Saturday, February 26, 2005


When my son Chris and I are together, we talk about abstractions. He says stuff like, “The practice of motivic development was completed by Beethoven.” And I answer something like, “Wagner carried it one step further.” This is pathetic.

Beethoven carried the process of motivic development within the structure of the sonata form as far as it could be carried. He stretched and rearranged the sonata form quite a lot, but it remained the conceptual framework for all his work. Wagner divorced the idea of motivic development entirely from the sonata form, from virtually any form unrelated to plot, and expanded it to gigantic proportions. He forms the logical conclusion of the idea, making him the culmination of the past and not at all the music of the future that he imagined.

If you don’t mind all that constant modulating, Wagner is wonderful. Except for Parsifal, of course. His use of the borrowed theme of the Dresden Amen which he repeats ad nauseum, always in its original borrowed harmonization, cannot be considered thematic development in any sense. It’s a mistake, a serious lapse in judgment, maybe even a sign of senility. The emperor has no clothes.

I apologize for telling such a sad story.


Christopher said...

What I said was that Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (and the Große Fuge) completed the creative arch that started with Buxtehude and wormed its way through Bach, Haydn and Mozart. That his music was such a perfect representation of IT, It being a creative line that extends beyond an individual, that it ended the line.

While I'll agree that Wagner was carrying on the tradition with the leitmotiv, I still think that it is a perversion of the style. Schoenberg took the perversion, stood it on its head, and carried it to its logical/psycho extreme.

I wonder if we’ve ever recovered from Beethoven. We are all still living in Mendelsohn’s menagerie.

Dr.B said...

See what I mean! I wasn't kidding.

Christopher said...