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Saturday, January 29, 2005
  Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica)
Ludwig van Beethoven
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 52-66

I remember the LPs of Beethoven's nine symphonies recorded by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra under the direction of George Szell that rest in my father's now infrequently used recorded collection. His collection stands silently in an old, tall, black, poorly built, homemade record shelf upstaged by the CDs scattered over the piano, fireplace, and corners of his living room. We lived in West Virginia when he bought those records and I was in second grade. Surrounded by the lush Appalachian mountains I was jostled up and down on my father's knee and we listened to those symphonies repeatedly.

So it is awkward for me to hear that, as the scholars have it, the development section is too long or that the French horn arrives at the recapitulation a few bars early or that there are other faults in Beethoven's symphonies. Though Beethoven may have stormed out of his teacher's classroom and, somewhat recklessly, forged new concepts in music, by the time his tunes reached the Appalachians in the late twentieth century he provided many listeners, such as my father and myself, not an iconoclast's vision but an understanding of the rhythmic immediacy imperative to good music.

Though his relationship with his father and the possibility of attaining fatherhood himself were weakened by the force of his musical talent, Ludwig, in the broad scope of things, thus participates in the activity of fatherhood. 
Friday, January 28, 2005
  Sonata in G Minor, Op. 34, No. 2, Largo e sostenuto--Allegro con fuoco (first movement)
Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 43-51

It is difficult to appreciate Cleminti's lengthy opener after listening to the streamlined Rondo from Beethoven's Op. 13. Like the Peri/Monteverdi comparison this anthology provoked in earlier pages, the older composer suffers the disadvantage of the cutting edge. In our memory Clementi fits snugly between two giants of the first Viennese school: Mozart and Beethoven. And though lacking love from his sparing partner, Mozart, Clementi was clearly an influential voice for both, particularly in the development of idiomatic piano writing. And thanks to the more recent affection of Vladimir Horowitz, Muzio has, so to speak, stayed in the game.

The difficulty, I feel, is that, unlike Mozart and Beethoven, Clementi often seems to rely on filler. It appears to happen on two levels. First, in the sound of his music. The chords are often too thick, octave doublings are unconvincing, and the Alberti bass is often overbearing. Second, Clementi does not have the sharp storytelling technique we find in Mozart's operas and Beethoven's operatic piano sonatas. For example, track 47 should lead into the thematic transformation of track 48. Instead, every time I have listen to the piece my attention drifts during this transition and I am just not very impressed by what comes next.

Nevertheless, I love the soft chromatic tangle leading into track 51. And, most of all, the opening is wonderful. Clementi asks the pianist to repeat the same pitch three times slowly than fall a fifth. As the first voice moves into the dotted sobbing, the second voice enters and we feel something beautifully wrong in the part writing. Searchingly, the pianist stretches and falls from this pitch to that, then finds a D Major chord and we wait....

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Thursday, January 27, 2005
  Sonate pathétique for piano, Op. 13, Rondo, Allegro (third movement)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 33-42

My youngest sister wore the most cherubic blond curls you could ever see when she was a toddler. Just to hear her laugh I would put on extended puppet shows from behind the living room couch. My sound track would always be a Beethoven piano sonata. My father had tapes of several of them performed, if memory serves, by Peter Serkin. They were incredible. Not the puppet shows, that is, but the sonatas.

On its own this movement testifies to Beethoven's fine craftsmanship and provides a delicate entertainment. It opens with a sudden wakefulness that reminds me of Mozart's 40th symphony. As the rondo continues the listener is never taken far from the comfort of the original key and theme. And each event is short and quickly carries the listener toward the apotheosis.

The ease of this piece belies the complicated, operatic, drama that is any Beethoven piano sonata in full. In the context of the Sonate pathétique this rondo is a breathtaking episode in an inspired tragedy our fiery composer put to paper with the joy known only to those whose talents are entirely engaged. And because of this joy, in spite of the minor key, a Beethoven sonata can serve as a world to a toddler. 
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
  Don Giovanni Act I, Scene 5, b) No. 4: Madamina! è questo
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Track 32

Leporello's catalogue is memorable because there is so much going on without the least sense of clutter. The strings take on laughter and forgetting, the flutes and bassoons laugh and point, the oboes and horns toss in a fast children's tune, and all of this in the first few seconds of the aria. As this brief aria continues it slows down for noble sentiment and speeds up for hilarity. And in spite of Leporello's asymmetrical phrases lengths, it all comes together with a timing as precise and catching as the rhythm of Fats Waller.

This tune reminds me that Mozart's had two priorities: First, though he was interested in the descriptive potential of music, he did not want music to become noise. That Don Giovanni's abominable hobby is revealed to the audience not by Elvira's tempest or the violent fall of a Spanish house but through this entertaining list of Leporello's is indicative of Mozart's interest in the language of music. It is because of this interest that the details in his music are so full of meaning and never seem to be clutter. Second, it was vital that the listener be able to remember the tune. So much of the music from these years was heard only once.

This gentlemanly treatment of his audience may have been more an esthetic of the time than it was a personal conviction of Mozart's. But because Mozart worked so well with music that sounded like music he has become, in our memory, the apex of the common practice period.

It is funny but I cannot help but think that while Mozart and composers who would have given a limb to write as well as he did were writing for an audience that wanted to believe in the refinement and ever-improvement of life there was, somewhere else, some rural district or among the thieves and prostitutes of Salzburg, a group of people who knew the horror and anxiety that composers of the early twentieth century thought was unique to them. And these people listened to noise as music and never used repeat signs. 
In January 2004 I starting writing an opinion for each selection in the Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music. Now, more than a year later, I am almost finished. Soon, I will have an archive full of opinions on the music we so carelessly call "classical." And no one can stop me.

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Director of the Contemporary Performer's Workshop... Music Teacher for St. Aloysius Gonzaga School... Principal 'Cellist of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra... Composer

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