Antiquarian Book Jaunt

The Beethoven Newsletter, Winter 1987 | Go to article overview

Antiquarian Book Jaunt


William Meredith

Being an habitué of book stores, particularly antiquarian ones, I was recently delighted to discover that New Orleans is blessed with more than beignets, bourbon, and coffee. The French Quarter has several intimate and overflowing shops, and when you exhaust those, a short ride out Magazine Street to George Herbert Books (3109) will land you in a rich hunting ground. The search for Beethoven materials yielded items both benign and valuable, books and scores that document the image of Beethoven as a prism through which the values of society are reflected.

Several interesting items were found in the Quarter. Among these was Philip H. Goepp's Great Works of Music/How to Listen to and Enjoy Them (New York: Garden City Publishing, three vols, in 1: 1897,1902,1913). All of Beethoven's symphonies are discussed in generous detail, covering 242 of 1,266 pages. Except for his enthusiasm for Beethoven, Goepp was evidently a man of moderation. His analyses are thoughtful, and his style is restrained but suggestive, as is evidenced by the subtitles for his discussions of the Fourth Symphony ("The Poet of Pathos and Humor"), the Eighth ("An Epic of Humor"), the Sixth ("Tonal Depiction"), and the Ninth ("The Final Need for Words").

Another acquisition was Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry's The Evolution of the Art of Music in the "International Scientific Series, Vol. LXXVI" (New York: D. Appleton, 1916; first published in 1893). Sir C.H.H. Parry (1848-1918) was an English composer, scholar, and teacher credited with revitalizing English musical life at a time when standards were low. An entire chapter is devoted to Beethoven, under the delightful heading, "Balance of Expression and Design." (The title of the next chapter, "Modern Directions," illustrates Parry's opinion of the state of music post-Beethoven.) Intent on illustrating evolution in music, Parry compares the opening of the last movement of Mozart's 40th Symphony with the opening of Beethoven's Piano Sonata, Opus 2, no. 1, both of which begin with a "rocket theme" in the minor mode. Mozart comes out the worse for wear in the comparison, but Parry added in a footnote, "It may also be well to point out that the object of this detailed comparison is not to emphasize Beethoven at the expense of Mozart, but to show the general tendencies of evolution. In this particular case Beethoven's treatment of his subjectmatter admits of closer scrutiny than Mozart's. But there are other cases in which Mozart undoubtedly has the advantage."

The self-taught Beethoven enthusiast Paul Bekker (1882-1937, author of the monumental biography, Beethoven, 1911) recognized the perils of the evolutionary theory of music in the introduction to another of his books I discovered, The Story of Music/An Historical Sketch of the Changes in Musical Form (New York: Norton, 1927), translated by M.D. Heiter Norton and Alice Kortschak. Although he recognized the validity of an organic theory of art, Bekker continued "The [evolutionary] theory becomes unsound whenever it tries to make later developments appear necessarily higher in the sense of absolute improvement over what went before ... Only appearances change, so that what takes place is a transformation and not a development. Goethe, who early grasped the idea of evolution, speaks not of the development of the plant, but of its metamorphosis ... This idea of metamorphosis is opposed to the idea of development we must accept as the basis of approach to all history, especially the history of art." Beethoven is discussed in this metamorphic light in a short but interesting chapter.

I also chanced upon the third volume of Famous Composers and Their Music, edited by the American composer and teacher John Knowles Paine (1839-1906, who is also credited with making the Harvard Music Department an important force in American universities over his forty-three years there) and Karl Klauser (Boston: J.B. Millet, 1901). …

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