An excellent essay on Beethoven in the NY Review of Books.

The film captures an historic artistic journey, shared with his wife and studio partner of 50 years, the prominent anti-war and feminist artist, Nancy Spero. In some wonderfully comic and touching scenes we see them as each other's most valued critic and most ardent supporter. Golub continued in his later paintings to "report" on what's going on in the world, but he does it with the kind of dissonances and discontinuities that led Theodor Adorno in his essay on Beethoven to proclaim, "In the history of art, late works are the catastrophes."

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The elevation of music to the highest of the arts entailed a shift in the perceived relationship of art to the world around us. As "art for art's sake" and similar sentiments gained ground in the nineteenth century, music became prized for its very separation from the real world, its lack of precise representational meaning. The symphony became the focal point for a new valorization of music, especially as it developed in the German lands at the hands of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Beyond its presumed purity, music's removal from the here and now made it seem a perfect vehicle for expressing the Romantics' sense of "infinite longing," which Hoffmann, in an 1810 essay on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (1808), called the "essence of Romanticism." Within this formulation, music could be allied with the sublime, the unattainable, the infinite, and the ineffable, while at the same time expressing and probing profound inner states. Through music, one's soul could connect, through "longing" or some other deep feeling, to something beyond the everyday world. In this way, as the German musicologist Carl Dahlhaus argues, music could be understood as "absolute" in two senses, both through its purity, its "absolute" separateness from the reality we can see and touch, and through its capacity to connect us to the "absolute" in the philosophical sense, after Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831).

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Despite the enormous and accelerating worldwide interest in Wagner leading to the bicentenary of his birth in 2013, his prose writings have received scant scholarly attention. Wagner's book-length essay on Beethoven, written to celebrate the centenary of Beethoven's birth in 1870, is really about Wagner himself rather than Beethoven. It is generally regarded as the principal aesthetic statement of the composer's later years, representing a reassessment of the ideas of the earlier Zurich writings, especially , in the light of the experience gained through the composition of and the greater part of . It contains Wagner's most complete exegesis of his understanding of Schopenhauer's philosophy and its perceived influence on the compositional practice of his later works. The essay also influenced the young Nietzsche. It is an essential text in the teaching of not only Wagnerian thought but also late nineteenth-century musical aesthetics in general.
Until now the English reader with no access to the German original has been obliged to work from two Victorian translations. This brand new edition gives the German original and the newly translated English text on facing pages. It comes along with a substantial introduction placing the essay not only within the wider historical and intellectual context of Wagner's later thought but also in the political context of the establishment of the German Empire in the 1870s. The translation is annotated throughout with a full bibliography. will be indispensable reading for historians and musicologists as well as those interested in Wagner's philosophy and the aesthetics of music.

ROGER ALLEN is Fellow and Tutor in Music at St Peter's College, Oxford.

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Those of my readers who are familiar with some of my earlier writings will already know my thoughts on the concealment of the orchestra, and I hope that even if they had not already felt this for themselves, a subsequent visit to the opera will have convinced them of the rightness of my feeling that the constant and, indeed, insistent sight of the technical apparatus needed to produce the sound constitutes a most tiresome distraction. In my essay on Beethoven I was able to explain how at thrilling performances of ideal works of music we may ultimately cease to notice this reprehensible evil as a result of the force with which all our senses are retuned, resulting, as it were, in a kind of neutralization of our sense of sight. With a stage performance, by contrast, it is a question of attuning our sense of sight to precisely apprehending an image, which can be done only by distracting it completely and by preventing it from noticing any reality than lies in between, such reality including the technical apparatus needed to produce the image in the first place.

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As with the essay on Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57 in Tonwille 7, there are extensive, detailed remarks on performance in the Brahms essay, including a paragraph on each of the variations and nearly two pages on the fugue; these include suggestions for fingering, and for the positioning of the hands in relation to the keyboard.

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In his 1870 essay on Beethoven, Wagner made several noteworthy statements about the Third Symphony: “Now from such of Beethoven’s letters as have been preserved, and the uncommonly meagre information regarding the outer life ... what possible conclusion can be drawn as to the connection of any particular events with his musical creations, and the course of development perceptible therein? Supposing we had all possible information about special facts before us ... even then we should see nothing beyond what is contained in the account, for instance, that the master had at first designed the Sinfonia eroica as an act of homage to young General Bonaparte and inscribed his name upon the title-page; and that he had subsequently struck out the name, when he heard that Bonaparte had made himself Emperor. ... what aid can such a plain indication give us in judging of one of the most wonderful of musical creations? Can it explain a single bar of that score? Is it not sheer folly to think seriously of making such an attempt?” [translated by Edward Dannreuther, 1903]