2020 Beethoven – Firing the starting gun

PEANUTS (c) United Feature Syndicate Inc. Drawn by Charles M. Schulz

I’m ready – as I’ll ever be! – to start listening to Beethoven’s music from start to finish.

This is Arcana’s 2020 Beethoven project, where we are taking on the task of listening to everything the composer wrote that exists in recorded form. The object of the exercise has always been to explore the full output of one of my favourite composers, and to share it with you, the reader. It will continue to be that way, with the help of fellow listeners – such as you! – and musicians, too.

If you want to get involved, we’d love you to. All you need to do is send a message to editor@arcana.fm and I’ll send you a Beethoven piece to listen to. You can get to know it and let us know what you think.

I can’t help but feel a bit daunted by this task. So much has been written about Beethoven’s works in the past, more eloquently than I could hope to achieve here. So why another attempt at Everest? The reason is simple – because Beethoven is a favourite composer, a changer of the game in so many different forms of music. In these times especially there is more room than ever for the music that we love. Before we begin, then, here are a few thoughts and a bit of housekeeping for the curious.

The aim – as much as possible – is to listen to Beethoven’s compositions in the order in which they were composed. There is a good deal of confusion around this, as they were not always published in the same order – so there will be moments where we jump about between the numbers of Beethoven’s catalogue in an illogical order. I don’t want to get too bogged down in this area though!

There are also works, such as the Piano Concerto no.2, that Beethoven composed over a number of years. In this case it was between 1788 and 1801 – so we’ll pick it up in 1801, the year it was published.

There are so many available versions of some of Beethoven’s works that we cannot possibly cover them all in this sitting. I will try however to include old and new, modern instruments and ‘historical’ – that is, the instruments and especially pianos that Beethoven might have been more familiar with. We will enjoy a few sidewalks, too – such as Liszt’s transcriptions of the nine symphonies, and a few pop songs based on Beethoven’s music.

There will also – we hope! – be time to appraise Beethoven’s colleagues and contemporaries too – less familiar names like Cramer, Ries, Spohr and Czerny deserve their moments in the sun, as do some of the better-known composers such as Hummel and Weber. This is all to try and give a flavour of the musical climate of the time.

Speaking of climate, some of the pictures used will reflect artists of the time such as Caspar Friedrich – and there will be room to explore the Beethoven cartoons of Charles M. Schulz as well as paintings from Andy Warhol and Gustav Klimt.

This week we will start with the 9 Variations on a March by Dressler for piano, completed by the young composer before his teens in 1782. It will be the start of quite a voyage of discovery!

Ben Hogwood editor, Arcana

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