that adheres more closely to Beethoven’s continuity draft).
Over the years we have also been pleased to be a resource to boutique labels such as Monument Records from Washington DC, and Inedita Records from Italy. Both catalogues are sadly now slowly going out of print, but between them they released a great many Beethoven works that had never been recorded. So they are an important resource for collectors as well.
There was also a recording of never-before recorded orchestral works, including some realizations by Willem, made by Stefan Sanderling and the Orchestre de Bretagne for the ASV label. Unfortunately, just before it was released ASV fell into financial trouble and it never came out…
… My understanding is that Universal Music (which now owns DG, Decca, Philips and other labels) now controls the ASV catalogue, so perhaps we will see that CD someday. I’ve heard it and it’s quite wonderful; it’s really a loss that Universal hasn’t seen fit to do anything with it.
Given that Beethoven’s 250th birthday is coming up in the year 2020, I feel confident that we can expect some major releases from various labels.
I’d like to hope we see a truly comprehensive megabox of Beethoven along the lines of the splendid Mozart 225 box from DG/Decca released last year.
In fact, we have been contacted by one label (I don’t know that we are at liberty to specify which) to try to help them make the most complete release possible of Beethoven’s works, and we’re excited at the opportunity. If we are able to do that and make The Unheard Beethoven unnecessary, then I for one will be overjoyed that we’ve succeeded in our mission.
I’m afraid that my only contribution to the Seldom-Heard-Beethoven page has been to encourage Mark to go ahead with an update, at a moment he was doubting whether it was worth the effort.
4. You have established a long collaboration with the Ira F. Brilliant Beethoven Center at San Jose State University. Since both Mozart and Beethoven were great improvisers, many of their sketches of music were material for actual improvisation and so for what were, in reality, complete full-length performances. It is a fact that the work carried out by Constanze Mozart and her collaborators, the Abbé Stadler, in particular, after 1791, was also intended to make many works by Mozart, just left in fragments, available again for performance. Your project seems to have had the same target and to have carried on a sort of work, no-one actually did for Beethoven,… as, instead, Constanze and the others had done for Mozart. What have been the interest of modern composers and conductors in your work of collecting Beethoven’s fragments in this particular way? How many completion works have you published? How is it possible to receive a performing score for those completion works? And, in conclusion, what’s the actual situation of the 10th Symphony today, after so many attempts of reconstruction?
Mark S. Zimmer
This is really a better question for Willem since he does the heavy lifting for the reconstructions and realizations; I’ve dabbled with it a little but he has a unique ability to see the sketches through Beethoven’s eyes and at the same time use his own imagination within the constraints of the classical style and Beethoven’s compositional attitudes to come up with completions and realizations that are both convincing and true to the spirit of Beethoven.
One of the projects we have had ongoing for some years is related to an improvisation that Beethoven did as a teenager in Bonn against the chant of the Lamentations of Jeremiah during Holy Week. His sketches for that still survive and we’ve made several attempts at getting them into a performing state, but they really point out just how harmonically adventurous Beethoven could be. In that particular instance, as Wegeler relates the tale, the young Beethoven asked the tenor who was engaged to sing the Lamentations whether he minded if Ludwig attempted to throw him off with his harmonizations. The tenor, not realizing who he was dealing with, laughed and told the boy to try his best. That evening, as the tenor began singing, Ludwig went into the most wild and outrageous harmonizations and soon the tenor was red-faced and spluttering with rage. After he complained to the Elector, Beethoven received a gentle chiding not to do that again to their guests.
In any event, once we have that in a workable form it will really open some eyes as to what Beethoven’s imagination was capable of. I’d like to see that put into finished form within the next two years, before the 250th birthday.
We’ve also hosted completions by others, one of the most important being Nicholas Cook’s performing edition of the first movement of the incomplete Piano Concerto No. 6 in D, Hess 15 (not to be confused with the piano concerto arrangement by Beethoven of the Violin Concerto Op.61, which is sometimes referred to as Piano Concerto No. 6). That completion had a brief bit of notoriety, and then seemed to have vanished until we found Cook’s journal article. We contacted Dr. Cook for a copy of the score, which he generously provided, and put it on the website, where I’m pleased to say it has generated some interest and resulted in its being recorded on the Inedita Records label by Robert Diem Tigani with Maurizio Paciarello on piano.
Some notable names such as Slatkin, Sanderling, Tigani, Steven Beck, the Covington String Quartet and others as noted have been willing to give these realizations a chance, and for that we’re grateful.
They’re obviously not Beethoven, but they do give us an insight into what Beethoven was thinking.
The Tenth Symphony is something we haven’t tackled, although there are quite a few sketches extant, and as you say a number of versions, Barry Cooper’s being the best known. We also have on the website two different composers’ attempts at a realization of the symphony, which differ vastly from each other and from Cooper’s efforts. Given the quality of Cooper’s realization, we’re content to keep that on the back burner and concentrate on pieces that haven’t seen the light of day… But the differences of opinion as to where the composer was going to go with the piece are pretty startling to say the least.
Of course, the completion of Mozart’s Requiem by Süssmayr was critized by a certain Gottfried Weber in the 1820s. He said: «Wouldn’t it be terrible if we mistook a stupidity by Süssmayr for a stroke of genius by Mozart? And wouldn’t we then look foolish?». His weakness was, obviously, that he, for one, couldn’t tell the difference, because otherwise there is no need to worry. Abbé Stadler wrote several articles defending Süssmayr’s completion, and Beethoven wrote a letter to Stadler, saying that he fully agreed with him.
From modern composers of the old Avantgarde school the reaction has ranged from total indifference, to hostility at best.
The younger generation is more interested.
But their problem is that their education is conforming them to the 20th century paradigm, so they are not sure whether they are allowed to take an interest.
Many sense that what they are looking for can be found by us, but often they are still a bit scared. I hope that I’ve been able to teach some of them things of value, and point them in the right direction.
You can get performing scores by asking us for it. If an edition for the requested piece doesn’t exist, we will produce one.
However, I’ll do it only under the strict condition that you understand that you perform a completion because of its own intrinsic merits, and place the performance or recording in the context of the 21st century. We cannot go back to an imaginary 18th or 19th century, nor should we want to, but these fundamental values ought to be revived in our era.
5. If it is possible to add a few words on this subject… After all, you well know that, beside the intricate Requiem affair and also thanks to the letters of Constanze, we are aware of the fact that she tried, in many occasions, to have Mozart’s scores back into a performance version… and sometimes trying to relying on the memories of those who heard the actual performance or who played the parts. That’s why modern scholarship has some suspicion also on a few masterpieces by Mozart: some Horn concertos, for example, and even the Clarinet Concerto K. 622 may be objects of some suspicion (see, in particular, Benjamin Perl, The Doubtful Authenticity of Mozart’s Horn Concerto K. 412, and Mozart Studies 2006, editor Simon P. Keefe, passim). So are they real completed compositions by Mozart or performance editions reconstructed by his friends and collaborators? And, beside Constanze’s problem with money and after so many years of much praising on such pieces, can we really really say that Constanze was really wrong in wishing such masterpieces to be in a completed performance form, instead of leaving such works as not usable and useless sketches on paper?…
It’s really an interesting subject, which requires much consideration…
Moreover we know that in classical music a culture of sketches completion and music reelaboration always existed and has been always part of the musical common practice. Apart from the variations technique and the improvisation fugues on themes or sketches, just consider Hummel’s famous own arrangements of Mozart’s works (sometimes trying to render an idea of an actual musical performance which was a bit different from the written score), the musical paraphrases and all those pieces of music which can be called transfiguration works (see MozartCircle Interviews July 2017)…
Your favourite work by Beethoven, by Mozart, by J. Haydn.
Mark S. Zimmer
My favourite work by Beethoven tends to change from time to time; it’s usually one of the Third Symphony, the Waldstein sonata op.53, Rage over a Lost Penny op.128, or the Appassionata op.57. Others frequently in the running are the string trio op.3, Piano Concerto No. 3, the Violin sonata No. 5 Spring, and the Coriolan Overture. Today it’s the Waldstein. You might get a different answer tomorrow.
I’m similarly undecided about Haydn. Any of the London symphonies could qualify at one time or another. I’m a big fan of his The Creation and The Seasons as well. I love his string quartets en masse and would have a difficult time picking one of them. But I think today’s answer is the trumpet concerto.
With Mozart, the answer is easy. As much as I love Beethoven, Mozart’s Ave verum corpus K.618 is the most sublimely beautiful and perfect piece of music ever written by anyone, anywhere, any time, ever. The music Mozart wrote just before he died is so amazing that one dearly wishes he had managed to hang on for at least another year to see what else he would do.
Of course, there is no answer to this question: these guys wrote so many works of the highest quality, that it would be something of an insult to pick just one out. So, I will not do that, and instead mention some works I’ve recently been going through, and point out the details that impressed me.
For Beethoven, I’d like to mention his Sonatas Op. 2. They are really good, and I consider them unsurpassed by anyone in the 19th century (let alone 20th century) in the handling of the structures. Listen to the finale of Op. 2 No. 2 in A. Do note how exaggerated the arpeggio is with which it opens, followed by a fall of more than an octave in the melody. Yes, it is elegant and charming, but the effect is that of making someone a compliment which is somewhat over the top, and may therefore be ironic, and border on the insulting. At each repeat the exaggerations become worse and worse, which then result in the explosion of the middle section. Did the recipient of our compliment notice the insults? So we have here a subtle balance between elegance and humor, which is delightful, and I don’t think there are many other pieces playing a similar game.
A Mozart piece I admire greatly, is his Fugue in C minor, KV. 426 (=KV.546). It is chockablock with all sorts of canons, which makes this piece an intellectual tour de force. But even more important is that, beyond the intellectualism, every bar is filled with deep emotion. Truly the greatest fugue since Bach. It seems that many Mozart fans do not particularly care for this piece, but to fully appreciate his genius, one has to be aware of this other side of his… dark emotions and frightfully intellectual.
Haydn plays a fine joke at the end of the slow movement of his Symphony No. 97; he is clearly imitating a steam engine! It starts slowly, then picks up speed. You can hear the safety valves (flutes), and some sort of brakes which are very noisy when the engine comes to a slow stop. Haydn must have met a good many industrialists in London, who made their money with their industrial steam engines in their factories, so they will have been very pleased with this joke.
6. Do you have in mind the name of some neglected composer of the 18th century you’d like to see re-evaluated?
Mark S. Zimmer
Leopold Kozeluch would be a good candidate.
Over the years quite a few of his compositions have been misattributed to Beethoven. Anyone who can confuse the musicologists that badly as to being the composer of a Beethoven-quality work has to be worth reconsidering.
I’d also like to see Luigi Cherubini reevaluated. He was one of Beethoven’s few contemporaries that Ludwig actually respected and admired, and that has to count for something. There was a recording of Cherubini’s string quartets by Hausmusik London that’s just spectacularly good. His opera Medea/Medée has managed to stay alive thanks in large part to the classic performances of the title role by Maria Callas, and the overture sounds like it could be a Beethoven composition. I’d like to hear a lot more from him. Maybe it’s time for The Unheard Cherubini if The Unheard Beethoven becomes superfluous at some point.
Well, of course I could mention Méhul, who was a transition figure from the classical to the romantic era, like Beethoven, but totally independent from him.
His overtures and symphonies are really intriguing, like La Chasse du Jeune Henri. He is master of good melody, which gives his music great authenticity, although his melodies seem dryer than, say, Mozart’s: perhaps not quite capable to express the full range of human emotions.
Staging a complete Méhul opera may therefore be a good idea, but given the said limitation of his melody, it may not be an entirely enjoyable experience (but I love to be proven wrong here, I haven’t seen any of the scores).
Also, some of his libretti are really bad, with nothing happening at all, as one critic puts it. Mozart was very lucky with his Da Ponte. (Or perhaps Da Ponte became Da Ponte thanks to Mozart).
7. Name a neglected piece of music of the 18th century you’d like to see performed in concert with more frequency.
Mark S. Zimmer
Beethoven’s String Trio Op.3 doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
It’s really a remarkable piece that even more than the Opus 1 Trios and Opus 2 Piano Sonatas announces to the world that music has changed forever, and you had better deal with it.
In it I hear the seeds of the Romantic era, quite clearly being planted.
Charles Avison (1707-1790) arranged a selection Scarlatti Sonatas into 12 Concerti Grossi. Roy Goodman, with the Brandenburg Consort, did a fantastic job recording these concerti, back in the 90s, I think. These works, in this arrangement, are to me just as enjoyable as Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Handel’s 12 Concerti Grossi Op.6. I hope that some violinists will make them part of their repertoire, and start performing them regularly. It may also be a smart career move for them.
HOWEVER, I must say that this giving thumbs up for this or that composer, or this or that composition from the 18th century, might be a good occasion for further rethinking our relationship with our own contemporary classical music… I mean… that for our spiritual nutrition we are apparently depending on these composers of a previous era. This dependency might be a bit shameful (or helpful? See, infra, my considerations on Charles Rosen’s books), because… well, does it demonstrate that, probably, we are no longer able to create this vital quality ourselves?
You see, in the 18th (and 19th) century music emotion and intellect went hand in hand, indeed, strengthening each other. What I mean is that by the late 20th century, intellect and emotion have become separated quite rigorously; the so-called serious music has become almost exclusively intellectual, to the detriment of the emotional states, while in pop-music any form of intelligence has been removed, allowing for only the most childish emotions. This signifies a deep collective neurosis.
And it should be clear to anyone who is slightly aware of this complex, that part of the solution is to be found in the work of those composers and artists, who are trying to bring about a reconciliation of these psychological functions.
This restoration of the balance should help raise the emotional state of the planet, and possibly start curing the collective neurosis: the unwanted heritage of the last century.
The 21st century has begun. Luckily some have already made the transition, but still too many haven’t.
8. Have you read a particular book on Mozart Era you consider important for the comprehension of the music of this period?
Mark S. Zimmer
Jan Swafford’s 2014 biography, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph to me has some of the most original thinking on Beethoven that we’ve seen since Thayer.
His discussion of the intellectual background of Neefe, Beethoven’s first teacher, his enormous influence on Beethoven’s worldview lays a convincing and expansive foundation for understanding Beethoven’s work.
I know Willem is a huge fan of Charles Rosen’s writings in The Classical Style so I’ll leave that one to him.
As Mark said, I find Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style and Sonata Forms essential for any deeper understanding of this period.
However, the issues in these books go well beyond merely understanding that period, since they are, to me, highly important for the regeneration of the classical style in the 21st century.
First, you must realize that structure in music, as in poetry, is part of the content: it matters not only WHAT you say, but also HOW you say it.
This is somewhat analogous to how in physics space and time are intertwined. There is a big difference in the handling of the form by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, and the masters of late Romantic era.
In the first decades of the 20st century, the form had become, if you want, a vehicle to express mainly an obsession with death, as if announcing its own demise, which did of course occur at that time.
That, while in the hands of the classical masters the form had been full of vitality, buzzing with energy, expressing a wide range of different emotions in a single piece. Moving from one emotional state to another gave the composers the power to continuously refresh and renew the music.
Indeed, this magical property can be heard as a spiritual fountain of eternal youth. Mozart and Beethoven are the great masters of this magic.
So what had happened in those 120 years, going from eternal youth to death? The official music history tells us that this was a century of continuous progress: composers got better at everything all the time, better at harmony, better at orchestration, better at melody…. (oh, ooops!). Obviously there is something wrong with this narrative…
The books by Charles Rosen are a good first step in reaching a more objective and balanced understanding of this process. First we must know how the masters of the first Viennese school actually understood their own forms, as opposed to how these were perceived by later composers and critics. Only then we can see how in a series of little steps, which by themselves may have been pretty harmless, gradually the original understanding evaporated. Only then are we free to make our own decisions on these matters, a fact which is of vital importance for the new music.
9. Name a movie or a documentary that can improve the comprehension of the music of this period.
Mark S. Zimmer
That’s pretty difficult since so many movies tend to romanticize or worse fantasize impossible and ridiculous things onto the screen (such as the wretched Immortal Beloved, which wastes Gary Oldman’s fine performance on a stupid and obviously wrong solution to the mysterious riddle, or the thoroughly execrable Copying Beethoven). I’m willing to cut some slack for Amadeus because it’s forthrightly a fictional treatment of the story (as told through the memories/delusions of the aged and demented Salieri) and it’s a gorgeous film; nevertheless I can’t in any way recommend it as improving the comprehension of the music of the classical period.
The one film that I think captures the music of the period is the BBC production entitled Eroica (2003), depicting the rehearsals for the first performance of the Third Symphony. I think it does as well as possible at giving a glimpse of what the situation must have been like, and to my knowledge it’s more or less accurate. That the music is provided by John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionaire et Romantique is a wonderful bonus. The performances are first-rate, and it’s quite absorbing from start to finish, so it has my vote.
I agree with Mark that the 2003 BBC movie Eroica is the best. The guy who wrote the script did actually investigate his subject! Wow, that really makes a difference.
I used to like Amadeus, but now I find the depiction of Mozart as some punk idiot quite intolerable. Something far better should be possible.
Another movie, which is not about this period, but nevertheless good, is Delius, Song of Summer, by Ken Russell, from 1966. It is about the collaboration between Eric Fenby and Frederick Delius. In his last years Delius was paralyzed and blind, and could no longer work. A young music student, Fenby, offers his services to help Delius finishing his last works. The film is important because of its authenticity: it is based on the book Fenby later wrote, and he was also involved in the production of the movie. One high point in the movie is when Fenby turns on the radio, which is playing Beethoven’s Fifth. Delius then starts a diatribe: Listen my boy, scales, arpeggios! Fillings, my boy, fillings, don’t bother your young head about symphonies! Beethoven, Bruckner and Mahler and that lot with their long driveling note-spinnings! A complete waste of time. A few bars of sincerely felt original music is worth whole pages of that kind of drivel. Throw it away! Forget the immortals! I finished with them years ago!
It should be obvious what is going on here: a minor master ridicules his great predecessors, in order to make himself appear more important, at least in his own eyes.
If he had merely said that he, Delius, was unable to produce anything of value with Beethoven’s technical means, then that would have been a correct and objective statement.
He is also correct in that one has to distance oneself from the great masters in order to find the space for one’s own creativity. But his emotions show that we are dealing here with a neurosis… Also, it should be pointed out that this defence mechanism has been used throughout the 20th century, endlessly repeated by many in all sorts of forms, aimed at whatever demi-god that had gone under their skin… This way much of the deeper understanding has disappeared from our culture.
10. Do you think there’s a special place to be visited that proved crucial to the evolution of the 18th century music?
Mark S. Zimmer
I’ve never been to Vienna myself, but I have to think that would be the one place. Between Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert etc. etc. etc. there’s something about that place that makes it a fertile ground like none other. I’d like to get there, as well as to Bonn, some day.
Yes, the scores of the great masters.
Thank you very much for having taken the time to answer our questions!
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