“Many of the Beethoven Folk Songs were Written During the So-Called “Unproductive” Decade of His Career” (Summer 2013) by Candace Elizabeth Brooks (a.k.a. Ariadne Phoenix Levinson)

“By: Candace Elizabeth Brooks (a.k.a. Ariadne Phoenix Levinson)

(Published on Uptown Dallas Art Collective September 4, 2016. Written June 2013. Submitted to Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise June 2013, but not accepted.)

Today is the last chance to see Vocalist Margaret Sewell’s presentation on “The Beethoven Folk Song Project,” at Community Hall, between 3:30 and 5:00 p.m. This free OK Mozart Festival Event focuses on the Folk Songs of Beethoven, which are gaining new reception among music audiences and critics, after a long history of mixed reviews and inattention.

This OK Mozart event will give audiences a rare opportunity to listen to a chamber music performance of some the Beethoven Folk Songs as performed by Sewell and other musicians. Concertgoers will have the chance to listen to a lecture about the conditions under which Beethoven Folk Songs were composed, and to learn more about the features that make characteristically unique to Beethoven.

Over 150 songs

As J.W.N. Sullivan writes in his book, “Beethoven and His Spiritual Development,” the decade following 1809 is considered to be his most “singularly unproductive,” because of the fact that during this time Beethoven, having by now accomplished not only the towering Symphonies 3, 5, and 6, but also the indomitable Razumouvsky of Quartets of op. 59, began slowly to turn inward, an introversion many scholars consider related to the onset of his deafness in 1801.

Nevertheless after a relationship with the Scottish folksong publisher George Thompson of Edinburgh that began in 1803 and lasted until 1820, Beethoven spent fifteen years setting himself to the task of scoring music for a series of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and songs of other nationalities, many of them which were brought together under the opus number setting of 108. Many of which appeared without opus numbers.

Beethoven wrote accompaniments for the lyrics and melodies of already existing folk songs[1], and he also set folk melodies to poetry by Lord Byron, great figure of the Romantic Movement in literature, and William Robert Spencer.

These songs appeared in the British Isles, but also on the Continent of England, to which Beethoven never had the chance of travelling in his life, despite having made plans to do so. Twenty-five of the Scottish folk songs were published in Berlin in 1822.

One of the crucial facts about the decade during which the folk songs were written is that they reveal the moments during which Beethoven took pause from the strain of his larger and projects right before the development of his final stage, called by critics his “Late Style,” which many critics claim to have begun in 1815.

During the late period, Beethoven’s music underwent a radical transformation. The final period produced his 9th Symphony, his final piano sonatas, and the infamous late string quartets, which changed music forever.

Incidentally the melody of the theme of Beethoven’s 9th symphony Op. 125, finished and first performed in 1824 comes from a tune sounding very much like a folk song, appearing markedly in the Choral Fantasy of opus 80, composed and performed in1808, but also in a song without opus number (Wo0 118) composed sometime between 1794 and 1795, called “Seufzer eine Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe,” translated as “Sigh To Unbeloved ones and Requited Love.”

[1] I have been unable to find a source that has been able to explain the instances/provide further explanations about why Beethoven chose to set certain folk melodies to certain poems by famous poets. On Quora.Com http://www.quora.com/What-is-the-story-behind-the-folk-songs-of-the-British-Isles-set-by-Beethoven-and-Haydn, I saw a user who posted the question of why in certain cases there is overlap between the poetry and folk melodies chosen by Beethoven and Haydn (who was also involved in the Folk Song Project that was begun by George Thompson, in the sense that both composers chose arrange the same folk melodies to the same poetry.