20 Watts

Keep it Classical: Breaking All the Rules by mklaing
February 19, 2009, 7:52 pm
Filed under: Keep It Classical | Tags: , ,


Composer Ludwig van Beethoven

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven

A person’s life is often bound by expectations– whether from family and friends, society as a whole, or his or her own conscious. However, the most significant and memorable moments in life often occur when a person breaks free of those expectations. The same can be said for music. People naturally hunger for change, and because of this it is the composers who break the mold that matter most in the course of music history.

Composers during the Classical period in music, from 1670 to 1780, became extremely concerned with clarity of specific forms in music (i.e. a standard pop music form today is A-B-C-B-D-B, alternating between different verses and a repeated chorus). “Sonata form” became clearly defined during the Classical period as a work involving an exposition, a development and a recapitulation, with certain keys corresponding to each section, as well as standard ways of  moving from one section to another. There were so many preexisting expectations surrounding sonata form that the process of composing became very rigid, almost like a “compose-by-numbers.” Ludwig van Beethoven was the composer who would eventually color outside the lines. In making alterations to standard musical forms, he was able to realistically represent life and how life changes over time.

Beethoven experienced a period of writers’ block, so to speak, until he began to experiment with these different forms. Op. 127 was one of the first of these more experimental works, and the first of the Beethoven’s five late string quartets. Even though it’s now considered to be the most “normal” of the five, audiences and critics, at the time of its premiere in March 1825, accused it of being incomprehensible and incoherent. They didn’t understand it because it was loosely based on “sonata form,” but didn’t follow the expectations that go along with that form. The failure of the quartet at that time can be compared to the acclaim it has earned since. It shows that though people may at first be resistant to hearing something unfamiliar, change is undoubtedly necessary and favorable. This is something we must keep in mind when listening to contemporary classical music. Remember, all music was once new!

-Meredith Laing


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