Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven's Symphonies"

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John F
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Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven's Symphonies"

Post by John F » Wed May 04, 2016 10:05 am

Beethoven's nine symphonies are probably the most written about in the symphonic repertoire, and one might think there can be little more to say about them. But Lockwood's new book, subtitled "An Artistic Vision," takes an approach I haven't seen before. His focus is on Beethoven's creative process throughout his whole career as a symphonist, not just the nine symphonies he completed but two dozen others for which he wrote what Lockwood calls concept sketches, in notation or words, but didn't go on to compose. We know about these because Beethoven wrote his sketches in bound notebooks which he kept throughout his life, many of them still surviving today. Lockwood knows this material well, having edited a critical edition of the Eroica sketchbook; he's also the author of the best Beethoven biography in English.

For me at least, there are lots of surprises here. The first movement of the 8th symphony was first conceived as for a piano concerto, Beethoven's first after the Emperor. The first sketches for the Eroica symphony immediately follow those for the Eroica variations, op. 35, which surely means that Beethoven's first conception of that symphony was not the first or second movement but the finale. His first idea for the finale of the 5th was completely different from the one we know. Beethoven's commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society, which resulted in the 9th symphony, was for two symphonies, and Beethoven's ideas for the second were pretty strange:
Beethoven wrote:Adagio cantique - pious song in a symphony in the ancient modes - Lord God we praise thee - alleluia - either by itself alone or as introduction to a fugue. Perhaps the whole second symphony might be characterized in this way, whereby the vocal parts would enter in the last movement or already in the adagio. The orchestral violins are to be increased tenfold in the last movement. Or the adagio would be repeated in a certain way in the last movement, whereby the singing voics would enter one by one - in the adagio a text from Greek myth, a Cantique Ecclesiastique - in the allegro a celebration of Bacchus.
Lockwood does not provide systematic commentary on every movement of each completed symphony, and his comments supplement the program notes in D.F. Tovey's Essays in Musical Analysis rather than covering the same ground. This is probably a second book on the symphonies, then, rather than the one and only. But for those who already know the symphonies reasonably well and want to know more about them, this is the book to have.

(Lockwood keeps notated musical examples to a minimum, mainly sketches, but refers readers to a web site with more of them: musicexamples.com.)

Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven's Symphonies: An Artistic Vision" (New York: W. W. Norton, 2015)
John Francis

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Re: Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven's Symphonies"

Post by jbuck919 » Fri May 06, 2016 7:06 pm

I suppose I have to get this. Lockwood was my senior thesis advisor at Princeton. He wrote my recommendation for Yale. And yes, John F, I know that he went on to Harvard. I owe him everything. In those days, he was not known primarily as a Beethoven scholar, though this is not the first book about the Big B he has written. I took both his courses in medieval/Renaissance music and Mozart. He was a fantastic scholar and connoisseur across the spectrum, a man so fluent in Italian and Latin that he was granted rare primary access to the Vatican archives. Frankly, I am surprised that, at his age, he can still produce a scholarly work of such stature.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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John F
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Re: Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven's Symphonies"

Post by John F » Sat May 07, 2016 12:43 am

At 85, Lockwood is emeritus from Harvard, but I see he's now Distinguished Senior Scholar in the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at Boston University. Like my father, he's not giving up the academic life before he has to.
John Francis

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