Beethoven’s genius was to use the classical music vocabulary to develop a new musical language, one without an inclusive vocabulary. Every composition of Beethoven’s has a vocabulary all its own.
I always assumed that this was as breathtaking an accomplishment, as much of a leap, as that of the Cubists. The Cubists broke through the constraints of pictorial form; Beethoven broke through the constraints of musical content.
The Cubists were inspired by African art. What inspired Beethoven? Was it Baroque music in which composers, in a quest for a more refined discrimination of emotional content in their works, developed the phraseology which eventually was codified into the classical style? No. While Cubist painting reflects its debt to the primitive, there is nothing Baroque about Beethoven’s romanticism. Beethoven’s music was a leap into the void. Like the pioneer Romantic poets, Beethoven expanded the field of artistic expression: to reverence (religious or political) and love (moral or erotic), he added contemplation (profound or ironic).
Yesterday I listened to (as opposed to simply heard) Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, K.310. About half way through the second movement, I realized that Beethoven’s leap into Romanticism was not as formidable a leap as I had thought.
(I’m not making value judgments. It doesn’t in the least detract from Beethoven’s leap that other composers were beginning to test the limits. Nor am I saying that the fact that K.310 is Beethovenesque adds to its status as a Mozart piano sonata.)
Then, serendipitously, immediately following the Mozart sonata, came this: