The Father of Modern Music

Ludwig von Beethoven

Some consider Schoenberg the father of modern music. Others state that Mahler was, but I believe  Ludwig von Beethoven the true father of modern music.  Many considered his music so revolutionary, so different and unusual that they did not know what to make of it.   Why?  Because he broke the then current rules for music.



The revolution did not start straight away but developed over a period of years.  When Beethoven started writing his 7th symphony he did something rather radical.  The first note was a monstrous chord played by nearly the entire orchestra.  This was followed by 3 notes played by the oboe with the violin and viola playing one whole note.  Another huge chord is played by the orchestra followed by more notes on the oboe accompanied with the clarinet, violin and the viola.  This is repeated a few more times with more instruments joining in between the huge and loud chords.  This was as as radical a change from the accepted norm as one could imagine.  The 4/4 beat of the first movement is so unmistakable and pronounced one cannot help but notice.   This was not the first time that Beethoven used large chrods in the first few measures of his works.  His Piano concertos, symphony #4, and more exhibit this same style. 

Years prior to his symphonies, "Papa" Haydn tried to teach Beethoven  but after a short time lessons stopped.  Afterwards Haydn wrote this about Beethoven:  "I can teach him nothing.  He knows it all."  Now whether this was due to Beethoven's stubborn ways and reluctance to learn anything from Haydn, or if he truly did 'know it all'  is unclear to me right now.

The pattern of playing  a very loud and necessarily large chords into the music had become a type of trademark with him by the time he wrote his 7th..  Aside from that very distinguishing characteristic, his music was entirely different and had been for a while.  As an indicator of what his music was like to his contemporaries, here is a note by Carl Maria von Weber about Beethoven's 4th Symphony in 1809.



"Suddenly the organ-blower (conductor) entered the hall and the instruments crept nervously back to their places for they were aware that it was his powerful hand that kept them together and was responsible for rehearsing. 

"What!", he cried, "Rebelling again are you?  Just wait.  Soon we will be given Beethoven's Eroica [3rd] symphony and then I should like to see which of you can raise a limb or a key." 

"Oh!   Please, not that!",  they all begged.  

"Can't we have an Italian opera when one gets a nap now and then?", suggested the viola.

"Fiddlesticks!" cried the organ blower.  "You'll learn soon enough.  Do you really think in our enlightened days when all barriers are down, a composer will forego the giant sweep of his inspiration out of consideration for you?  Not a bit of it!  Listen the the description of the latest symphony I  just got  from Vienna.  First we have a slow tempo, full of brief disjointed ideas [the introduction to the first movement] none of them having any connection with each other, 3 or 4 notes every 1/4 hour.  Isn't that exciting?  Then a hollow drum roll and mysterious viola passages, all decked out with the right amount of silences and general pauses; eventually, when the listener has given up all hope of surviving the tension as far as the Allegro, there comes a furious tempo in which the chief aim is to prevent any principal idea from appearing"



What can one say to that sort of description?  While there are parts of it I would not agree with, I would assert that it would appear as if they had not heard anything like this before and it certainly was something very new and different. 

Here is a note about his 4th from  Peter Gulke, conductor and musician.

"It is above all in appearing to deny, to circumvent the audacities of the introduction [of the first movement]  seem to present a concerted opposition to sonata form, making an avant-gardeistic claim to a musical status  higher than that of sonata form, and yet performing a function which serves to defend the status-quo.  Conversely the introduction must confront established logic every inch of the way: innovators license if not the only force which creates its audacities, there is also the necessity of circumvention.  To the ear it denies established logic, by disappointing preformed expectations [for example]: interrupted cadences, disconcerting digressions, deceptive resolutions, violations [all have a necessary role to play in the introductions task of providing "contradiction within the system".]

Those words were written nearly 170 years after it's premier.  Put quite simply, Beethoven broke all the rules and made it sound refreshing, memorable, and beautiful.  As my daughter puts it, it is "music that sounds pretty".  I am not sure I can top that simple yet totally accurate statement.

Years prior to his symphonies, "Papa" Haydn was trying to teach Beethoven  but after a short time lessons stopped.  Haydn wrote this about Beethoven:  "I can teach him nothing.  He knows it all."  Now whether this was due to Beethoven's stubborn reluctance to learn anything from Haydn, or if he truly did 'know it all'  is unclear to me right now.