So, here I went out on a limb. All semester, we'd been forced to read torrid out-on-some-limb-or-another pieces of work by this, uh, musicologist named Susan McClary. My gsis were probably expecting another one of those "The first movement of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony is in sonata form. The first movement of Schumann's First symphony is also in sonata form. They are similar because . . . " but homey don't do that. I spent more time on this than I intended to, but I'm pleased with what came out. If you've found this page using a search engine, please don't take my views on this as knowledgeable research for your own paper. I wrote this as a Junior, and I'm not even a music major. I did this for fun. It's an interesting thought though, and you're welcome to explore it yourself.
PS --- We were assigned three particular symphonies to examine. That's why poor Schubert is tossed in.
PPS --- The footnotes didn't show up when I copied-and-pasted this, and I'm too lazy to type them out right now. So you're missing a little bit of information. Actually, you're missing a couple of key points. Tough.
Sounds and Interactions
A study of three symphonies in B-flat major
Music 76 --- Professor Taruskin
Human cognition lies at the seat of all of man's creations. In civilization, individuals interact within a common groundwork called society, which has been organized expressly for the realtime interactions among different minds. Moreover, each individual mind exists in a different body, each which perceives the world under a different network of physical limitations. Essentially, there is no absolute ground where perfect communication is ever allowed to occur. Our most celebrated musical composers are individuals who have been gifted with heightened senses of perception. These heightened sensitivities manifest most significantly in their awareness of sound. For terrestrial purposes, it's crudely reasonable to analogize their heightened awareness of the qualities and textures of sound to a common person's mundane awareness of the qualities and textures of, say, cool velvet tousled under the fingers. This paper examines how three symphonic composers manipulate instrumental interaction in order to create, for an audience, a real representation of sound which best approximates their individual body and mind's perception of sound, and sound interaction.
In particular, we examine three symphonies in B-flat major by Beethoven, Schumann, and Schubert --- No. 4, No. 1, and No. 5, respectively. Of these symphonies, we focus on two juxtaposing, creative manners: the symphonies' second (slow) movement and third (fast 3/4) movement. Note that the orchestration of these symphonies are standardly similar: flute, oboes, clarinets, bassoons; horns, trumpets; timpani; violins I and II, violas, violoncellos, and contrabasses . There are innumerable possibilities for unique sound blends, whether within a group (woodwind, brass, and string, defined for your convenience), or amongst sections (violins I and II, flute, oboes, horns, timpani, etc.), or amongst individuals (and groups), etc. A composer's awareness of sound affects the extent to which he cultivates sound blends --- or explores audial possibilities --- within an orchestra.
Beethoven is likely the most enigmatically sensitive of the three composers to be examined. He was a prominent artistic figure during the cusp-period which anteceded the Romantic Era. Furthermore, he was the defining musical figure of the Romantic period. As a genius in his own right, Beethoven was introversively responsive to matters of society, nation, politics, and masculinity. He was a master in his field, and scholars can only speculate as to how his personality, opinions, and inspiration were influenced by outside civilization. On the cognitive level, there's the puzzle of whether his (or any composer's) senses of perception acted as a filter on his musical inspiration (i.e. potential) or whether his inspiration defined the limits of his perception. Beethoven is a special historical case because he eventually lost his physical sense of hearing. Our posed question is important, regardless, because his is an instance of post-lingual deafness, assuming we call music a language --- and music certainly was a native language to Beethoven. He had already internalized the cognitive framework for the phenomena of sounds within his mind when the change occurred. He already owned a complete understanding of sound and the ways in which it was possible to choreograph them. Let's examine how Beethoven arranged sound for orchestra.
The slow movement of No. 4 is scored in E-flat major --- the dominant of the home key, which is a common symphonic practice --- while the fast movement is scored in the home key, which is also a common practice. The main observation involving both is that Beethoven is not fearful of allowing instrumental independence, nor is he fearful of distending an instrument's conventional range in order to create a singular sound blend.
The beginning of the second movement conveys a distant, diluted sound quality because it is orchestrated with only the string group. Even within this introductory section, it's evident that each section within the string group carries an independent line. Right at the outset, Beethoven juxtaposes articulative texture between staccato (violin II) and cantabile (violin I and viola). Moreover, rather than a unison or divisi-in-thirds between violin I and viola, he shapes the sound using contrary motion. The violoncello, meanwhile, has a different accompanying line. Using only the string group, he has already fashioned a rich, interactive profusion of sound.
The sound synthesis undergoes an advanced evolution when the woodwind group receives the cantabile moving line at measure 10. This is significant not because a new group has 'received the melody,' but because the music now works with two unlike acoustical lineages of sound --- string and woodwind --- creating a fresh audial vista: one which has not simply been derived from the old string-group timbre. To spare you an odious narrative of movement 2, a glancing catalog of Beethoven's uses of instrumental synthesis include:
· blending oboes, horns,
and violas within an accompanying line (meas. 16)
· blending high-written (in range) oboes and typical-ranged violins for melody (meas. 18, recapped meas. 73)
· reversion to the exclusive string group vista (meas. 41)
· juxtaposing different musical ideas played by blends of i) clarinets, bassoons, and violins, ii) flute, oboes, and horns, iii) trumpets and timpani, and iv) violas and violincellos (meas. 51, as well as elsewhere with other unique blends)
· conventional orchestral tutti areas
· conventional group tutti areas
· conventional tutti areas with unconventional instrument ranges.
Moreover, Beethoven explores other transmutations of acoustical texture through articulations, dynamics, dialogue, relay, addition, and divisi. Notice, for instance, the slurred two-note 'sigh' figure in a triple-rhythm dialogue with pizzicato strings all juxtaposed against the melodic moving line (see meas. 28). Consider said two-note 'sigh' figure as compared to the disjointed and uneven two-note figures introduced in measures 1 & 2 (which are repeated throughout the piece). They are variations of the same idea, and are both seen juxtaposed against the melodic moving line, but produce correspondingly different audial effects due to differences in articulation, rhythm, and synthesis. Also notice, for instance, other cases of dialogue, whether between violins I and II (meas. 55), amongst the winds and trumpet-timpani-contrabassos (meas. 74), or amongst all the instruments (meas. 33). Notice, for instance, the spatial skimming texture produced by passing the moving line in a relay from instrument to instrument, such as up the range of the string group (meas. 34), and among the basses of each group (bassoons to violincellos to timpani, meas. 60), or by adding instruments to the texture (such as meas. 67). This precludes mention of the end of the movement wherein all these techniques are assembled to fabricate a final, fantastic area of interaction. Beethoven employs a multiplicity of techniques and blends in order to represent his own awareness of sound through his orchestra.
In the context of Beethoven's work, rhythmic awareness is as much a duty as acoustic awareness. For a musical master, rhythmic interaction and instrumental interaction are natural cognitive counterparts. In order to complete a survey of this dimension of Beethoven's senses of awareness, the two should be examined in conjunction, as they relate to one another.
The third movement exhibits additional instances of Beethoven's interactional characteristics. The slow second movement, typically an expressive template, displayed an abundance of instrumental independence. This fast movement displays a more homogenous quality, in that each group tends to be in unison or divisi among said group, rather than blend with other groups. The exception occurs in an unusual unison matching of violin I to flute throughout the movement --- unusual because of the markedly high violin range in blend with the flute. Besides this, Beethoven repeatedly employs the aforementioned relay effect down the string group (viz. in the second repeat area). In addition, he employs the addition effect (meas. 130, 180). Furthermore, there's also an interesting interaction in dialogue, where the involved 'speaking' parties are harmonized in contrary motion (see meas. 43). Again, Beethoven uses the orchestra in his own singular ways to communicate his own insights regarding sounds.
Schumann was the first composer to break the 'symphony drought' which followed Beethoven's Ninth, and last, symphony. For his first symphony, finished in 1841, he obviously studied Beethoven: it is plainly evident that he modeled the key and general texture of the slow movement after that in Beethoven's Fourth. While there is an impressive amount of dialogue and contrasting textures, Schumann instrumental delivery is much less sophisticated than Beethoven's.
The beginning of Schumann's slow movement mimics Beethoven's in terms of instrumental interaction: it is exclusively strings. In true emulative fashion, he aligns a cantabile line (complete with instruments moving in contrary motion) over a contrastive pulsating rhythm. However, there is more redundancy and uniformity than was experienced with Beethoven's own foray into juxtaposition. Namely, Schumann doubles instruments in both lines, which Beethoven does not, and Schumann's pulsating rhythm consists of evenly held-out, repeated notes, which is markedly different from Beethoven's disjointed and uneven two-note staccato figures.
Schumann introduces the winds expeditiously --- altogether with one chord. This includes all the woodwinds plus the horns so that we now have all the working instruments of the movement (more on the trumpets later). In terms of acoustic texture, Schumann works Beethoven's addition effect, using the woodwinds, early on --- bassoons first, and so on up the woodwind range. Schumann doubles instruments and orchestrates tuttis frequently, but rarely blends instruments from different groups in order to create a unique synthesis of sound. The one instance of a fresh sound comes when Schumann doubles clarinets and flute with violins II and I, respectively, to create a dialogue (meas. 56). Even so, this foray into instrumental synthesis is rather mundane considering that the doubling occurs in octaves, and all instruments involved sit comfortably within their usual ranges. A psuedo-instance of blending can be heard in the doubling of bassoons and contrabassos --- but doubling among bass instruments is standard practice anyhow. The only unusual feature which Schumann can really claim is the entrance of trumpets (alto, tenor, and bass trumpets) within the last dozen measures. The trumpets are showcased during this moment but have little interactive effect.
Instrumental dialogue and rhythmic interaction are Schumann's main acoustic tools. In fact, he sometimes illustrates his conception of dialogue much more intricately than Beethoven, and there's an abundance of dialogue throughout both slow and fast movements. For instance, in movement 2, he has an undulating marcato dialogue standing under a separate, rhythmically playful dialogue (meas. 58). Similarly in movement 3, he has an antiphonic chordal dialogue standing under a melodic string-group relay (Trio II). In movement 2, he echoes Beethoven's 'triple-rhythm dialogue,' described previously, but whereas Beethoven grafted triple-rhythm onto a duple 3/4 meter, Schumann grafts a duple-rhythm onto a triple 3/8 meter (see meas. 25). Furthermore, there are many instances in which Schumann incorporates an interactive rhythmic texture by scoring duple rhythms against triple rhythms (such as mvt. 2: meas. 78, mvt.3: meas. 31). In general, dialogue or rhythmic interaction regardless, Schumann works his instruments in unisons (or divisis), hardly experiments with instrumental blending, and seems intent on keeping every instrument busy, at all times.
Schubert's Fifth, written in 1816, follows in the Classical style of Mozart. It was written after Beethoven's Fourth, and it is more than likely that Schubert studied the Fourth before commencing with his own B-flat major symphony. Indeed, the slow movement begins with the earmarked, of late, string group. However, examination of the slow and fast movements of this piece reveal that there are not so much systems of 'instrumental interactions' as there is a sense of 'instrumental roles.' There is a sense of the rigid structure which is principle to the Classic prototype: bass instruments provide harmonic stability, upper instruments guide the core of the melodic line, and middle instruments provide the rest of the body. It's hardly equitable to compare Schubert to Beethoven and Schumann in the context of sound interaction.
ACOUSTIC SIMILARITIES and DEPARTURES
The world's population takes the sense of sound for granted, and live in a relative sensate-poverty. I return to the enigma of the varying degrees to which different people own their understanding of sound. The better part of the population cannot carry a tune or recognize different timbres and rhythms. Speakers of tonally un-inflected languages cannot discern the subtle inflections of sound that are the difference between one word and a dozen others (such as is the cases of Chinese and Eskimo languages). Babies not exposed to such languages lose their capacity to command of this faculty within months after birth. And if, later on, they learn to recognize such subtleties, they will likely not be able to reproduce them. On the other end of the sensate spectrum, there is no limit to the perceptual sensitivity a person can possess. As we are, each individual is limited by his own body as well as the natural way in which he processes the feedback he receives from his body. Given the right kinds of motivation, the mind can develop fantastic images from what the body perceives --- this process of growth feeds itself both ways, from body to mind to body, and again.
Every so often, there live passionate individuals who command the aptitude to feel the nuances of sound with incomparable mastery. We can argue that this should hold for all musical masters, such as Beethoven, Schumann, and Schubert, but even amongst the masters, there are relative levels of genius and awareness. Correspondingly, their minds, and their limits, follow different paths.
By examining the degree to which composers manipulate sound interaction, we gain a little more insight into their personal sensate-worlds and the different dimensions of awareness they owned regarding sound. Compared to one another, we might be able to see a relationship between the overall quality of their works and the cognitive levels of their perception (which we, still, cannot define). There is no use in trying to conclude how Beethoven, his senses of perception, his work, and the rest of his life were influenced by each of the other factors. It may help us to understand a particular element of his life, but it won't create a holistic representation of the being.
Beethoven has shown us some manners in which he shapes sound and rhythms and textures for orchestra through instrumental and acoustic interaction. Of the three studied, he employs a staggering multiplicity of techniques and interactions to create his sounds. Schumann has shown us his own particular manners, different from Beethoven and less sophisticated in that he separates the lines of sound and texture, and employs the general effect of antiphony rather frequently. On the other hand, Schumann exhibits his sense of rhythms to a much more sophisticated degree than he does his awareness of sound. Schubert, also, has shown us what he prefers --- how he conceptualizes ---, or rather, how he is limited, although he must certainly have been exposed to Beethoven's work over the years and years.
It takes a refined level of awareness in order to appreciate the gifts of Beethoven or lesser composers. One can only wonder at what level Beethoven understood sound, what order of information he experienced from his senses, and how elementally his mind delineated what his body told him. The interaction of sound one person experiences simply cannot compare to the experience of any other person, and in this, some people are far more gifted, some more handicapped, than others.
van Beethoven, Ludwig. Symphonie
IV in B-flat major. Philharmonia 10, 1973.
Schubert, Franz. Symphonie V in B-flat major. Philharmonia No. 91, 1925.
Schumann, . Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major. Cranz, 1920.
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