extramusical

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Ravel - La Valse

It’s hard to not bring up Alex Ross’ own writings about this work, which give an interesting extra musical idea. Of course, with absolute music, any extramusical idea attached to it is subject to criticism, but oh well, here we go: what if this waltz, this work called “the waltz” that is a slow deconstruction of the form and its own music, is somehow an allusion to the end of the 19th century? What if it somehow calls back on the ghosts of Old Vienna, the aristocracy who used to dance the night away by candle light to waltz music? What if this is a gravestone to a time that we no longer can relate to? This music, so wild…controlled but sounds like at any moment it could fall apart? However you look at it, this is a fantastic piece of orchestral music [no surprise from the renowned colorist], which has climax after delicious climax piled over itself near the end. The work was conceived originally as a ballet, commissioned by Diaghilev, it is most often performed in concert. I mean, it’s only 12 minutes, why have a whole dance company rehearse for a 12 minute abstract dance when they could work on something more theatrical? Anyway I have to admit I’m guilty of what a lot of “critics” do, and that is ascribe extra musical ideas to an abstract work. In Ravel’s own words, "While some discover an attempt at parody, indeed caricature, others categorically see a tragic allusion in it – the end of the Second Empire, the situation in Vienna after the war, etc… This dance may seem tragic, like any other emotion… pushed to the extreme. But one should only see in it what the music expresses: an ascending progression of sonority, to which the stage comes along to add light and movement.“

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Beethoven - Symphony no. 3 in Eb Major, “Eroica”

In a letter to his brother, Beethoven admitted that his slowly creeping deafness had made him feel depressed, and that the thought of losing his hearing so soon into his career made him consider suicide. But he fought against those fears and decided he would try to push forward all of the ideas that he had been working with in his early works to the extreme, and bring forward music for the future. This symphony is marked as a product of this turning point, and is considered one of the great turning points in music, and one of the more influential ones. Here, Beethoven breaks so many of the standards of the genre, that many at the time weren’t even sure if it should be called a symphony. The first movement alone has such extended development, crazy harmonies, no traditional melody, and was about the length of most symphonies [around 20 min] at the time. The second movement, a funeral march full of pathos. The third, a rapid fire scherzo, and a theme and variations finale that was more complex and engaging than most symphonic finales [other than this ending and Mozart’s “Jupiter”, no symphony had such an engaging finale that was more than just lighthearted pomp]. Famously, this symphony was originally dedicated to Napoleon, who Beethoven admired for going against the old aristocratic ways, but when Napoleon declared himself Emperor, the story goes that Beethoven cursed his name and “furiously scratched it off the page”. Still, a symphony for a hero, this idea of heroism as a subtle extramusical idea, introduces a celebration for the common man, which would become a strong theme in Beethoven’s later works, and which would inspire people centuries after its premiere. It’s also interesting to note that the final movement is an orchestration of an earlier piano variations Beethoven wrote, after a theme from his ballet, “Prometheus”. Like Prometheus brought fire to mankind, Beethoven brought a new language to music.

Movements:

1. Allegro con brio

2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai

3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace

4. Finale: Allegro molto