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#2216143 - 01/17/14 10:21 AM Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33?
Cinnamonbear Offline
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For a while, I've been working through the Beethoven Op. 33 Bagatelles, all of which are now making some kind of sense to me as my playing of them gets more fluid. But the thing that struck my intuition this last time through is that they are filled with humor--some of it sardonic, some of it "twinkle in the eye." It is as if Beethoven was poking fun at, or having fun with, some of the musical conventions of the time, drawing caricatures of them. Does anyone else see this?

I don't know enough about music or Beethoven to know if there is any merit to this idea, even though I hear it clearly in my mind's ear when I play these Bagatelles. I looked on YouTube for some interpretations, and of the more highly accomplished performances, what I found was either 1) dour, 2) full of self-conscious seriousness, or 3) well-mannered to the point of musical death--the kind of interpretations that come from "The Worship of Beethoven The Serious," played as though everything Beethoven ever wrote is the most tragically profoundest thing in the universe now and forever more, amen.

I had a similar thought about this distinction when I studied the Sonata Op. 79 a while ago, two contrasting interpretations: Barenboim's, which seems to say "watch me channel the scowl of the great master," vs. Brendel's, which is very light-hearted and joyful throughout.(Sadly, Brendel's performance has been removed from youtube, so I couldn't link to it for you. Maybe some of you have it on CD and know what I mean.)

Anyway, I wonder if people are missing the fun in Op. 33. But, I could just be projecting.

Humor in Beethoven Op. 33? Or, humor in Beethoven in general? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.

Thanks!
--Andy
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#2216158 - 01/17/14 10:55 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
BDB Offline
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Think pinball!
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#2216159 - 01/17/14 10:58 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
BruceD Offline
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Andy :

I do think that there is humor - although I am obliged to spell it 'humour' - in the Op. 33 Bagatelles.

I see many of examples of humour in these works.

In No. 1, the two measure build up to the f at measure 21 leads simply to an alternating, flippant descending figure in 32nd notes which in turn leads back to the lovely grazioso main theme; in other words, a build-up to nothing.

No. 2 is "cheeky" of nothing else in its main theme and its "when is it going to end?" conclusion.

Look at the last iteration of the opening theme of the C major (No. 5, at measures 59 through 64) where Beethoven, like a piano student with a sudden performance memory loss, alternates the R.H. A with the L.H. F, trying to get it right, and finally getting it!

Interesting that you should raise this question. A friend of mine and I performed a joint recital this past Sunday and Tuesday in which she played four of the Op. 33 Bagatelles and she, too, sees the humour and the light-heartedness in these works.

I, in studying and performing the Haydn F minor Variations, often have wondered if that extensive out-of-character coda that Haydn added to this work between 1793 and publication in 1799 was not an exercise, if not in humour, then in mock-heroics. The sudden out-of-character drama of this coda: the repetition of the dotted sixteenth-note plus thirty-second-note, the extensive chromaticism, the extended measure of f all so far removed from the Viennese character of the rest of the piece, suggest that Haydn is pulling our leg in this section.

That said, however, when I have mentioned this to others, they say they have never thought of it as such and some don't see it.

Surely, there is lots of humour in music and I think you have hit upon some good examples. The two most obvious examples in Haydn are the first movement of the "Surprise" Symphony and the last movement of the "Farewell" Symphony, and there are countless others.

What about the "Dissonant" Quartet of Mozart? Isn't that another example of musical humour?

But back to the Bagatelles; I do think that they are light-hearted works, not to be taken seriously - even as well-crafted as they are - and to be exploited for whatever humour you may see in them. Can you cite some specific examples of what you find humourous in the Bagatelles?

Regards,
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#2216237 - 01/17/14 01:26 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
MarkH Offline
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In 2, 5 & 7 especially! You're totally right Andy. 7 has been calling to me for a while. I hear the sort of bouncing figure that makes up much of its A section as laughter whenever it appears in a piece, especially when appearing with a playfully asinine melody, as it does in this piece.

Your comment recalls to mind a statement by Gould that went with his recording of the late Beethoven Piano Sonatas. He said something to the effect that those sonatas had become over-encrusted with barnacles of reverence, and he aimed to polish them off and present them outside of the performance traditions they had accumulated. I don't think those recordings are particularly successful, but I do appreciate and at least partly agree with the sentiment.

Beethoven clearly had a great sense of humor (or had the potential to have it, when he wasn't sick and in dire straits of one sort or another). We should endeavor to bring that out when it seems right to us.
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#2216241 - 01/17/14 01:41 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
beet31425 Offline
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Originally Posted By: Cinnamonbear
Humor in Beethoven Op. 33? Or, humor in Beethoven in general? I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.


Yes, yes! Humor in much of op.33, and humor in *a lot* of Beethoven in general!

I'm thinking of the first movement of op.31/1 ("why won't the hands play together?"), the first movement of op.31/3, the first and last movements of op.79, the last movement of op.78. The list goes on and on.

Curiously, there is relatively little humor in the last sonatas; the only example that comes to mind out of the last five is the second movement of op.110. While in the late string quartets, much humor abounds in the scherzos...

-Jason
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Beethoven: op.109, 110, 111

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#2216290 - 01/17/14 03:53 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
ChopinAddict Offline
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Yes, there must definitely be humo(u)r in Op.33 because it sort of cheers me up when I am down. smile
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#2216308 - 01/17/14 04:33 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
Dwscamel Offline
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I've always viewed the bagatelles as light, fun pieces, definitely not by Beethoven The Serious but just Beethoven The Person. I'm glad you don't take it all so seriously smile.

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#2216312 - 01/17/14 04:47 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
ChopinAddict Offline
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By the way, the term "bagatelle" itself means something like "light piece".
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#2216319 - 01/17/14 05:07 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: ChopinAddict]
beet31425 Offline
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Originally Posted By: Dwscamel
I've always viewed the bagatelles as light, fun pieces, definitely not by Beethoven The Serious but just Beethoven The Person. I'm glad you don't take it all so seriously smile.
Originally Posted By: ChopinAddict
By the way, the term "bagatelle" itself means something like "light piece".

Yes, but all of the op.126 Bagatelles should be taken very seriously...

-J
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#2216371 - 01/17/14 07:34 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
Happy Birthday Tararex Offline
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After reading comments Beethoven made concerning bagatelles I believe they were his technique builders. As such, it's not surprising that they present a range of emotional output.

There's a set of Swiss songs he created for a school that on first encounter made me lol with a reflexive "why would he do this?" I later read that Beethoven had been annoyed with the school's nagging him for completion. He finally shipped them a set of simple but awkwardly unpleasant to play variations. When playing them now I always hear him snickering at the joke.
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#2216413 - 01/17/14 09:45 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: beet31425]
ChopinAddict Offline
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Originally Posted By: beet31425
Originally Posted By: Dwscamel
I've always viewed the bagatelles as light, fun pieces, definitely not by Beethoven The Serious but just Beethoven The Person. I'm glad you don't take it all so seriously smile.
Originally Posted By: ChopinAddict
By the way, the term "bagatelle" itself means something like "light piece".

Yes, but all of the op.126 Bagatelles should be taken very seriously...

-J


You are right. I played Op.126 just the other day and certainly felt its emotional depth.
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#2216422 - 01/17/14 10:08 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
hreichgott Offline
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Beethoven had a sense of humor, but he didn't make separate humorous pieces and serious pieces. There's always darkness and light together.

I do like a humorous approach to the Scherzo in Op. 33 but it works best imho if there's something seriously threatening about the minor section... then emerge into daylight again, the place where you CAN make jokes.
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Sounding the depths of small pieces: Beethoven Op. 33
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#2216632 - 01/18/14 10:56 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: BDB]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Thank you, all, for your comments! They are very thought-provoking!

Originally Posted By: BDB
Think pinball!

I believe BDB that you are referring to this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bagatelle

...which is most interesting when you consider the variety of twists and turns that Beethoven packs into each little ditty in Op. 33! laugh I don't know the bagatelles of other composers well enough to extrapolate that idea, but according to the wikipedia definition of "Bagatelle (music)", the first use of the word applied to a musical work is by Couperin in 1717--a rondeau. It seems to me that the word as Couperin used it probably derived from the Italian, meaning "a trifle," "a decorative thing." It was not until 1777 or so that the term "bagatelle" was applied to the billiards-type game. Apparently, Beethoven finished Op. 33 in 1808, so whether he was thinking "decorative trifles," or "pinball" is an interesting question to consider... grin Hmmmm...

Pinball is a great picture to keep in mind for Op. 33, though! Thanks for the trip to the museum, BDB! Cool artifact! smile

--Andy
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#2216642 - 01/18/14 11:07 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
gooddog Offline
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I have learned from my teacher, whom I believe to be an authority on Beethoven, that there is a great deal of humor (humour) in Beethoven's music. I think we and I tend to take him much too seriously.

Example: the first time I heard him play the first movement of Opus 22, I was very surprised to find it sounded just like a scherzo. When I asked him about it he said, yes, absolutely, the swift changes between sweet/melodic and fast/almost jagged are really meant to tickle the funny bone.
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#2216675 - 01/18/14 12:25 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: BruceD]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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BruceD, MarkH, and Beet, I need to thank you very much for getting me started in thinking specifically and analytically about what is so funny about these pieces. Before this thread, I was just developing an intuitive sense of it all, but now I see that identifying the elements of the jokes will make the jokes all the more convincing! laugh Your ideas have helped especially by giving me some words to use to describe what I'm seeing. I am very grateful for your comments!

Originally Posted By: BruceD
[...] I do think that they are light-hearted works, not to be taken seriously - even as well-crafted as they are - and to be exploited for whatever humour you may see in them. Can you cite some specific examples of what you find humourous in the Bagatelles?

Regards,


Op. 33, No. 1, "The Build Up To Nothing"! LOL! Yes, Bruce! And the increasingly "built up" motif in measures 30, 56, and 80 to 82, ending with the little octuplet flourish that leaps into "nothing" (an eighth note rest--we are suspended in air!) to land lightly on a toe-heel tonic. (Still not sure if I'm counting measures correctly... 1st and 2nd endings still throw me.) Also, that exposed "Scale to Nowhere" at mm. 47-52 that will seriously test one's mettle! Also, the last section of RH chromatic running figures answered by little LH hops (syncopated in the closing measures, no less!), and all of it ending with a very distinct "ha!-Ha!-HA!!!" in the last three chords. Very funny stuff!

And yet, as H noted in her post:

Originally Posted By: hreichgott
Beethoven had a sense of humor, but he didn't make separate humorous pieces and serious pieces. There's always darkness and light together.

I do like a humorous approach to the Scherzo in Op. 33 but it works best imho if there's something seriously threatening about the minor section... then emerge into daylight again, the place where you CAN make jokes.


I might express that idea this way: There is a juxtaposition of seriously good writing with inane interjections, or, inane themes developed seriously well. In comic terms, it is "straight man" and "funny man." You have to have both for it to make sense as a joke. It is the seriously good writing that sets us up for the funny "what just happened there?" turns of phrase or punch lines.

No. 3 is hilarious to me. A simple little consonant melody, increasingly wrecked by over-doing the chromatic grace notes from the bottom, up, and then using that idea as a point of development! The foreshadowing happens almost immediately, at the very odd first modulation and then is underscored at the repeat with that awful dissonance to get back to home. There is another wonderful comic touch in the Middle Subject, as it goes on just a little too long--it goes up, and it goes up, and it goes up... and it goes up, whoops! LOL! Did Beethoven study P.D.Q. Bach as well as J.S.? It seems so... That little funny in No. 3 harkens to what Bruce pointed out in No. 5. smile

Anyway, I am very relieved to know that I can have some fun with these. Perhaps some day, we should have a Bagatelle e-cital! Or, a "Humourous Music" e-cital! Because, Bruce, ideas like this one:

Originally Posted By: BruceD
[...] I, in studying and performing the Haydn F minor Variations, often have wondered if that extensive out-of-character coda that Haydn added to this work between 1793 and publication in 1799 was not an exercise, if not in humour, then in mock-heroics. The sudden out-of-character drama of this coda: the repetition of the dotted sixteenth-note plus thirty-second-note, the extensive chromaticism, the extended measure of f all so far removed from the Viennese character of the rest of the piece, suggest that Haydn is pulling our leg in this section.

That said, however, when I have mentioned this to others, they say they have never thought of it as such and some don't see it. [...]


...need to be demonstrated in performance to be fully appreciated! And, I would love to hear MarkH do Op. 33, No. 5! See you guys in Member Recordings, I hope! LOL! laugh wink

ChopinAddict and Dwscamel, thank you for adding to the chorus! And Tararex, thank you for that most excellent story about the Swiss songs.

--Andy
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#2216680 - 01/18/14 12:34 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: gooddog]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Originally Posted By: gooddog
I have learned from my teacher, whom I believe to be an authority on Beethoven, that there is a great deal of humor (humour) in Beethoven's music. I think we and I tend to take him much too seriously.

Example: the first time I heard him play the first movement of Opus 22, I was very surprised to find it sounded just like a scherzo. When I asked him about it he said, yes, absolutely, the swift changes between sweet/melodic and fast/almost jagged are really meant to tickle the funny bone.


Thank you for that specific example, Deborah! Look also at Sonata No. 10, Op. 14, No. 2. Tons of comic potential throughout all movements (imho)!
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#2216700 - 01/18/14 01:19 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
Tim Adrianson Online   content
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CB, as part of this thread, you'd probably be interested to know that, about 20 - 25 years back, Maurice Hinson of Alfred Publishing edited an entire book of selections, entitled "Baroque to Modern -- Humor in Piano Music". It provides discussion concerning really quite a number of pieces and composers over the centuries -- and, in Beethoven's case, one of those was the Bagatelle Op 33 No 2. A great read -- and it's probably still available, if you're interested.

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#2216704 - 01/18/14 01:27 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Tim Adrianson]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Loc: Rockford, IL
Thank you, Tim! Duly noted and added to my wish list! grin
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#2219374 - 01/23/14 10:31 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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So, I was working on No. 3 this morning, and paying particularly close attention to pedalling, especially given my new-found freedom to exploit the humo[u]rous aspects in this opus. Now, I realize I'm going to have to do some digging to see what different editions do with pedal markings, but if I scrupulously follow the pedalling as indicated in the Schirmer at my disposal, No. 3 is even *more* awfully and profoundly dissonant across measures, juxtaposed to the cleanly articulated consonance and dissonance that immediately follows. (It really is genius writing. But, that is what we have come to know and love about Beethoven, after all... Was he "one-upping" Haydn in the joke department?)

The pedalling question got me thinking... I remembered about a year or so ago stumbling across a few performances of some Bagatelles played on fortepiano. So, I went looking again, to see what I could see, and hear what I could hear, and I found the performances I remembered! laugh

This is Natalia Valentin playing Nos. 1, 5, and 7. She plays 'em straight (no comic nuance), but in doing so, you can clearly hear the comedic aspects of the pieces which are even more pronounced by the tone and timbre of the fortepiano. In No. 7, especially, you can hear that Beethoven had some fun with the open pedal. These are great performances! I hope you enjoy them.







Thoughts?

--Andy


Edited by Cinnamonbear (01/23/14 01:14 PM)
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#2219588 - 01/23/14 04:30 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
AZNpiano Offline
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First you have to define what "humor" is. There's quite a range of human emotions attached to humor.

There might be moments of fleeting humor in the Op. 33, but my take on that set is that it's a big mixed bag of emotions. Take the first one for example: I don't find one ounce of humor in that one.
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#2219595 - 01/23/14 04:40 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: AZNpiano]
beet31425 Offline
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Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
Take the first one for example: I don't find one ounce of humor in that one.

The humor is there to my ears. I hear it especially in the busy variations towards the end, first as 16th notes, then as triplets and 32nd notes. As if Beethoven is asking with a grin: How much can I push this respectable little theme?

I hear very little humor in #4 and #6 of this set. For me #7 is the funniest.

-J
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#2219751 - 01/23/14 10:48 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: AZNpiano]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Loc: Rockford, IL
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
First you have to define what "humor" is. There's quite a range of human emotions attached to humor.


O.K.... Let's go to Webster's~~

Sense 3a: "that quality which appeals to a sense of the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous."

I think Beethoven hits on the sense of the "absurdly incongruous" in Op. 33.

Originally Posted By: AZNpiano
There might be moments of fleeting humor in the Op. 33, but my take on that set is that it's a big mixed bag of emotions. Take the first one for example: I don't find one ounce of humor in that one.


I find several ounces of humor in it; not only what Beet/Jason said, but more! Keep in mind hreichgott's post about light and dark, above, and my re-statement of it regarding the "straight man" and the "funny man" in a comic duo. Mixed bag? Perhaps. Bas-relief? I think so.

And, Jason, I know what you mean about 4 & 6, but I think, given the pattern of the opus, the humor *must* be in there, somewhere! crazy A case can be more easily made for 6 than 4, I think, especially in another instance of a "build up to nowhere" (ala No. 1) in the first measures of the development group of No. 6.

Dynamics Bas-relief question: are the dyanmics notated in 4 or 6 any more overdone and incongruous than in other Beethoven piano works?

Thanks for your thoughts!
--Andy
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#2219843 - 01/24/14 03:49 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: beet31425]
ScriabinAddict Offline
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Originally Posted By: beet31425
I'm thinking of the first movement of op.31/1 ("why won't the hands play together?"), the first movement of op.31/3, the first and last movements of op.79, the last movement of op.78. The list goes on and on.


Don't forget the hilarious 2nd movement from op.31/1 as well, and I also find the Scherzos of 31/3, 110, and (in spots) 106 to be pretty funny.

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#2219911 - 01/24/14 08:28 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Cinnamonbear]
drumour Offline
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I think humour in Beethoven is incredibly sophisticated. Apart from the odd dramatic crude joke, the humour is derived from musical structures/intentions/imperatives/playings about etc - that is purely from the world of Music and not so much about extraneous things like emotions. The last movement of one of the Rasumovsky Quartets is simply one huge "tonality joke".
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#2219918 - 01/24/14 08:41 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: drumour]
Cinnamonbear Offline
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Loc: Rockford, IL
Originally Posted By: drumour
I think humour in Beethoven is incredibly sophisticated. Apart from the odd dramatic crude joke, the humour is derived from musical structures/intentions/imperatives/playings about etc - that is purely from the world of Music and not so much about extraneous things like emotions. The last movement of one of the Rasumovsky Quartets is simply one huge "tonality joke".


Well stated, drumour!
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#2220394 - 01/25/14 05:49 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: ScriabinAddict]
Verbum mirabilis Offline
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Originally Posted By: ScriabinAddict
Originally Posted By: beet31425
I'm thinking of the first movement of op.31/1 ("why won't the hands play together?"), the first movement of op.31/3, the first and last movements of op.79, the last movement of op.78. The list goes on and on.


Don't forget the hilarious 2nd movement from op.31/1 as well, and I also find the Scherzos of 31/3, 110, and (in spots) 106 to be pretty funny.


How is the second movement of 31/1 hilarious?
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Beethoven: sonata op. 14 no. 2
Chopin: op. 25 no. 2, op. 10 no. 3, op. 47
Bach: P&F in D minor, book 2

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#2220435 - 01/25/14 07:54 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: Verbum mirabilis]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7767
Originally Posted By: Verbum mirabilis
Originally Posted By: ScriabinAddict
Originally Posted By: beet31425
I'm thinking of the first movement of op.31/1 ("why won't the hands play together?"), the first movement of op.31/3, the first and last movements of op.79, the last movement of op.78. The list goes on and on.


Don't forget the hilarious 2nd movement from op.31/1 as well, and I also find the Scherzos of 31/3, 110, and (in spots) 106 to be pretty funny.


How is the second movement of 31/1 hilarious?


I don't know why ScriabinAddict thinks so, but to me, the movement can be seen and played as a wildly exaggerated parody of an earlier style, and it can be very funny if taken in that way. But it can also be taken as a sort of fond, if a bit over-the-top, tribute to that same style, and then it isn't so funny. I don't know of any reason to choose one interpretation over the other - either way works.

Speaking of Beethovenian hilarity - one of the funniest classical music performances I have ever heard in my life was when my college teacher played op. 31, no. 3. He was doing all kinds of sly and amusing things in the first two movements that had us smiling, but he eventually got the audience to laugh out loud in the last movement - we just couldn't help it. The amazing thing was that it was all stuff he found in the music that did it, and it was actually pretty subtle - he wasn't going all Lang Lang on us or anything.

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#2220590 - 01/25/14 01:22 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: wr]
phantomFive Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/11/14
Posts: 1151
Loc: California
Originally Posted By: wr
He was doing all kinds of sly and amusing things in the first two movements that had us smiling, but he eventually got the audience to laugh out loud in the last movement - we just couldn't help it.

That is inspiration to me
_________________________
Poetry is rhythm.

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#2220901 - 01/26/14 06:34 AM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: phantomFive]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7767
Originally Posted By: phantomFive
Originally Posted By: wr
He was doing all kinds of sly and amusing things in the first two movements that had us smiling, but he eventually got the audience to laugh out loud in the last movement - we just couldn't help it.

That is inspiration to me


Wonderful!

I have to say that performance changed my concept of what was possible (not to mention permissible) in Beethoven. It happened over 40 years ago and I still can vividly remember certain details.

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#2221201 - 01/26/14 11:55 PM Re: Humor in Beethoven Bagatelles, Op. 33? [Re: phantomFive]
Cinnamonbear Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/10
Posts: 3847
Loc: Rockford, IL
Originally Posted By: phantomFive
Originally Posted By: wr
He was doing all kinds of sly and amusing things in the first two movements that had us smiling, but he eventually got the audience to laugh out loud in the last movement - we just couldn't help it.

That is inspiration to me


Me, too, wr! But it makes me reluctant to post any of the Bagatelles I've been working on! I'd hate to bomb! blush
_________________________
I may not be fast,
but at least I'm slow.

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