Beethoven 1806.

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Author: Michael C. Tusa
Date: Summer 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,367 words
Lexile Measure: 1790L

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Beethoven 1806, by Mark Ferraguto. AMS Smdies in Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. xxi, 245 pp.

In Beethoven 1806, Mark Ferraguto addresses a number of issues that confront Beethoven scholarship some 250 years after the composer's birth: the ubiquitous narratives of struggle and triumph in Beethoven biography and criticism; the privileging of certain works, often considered "heroic" in character, in the shaping of Beethoven's image in popular culture and critical assessments; the limitations of the musical score and musical analysis as sources of historical insights; the relationship of life and work in artist biography; and the relationship of historical contexts to aesthetics in the musical work. In place of the master tropes of the "Beethoven myth" and the typically dualistic (e.g., "heroic" vs. "nonheroic") categorization of the composer's works, Ferraguto presents what he calls a "microhistory" (p. 3) of Beethoven's activities over a limited period of time--approximately from spring 1806 through the early months of 1807--as a way to illuminate the particularity and historical contingency of his works and reinsert him as a historical actor into the social and cultural milieu of his world.

In chapter 1, Ferraguto outlines the case for 1806(-1807), a period that is not particularly well documented by correspondence or surviving sketches, as a meaningful subphase in Beethoven's career. Disillusioned with opera after his frustrating experiences with the first and second versions of Leon ore and in need of income, Beethoven returned to instrumental music in 1806 to produce an impressive number of major works (opus 58 to opus 62 inclusive) that he brought to publication as a group so as to reassert his prominence as a leading composer of instrumental works and spread his reputation internationally. Ferraguto posits a "stylistic turn" (p. 19) in 1806 away from the heroic stances of the works of 1803 to 1805, a turn that is particularly evident in the Fourth Piano Concerto, op. 58, Symphony no. 4, op. 60, and the Violin Concerto, op. 61, thanks to such features as reduced scoring with soloisticuse of the timpani; quiet, harmonically distinctive or disorientating beginnings; and seemingly nonteleological passages that suspend the prevailing musical discourse. The extent to which Beethoven himself conceived opuses 58-62 as a group is debatable; as seen in other negotiations with publishers, the composer at times packaged together his most recent works in different genres to simplify and strengthen his bargaining position. Prior to offering opuses 58-62 as a group to publishers, Beethoven had attempted to bundle opus 58 and opus 59 with Leonore and Christus am Olberge. Ferraguto himself notes that none of the traits of the "stylistic turn" is brand new to 1806; perhaps it might be better to understand such features not primarily as a turning away from the rhetoric of works like the Eroiea Symphony and the piano sonatas opus 53 and opus 57 but rather as a return to and intensified exploration of approaches found in earlier works (e.g., lyrical passages in remote keys that seem to open a window...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A679119008