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  • Print publication year: 2000
  • Online publication date: September 2011

10 - Sound and structure in Beethoven's orchestral music

from Part III - Genres

In 1918, Paul Bekker argued that the symphonies of Beethoven had been revolutionary and still captured the imagination of listeners in a unique way. It was not the color and variety of Beethoven's instrumental sound or his ingenuity as an orchestrator that set his symphonic works apart, but rather his exploitation of the sheer volume and presence of sound; Beethoven opened up the sonic power implicit in the orchestral forces of Mozart and Haydn, and the symphony now became more than a sonata for orchestra. Bekker suggested that Beethoven composed with a new “idealized picture of the space and listening public” in mind; his goal was to reach a “mass” public with the symphony, and to create a “community” through the act of shared listening. That community was far reaching, representing humankind, a spectrum of listeners that extended beyond the aristocracy and embraced those liberated from the shackles of the past by the ideas and events surrounding the French Revolution. Beethoven's orchestral music, through its implied extra-musical narratives and its impact on listeners, became associated not only with Romanticism but also pre-1848 political liberalism.

Bekker construed Beethoven's political and social ambition as a causal element in the act of symphonic composition. Beethoven sought a clear break with an older tradition of symphonic writing that had been directed at a circumscribed public consisting of the elite connoisseur and patron in favor of a strategy that could reach beyond and forge solidarity within a wider audience.

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The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven
  • Online ISBN: 9781139002202
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