Thematic Studies- Translated by Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch
VIII. On “Characteristic” InstrumentalWorks and Scenes in Beethoven’s Oeuvre
79 VIII. On “Characteristic” Instrumental Works and Scenes in Beethoven’s Oeuvre “Characteristic symphonies” one could call symphonies that are designed as preludes to an opera etc., in lieu of the usual over- tures. Such a nomenclature, however, is appropriate only if the symphony depicts the general character of the following opera, or if the composer has expressed an immediately preceding ac- tion in the symphony.” Daniel Gottlob Türk, Klavierschule (1789), p. 392 The more one studies the instrumental music of the late 18th and early 19th cen- turies, the clearer it becomes that, among the diverse kinds it comprises, the genre of “characteristic” music, that is, instrumental music bearing a title or de- scriptive epithet, is one of the most interesting – as well as one of the least re- searched. What we know about the genre is limited almost exclusively to the so- called “character piece,”1 while virtually nothing exists about characteristic so- natas and characteristic symphonies. That may be the reason why Beethoven’s contributions to the genre of characteristic music have been so generally ignored. Large circles may be en- tirely ignorant of the fact that he even wrote characteristic instrumental pieces. What works do we have in mind? From Beethoven’s sketchbooks and letters we can ascertain that he uses the terms pezzo caratteristico, sinfonia caratteristica, charakteristische Sonate and charakteristische Overture. To be specific: On p. 56 of the Berlin Sketchbook Landsberg 7 from the year 1800, Bee- thoven jotted down some key-word notes for the design...
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