The Anatomy of Theme in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas

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The Anatomy of Theme in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas / Анатомия темы в фортепианных сонатах Бетховена
автор Dmitri N. Smirnov
Дата создания: 2007, опубл.: 2008. • 2nd edition available on Amazon

Anatomy cover.jpg

  • Dmitri Smirnov. "The Anatomy of Theme in Beethoven's Piano Sonatas", 2007, publ. Verlag Ernsk Kuhn, Berlin, 2008 appears in December 2008. English Edition only, paperback, 324 pp., Format 14,2 x 21 cm, (= studia slavica musicologica, vol. 46), music. illus., price: 59,95 EUR (Germany), 61,75 EUR (Austria), 118,00 CHF (other countries), ISBN 978-3-936637-19-9

This book investigates the anatomy of Theme – the foremost part of a musical organism, aiming to set out the principles of a strong and clear definition of this basic music term, and also to develop a detailed theory of its wider implications. It presents examination of Beethoven’s piano sonatas based on the post-Webernian approach to musical form and in particular on the principles of the teaching of Philip Herschkowitz (1906-1989), one of the most important pupils of Alban Berg and Anton Webern. It includes a lot of references to Herschkowitz’s works as well as a translation of his important essay to this particular subject: “Webern and His Teaching”. It also uses some unconventional methods of analysis, and includes a complete catalogue of every theme found within the sonatas, with classification of more than 500 themes according to their intervallic typology.

Contents / Содержание

Contents || V

Preface VII
I. Post-Webernian Beethoven 1
II. The Seven Early Sonat(in)as 17
III. Sonatas
1st Sonata in F minor, Op. 2/1 (1794-5) 25
2nd Sonata in A major, Op. 2/2 (1794-5 40
3rd Sonata in C major, Op. 2/3 (1794-5) 45
4th Sonata in E flat major, Op. 7 (1796-7) 50
5th Sonata in C minor, Op. 10/1 (1796-8) 56
6th Sonata in F major, Op. 10/2 (1796-8) 62
7th Sonata in D major, Op. 10/3 (1796-8) 66
8th Sonata in C minor, Op. 13 (1798-9) 71
9th Sonata, in E major Op. 14/1 (1798-9) 74
10th Sonata in G major, Op. 14/2 (1798-9) 79
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IV. A Complete Thematic Catalogue
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Philip Herschkowitz: Webern and His Teaching
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This book is the result of many years of research. Theme (or subject or idea) is a fundamental notion in both music theory and musical practice that has been surrounded by much misapprehension and disagreement. In this book I set out the principles of a strong and clear definition of this basic term and develop a detailed theory of its wider implications, using numerous musical examples.

Since the 1970s I had the chance and the privilege of studying in Moscow with the distinguished Rumanian musicologist and composer, Philip Herschkowitz (1906-1989), one of the most important pupils of Anton Webern. Herschkowitz devoted his life to the understanding and development of his teacher’s ideas. In particular he was interested in exploring and creating a theoretical foundation to Webern’s musical thought. As Webern had done before him, Herschkowitz focussed his deeply perceptive work on the music of the Great Masters and in particular on Beethoven’s piano sonatas.

In an earlier publication ‘A Geometer of Sound Crystals’[1] I examined Herschkowitz’ relationship to Webern and gave a detailed account of the strikingly original analytical ideas of both teacher and pupil. This new book presents a more focussed and schematic examination of the piano sonatas of Beethoven based on the post-Webernian approach to musical form. The essence of this approach lies in the exploration of musical material in terms of the opposition between two fundamental categories: ‘Fest’ (‘fixed’) and ‘Locker’ (‘floating’).

This teaching does not just elucidate and provide footnotes to Schoenberg’s precepts. Of course it is deeply rooted in his concept of musical form and tonality, but one has to understand that Schoenberg’s ideas (not only those contained within his publications) were developed by Webern and Herschkowitz in a slightly different direction.

1. The teaching of Webern, and especially of Herschkowitz, was based upon the concept of ‘fest und locker’ which was only casually mentioned by Schoenberg.

2. They changed the fundamental notion of the term ‘motive’, separating it from the ‘thematic means’, while Schoenberg traditionally considered pitch and rhythm as two sides of a ‘motive’.

3. They enlarged the notion of ‘theme’ to include the ‘three-part song’, whilst Schoenberg referred to only two types (period and sentence).

4. They developed ideas that expressed the exposition of sonata form as a ‘super-theme’, and considered the contents of each sonata cycle to include all possible types of musical forms. They also discussed the interconnection between a series of works often unified under one opus number; this was labelled with the term ‘super-cycle’.

It would be an enormous challenge to present a detailed analysis of all Beethoven’s sonatas in one book and unfortunately life is too short to complete this. So, here I focus on the ‘most fixed’ elements – the opening themes of the first movements each sonata. But additionally I provide a description of the form of every movement of the sonatas and a definition of the function and structure of every theme or thematic formation with a demonstration of the system of their tonal relations. I also include a complete catalogue of every theme found within the sonatas, classifying more than 500 themes according to their intervallic typology. This section is based on my own research that was undertaken over many years. It involves the analysis of the intervallic patterns of around thirteen-fourteen thousand musical themes written by hundreds of composers. This is not a traditional method of analysis, but I hope that it is useful for gaining a clearer understanding of the essence of Beethoven’s musical material, its immense originality and inconceivable diversity.

As a supplement to the work I include Herschkowitz’ own ground-breaking article ‘Webern and his Teaching’, which has so far only appeared in Russian. I would like to express my gratitude to the Professors of musicology Malcolm Hamrick Brown, Michael Taylor, Craig Ayrey, doctor Kristian Hibberd, the composer and musicologist Gerard McBurney and my former student Guy Stockton for the enormous help and moral support.

Dmitri Smirnov, St Albans, England, November 2008

Links / Ссылки

Notes / Примечания

  1. Dmitri Smirnov: A Geometer of Sound Crystals – A Book on Herschkowitz. Verlag Ernst Kuhn – Berlin in 2003 (in English).

© Dmitri N. Smirnov

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