Quote of the day: the late Beethoven as an absolute punk

Beethoven’s B flat major Sonata and the Diabelli Variations are ‘acoustical atrocities’ which are ‘ultimately unplayable because they are written for an instrument which has never existed and never will exist’. These two works ‘do not employ real sound but incorporeal, purely cerebral abstractions of sound, borrowing the language of the keyboard only as a rough, basically sketchy alphabet’ (Bloch, Philosophy of Music, p. 118).

Like I said, Beethoven was an absolute punk.

In Beethoven’s music in particular, the rhythmic tonic takes precedence over all harmony. It assumes the latter’s office and, as the explosion of tonality advances, becomes increasingly destined for victory. For how else could Beethoven be understood, without this music within the music? He drives restlessly on, lets go in order to build up energy in the meantime, compresses his material quietly and imperceptibly so as to set it alight later all the more fearsomely. He leads it, pulls it awry, sends hither and thither, treating his small melodic structures like lifeless creatures, and he sees, does this tremendous strategist of time, masses of music before him and under him from which he selects those that best suit his purposes. Whole groups of notes follow one another like a single lean, economical, stretching family line. But now, at the crucial moment, with a single bar of genius more than richly endowed with rhythmic-dominant power, comes the flash of prodigality, and the enormous masses discharge their load’ (p. 102).

Actually, he would have been a drummer in the ‘best fucking band in the universe’ – as Chris Bailey, the lead singer of The Saints* screamed when introducing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on Goat Island, Sydney Harbour, 2008.

*The Saints, finally back together after more than two decades, were Australia’s first punk band, if not the world’s first punk band.

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2 thoughts on “Quote of the day: the late Beethoven as an absolute punk

  1. Very sharp. Very astute and absolutely spot on. I will put Bloch on my list of ‘to read to satisfaction and agreement’. Maurice of course disagrees profoundly and loves playing late Beethoven on the piano but I think Bloch has hit the mark. Mind you I adore early Beethoven – love playing it too. And Maurice can’t abide the immortal Sex Pistols. Mind you neither can he abide anything not strictly “classical” … but little does he know he’s playing Punk when he plays his late Beethoven.

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