The Beethoven Journal v. 24, no. 2 (Winter 2009)


by Corey Keating

The internet is a very strange place these days.  Showcasing the best and the worst of what humanity has to offer, it is a veritable smorgasbord of information.  What only twenty years ago seemed to be little more than a novelty, has now become such a staple of our increasingly global culture that it would be difficult to imagine life without it.  Here at The Beethoven Journal, we thought it might be interesting to see just how far Beethoven's influence has reached into cyberspace and where he might be popping up.  To this end, we offer you the first installment in the WEBeethoven Series.  The following links have varying degrees of association with our favorite German composer, from crass and crude renditions of his most famous classics, to legitimate homages posted by true fans.

Analysis of Beethoven's Op. 53

-From Teoria.com

If you are interested in learning more about the formal craft and architecture of Beethoven's music,  Teoria.com offers an easy to follow format.  The award-winning site, which specializes in free online music theory lessons, exercises, and articles, is the pet project of José Rodríguez Alvira, a professor of music theory and composition at the Conservatory of Music in Puerto Rico.  Alvira received formal training at the L'École Normale de Musique de Paris, the Conservatoire de Musique d'Aubervilliers and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, and is the founder of the Casals  Festival in Puerto Rico.

The above URL links to a graphic analysis of Beethoven's revolutionary and forward-looking Sonata in C major, Op. 53, also known as the “Waldstein.”  Similar to Timothy A. Smith's fantastic online collection of Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues, this online analysis visually maps out the work's first movement, complete with scrolling score, harmonic progressions, and a diagram of the formal structure.

Additional articles can be found, along with works by other composers, on the Teoria.com website.

Musopen! - Public Domain Music Library

Founded by Bay Area resident Aaron Dunn while still a student at Skidmore College, “Musopen is an online music library of copyright free (public domain) music. We want to give the world access to music without the legal hassles so common today. There is a great deal of music that has expired copyrights, but almost no recordings of this music is in the public domain. We aim to record or obtain recordings that have no copyrights so that our visitors may listen, re-use, or in any way enjoy music. Put simply, our mission is to set music free.”

Symphony of Friendship

A charming visual narrative, written and illustrated by students at the Bando Elementary School in Japan (with some assistance from Canadian artist Nathan Bartley).  For the Japanese, Bando is a historically significant location – the very first Japanese performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony took place here during World War I, in a German POW camp.  According to the website, the Symphony of Friendship “is a story about the start of the Japanese custom of playing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at Christmas. The story is written for children.  This story was put on the Internet on Christmas Eve, 1995. It is a Christmas present to the children of the world.”

Musicthatmakesyoudumb – Music and I.Q.

One of the massively popular titans of the internet, Facebook.com is a site which allows users to create profiles detailing their social interests and affinities, as well as post photo galleries, chat with friends, and meet new people.  With over 200 million users, it has quickly risen to become the top social-networking site on the internet for young adults and professionals alike. 

Virgil Griffith, a Ph.D. candidate at the California Institute of Technology, had a recent revelation regarding the data compiled on sites like Facebook, the social and musical trends in his age group, and what implications this information may have.  As he states on hiswebpage,  “I've listened to artists who after listening to I thought to myself 'Wow... loving this rubbish says a lot about someone and how much they got going on in their head.'  Could one's musical tastes say something about intelligence? How about SAT scores?  Well, like any good scientist, I decided to see how well my personal experience matches reality.” 

Using information from Facebook's Network Statistics pages, Griffith compared the most popular music artist listings to the average SAT and ACT scores from colleges across the nation.  The results, which Griffith describes as “hilarity incarnate,” reveal that those students who list Beethoven's music as their favorite, stand head-and-shoulders above their peers in terms of standardized test performance.  Curious to know where your favorite music ranks in terms of “smartitude” and “dumbitude?”  View the data charts to see how other artists stack up to this Classical Music titan.

You can read more about Griffith's study, and his self-professedquasi-scientific methods on his website.



Readers who do not yet know what a valuable a resource YouTube.com is should definitely spend some time getting familiar with the site.  There is certainly plenty of inane and trivial content – as with any user-generated site – for everyone wants their fifteen minutes of cyber-fame.  However, there are many legitimately amusing videos for us to enjoy.  Of even greater importance is how the site gives music aficionados worldwide unprecedented access to recordings of some of the best contemporary performers, as well as classic recordings and performances of the past. 

Highlights include full-length performances of all nine Symphonies conducted by Herbert von Karajan, as well as other acclaimed conductors.  Although these videos have been online for sometime now, we felt obliged to mention them in case readers happened to overlook this great collection.  A big thank you to Aaron Dunn and the team at Musopen! (www.musopen.com) for uploading many of these wonderful historical performances.

Karajan Beethoven Symphony No. 1-9

In addition, readers may also enjoy this wonderful performance of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony.

Symphony No. 6 on Period Instruments

And, of course, our favorite Youtube video on the Beethoven Center...

One of the fascinating aspects of Beethoven's music is how it seems to appeal universally to individuals across the globe, especially those with no formal musical background or training.  If you are like many Beethoven fans, you may have no idea what an Italian sixth is or how to resolve a diminished seventh chord properly.  Even if the thought of reading orchestral scores gives you nightmares, you can still enjoy the following link.

Beethoven's 5th Symphony: Graphical Score Animation

For those individuals looking for a gateway into deeper levels of symphonic appreciation but feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of orchestral forces and the analytical skills usually required, this link offers a visually revealing and entertaining alternative.  The video's convenient “Piano Roll” layout gives viewers an easy to follow representation of the tessitura and orchestration of the symphony's first movement.  The horizontal plane represents the passage of time, while the vertical plane indicates pitch.  Additionally, each instrument of the orchestra is color-coded for easy identification. 
(See a chart of the color scheme.)

Although perhaps not as incisive as a full musicological analysis, the animation is nonetheless visually insightful and readers with no formal musical education will appreciate this approach and find it very accessible. 

We all need a little fun in our lives and light-hearted fare is always a welcome relief.  Beethoven was said to be a huge fan of humor and merriment, and loved a good joke.  In honor of the Master's fondness for revelry, we offer you a slightly more jocular collection of Beethoven-related items.

Dudley Moore – Beethoven Sonata Parody

Another gem on Youtube is this classic parody of Beethoven's aesthetic style, taken from the British comedy series “Beyond the Fringe” and performed by Dudley Moore at the piano.  Combining POWs and Pop Culture, Moore applies the hallmarks of Beethoven's late Classical style to a well-known theme – the “Colonel Bogey March” written in 1914 by Kenneth Alford and later used by Malcolm Arnold for the whistling theme in the movie “Bridge over the River Kwai.”

Here, Moore's capacity for musical satire is as convincing as it is hilarious.  Beethoven frequently borrowed melodies and stylistic elements of the popular music of his time, subjecting it to more complex methods of development.  What makes this video so absolutely brilliant, is just how accurate Moore's exaggerations of Beethoven's tendencies are.  His development and treatment of the theme is quite convincing and we wonder how similarly Beethoven might actually have manipulated this popular tune. 

Additional parodies of the music of Britten, Brecht, and Schubert can be found in the “Related Videos” column on the right side of the screen.

Redneck Tenors Live – Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

It seems as if nothing has been able to escape the reach of the popular tendency in today's entertainment world to glorify redneck culture.  What is ironic, however, is how a movement that celebrates the lack of sophistication and grace in society, would latch onto music that is considered by many to be the pinnacle of artistic refinement in the Western world. 

Originally featured on the NBC show America's got Talent, The 3 Redneck Tenors – Billy Bob, Billy Joe, and Billy Billie – have incorporated into their stage act a rendition of the Fifth Symphony, with sections vaguely reminiscent of Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray's classic “Argument.”  Onstage, the mullet-sporting singers perform in dirty overalls and jean shorts, in front of kegs of beer and pink flamingo lawn ornaments.

To them, Beethoven's famous 4-note motive is one of rowdy declamation and argumentative debate rather than being a symbol of the gravity of fate and the weight of inevitability.  Perhaps these redneck cousins are simply accustomed to dialogue in which every sentiment one could wish to express is communicated in four words or less.

Their site explains that the three have humble origins in the city of Paris – Paris, TX that is.  But behind all of the histrionics are three carefully crafted stage personas, put together by singers Matthew Lord, Alex Bumpas, and Blake Davidson.  In actuality, the three have very impressive backgrounds in opera, and have received musical training at some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S.  In addition to their television appearances, the group has managed to find enthusiastic audiences in performance venues across the country.  For news, upcoming events, and performer bios, visit their site at 3rednecktenors.com.

The Manualist Plays Beethoven

This is one of the more interesting and unique ways we've seen Beethoven's music interpreted to date.  Gerry Phillips has been playing music using his hands for the last forty years, from many of the most famous classical pieces, to rock and pop music.  At first we were slightly dubious about his skill (the control needed for such a feat seemed rather extraordinary), but it appears that his talent is indeed legitimate.  As a result, he has made quite a name for himself and has even been featured on the television show Jimmy Kimmel Live. 

Phillips has an impressive repertoire of music that he has transcribed for his hands, and more performances can be found on his Youtube page as well as his website.

And finally, we conclude with two offerings for the kids (or at least the kid in all of us). 

The Muppet Show: Rowlf – Beethoven's “Pathétique”

The first video features a classic Muppets skit in which the lovable character Rowlf is seen playing the second movement of the Sonate Pathétique for a somnolent bust of Beethoven, who later rebukes the canine crooner for his Gouldian indulgences. 

The Muppet Show – Moonlight Sonata

Our final offering proves that not only is Beethoven's music universally appealing, but it apparently has a soporific quality as well.  Here, the great pianist-comedian Victor Borge is visited during one of his practice sessions by Fozzie Bear.  After a particularly raucous entrance, Fozzie manages to persuade the elder Borge to allow him to stay, and is subsequently treated to the music of “the Spanish composer – El Beethoven.”   ¡Felizmente escuchando!