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Music as an Independent Art Analytical Essay


Introduction

From the perspective of time, the history of humanity can be viewed as a constant flow of moods, personalities, and events. This flow has a changeable nature, and therefore we subdivide it into different eras, such as Victorian, Classical, Romantic, Modern, etc.

Obviously, every epoch is individual, and its ideas influence all the spheres of human life, including politics, education, science, culture. The latter is of paramount importance when talking about any epoch, and art is a representative of the culture. Indeed, the artistic works, such as paintings, literary works, and music, convey the spirit of their age, express the artists and impress the viewers, giving the next generations inspiration to live.

However, if paintings and literary works give the possibility for their creators to express their ideas and feelings efficiently, music has a rather amorphous nature. It does not mean that music is less expressive than other arts, but it definitely makes music a much broader kind of art. Instead of images and words, music offers an endless world of fantasy to its listeners.

That is why, some of the critics today argue that music is a solely independent art. This view was once expressed by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, who claimed that “the magic of music is strong […], it must tear to pieces any impediment from another art.” (Hoffmann, 96).

The critic, who denied even the addition of poetry to the music, would probably be surprised with the modern conception of “music”. Hoffmann was convinced that the instrumental music is a tool, powerful enough to be self-sufficient. Serving as a critic for Beethoven’s works, he thought the composer to be successful at creating the “independent” music. Therefore, it is worth analyzing the notion of music as a separate art through the prism of Beethoven’s compositions.

Technical features of music

It is a well-known fact, that the music composed by Ludwig van Beethoven has its specific features, which make his style distinguishable among many other classics. Namely, the technical features of the composer’s work include contrasts, switches of tempos and textures, fluctuations in the music’s loudness, etc.

These characteristics are typical of all his compositions. This leads us to a logical question: is this style achieved on purpose or with no reason? Indeed, the author can use the peculiarities of the melody in order to induce certain feelings in the listeners. For instance, it is obvious that the rapid rise of tone and loud music are to cause tension, as well as the smooth flow of soft melody is to calm the listener and make them feel peacefully. Concerning the instruments, they also play a vital role in impressing the listener.

As a matter of fact, flutes seem to sound optimistically; oboes, cellos and basses make an impression of ominous event; clarinets and trumpets create a positive and joyful mood, while such instruments as timpani, piccolo, bassoons, contrabassoon, and trombones serve as intensifiers of the certain moods. Seems like there is a multitude of tools in music, which are enough to make it full and complete.

That is why, in case our hypothesis is right, and the composer does use different methods to make his melody individual, the music can be called an independent art. Indeed, the greatest task of the composer is not only to create a pleasant melody, but also to give it a character. Either or a victorious music has to be composed in a way that will allow the different listeners catch the same idea. The only question left to answer is: is Beethoven successful at this task?

Musical fantasy

Taking into consideration the idea that music is a self-sufficient kind of art, it can be said that it has its public and aims. As any kind of art, music is aimed at exposing human feelings. In other words, the successful melody is the one that does not leave the listeners indifferent.

This can be achieved by the author in case they use the certain tools effectively. On the other hand, the effect of the music also depends on the listeners. Undoubtedly, music involves its public into the process of thinking and understanding. If we talk about Beethoven’s compositions, it is clear that the author leaves the listener the place for imagination. That is why, simply listening to his melodies is not enough; one has to involve his fantasy in order to taste the music fully.

However, it is worth considering the fact that the different audience has different perception of one subject. Indeed, what once was heard by Hoffman, is treated differently now, when more than 200 years have passed. Can the people of different epochs have the same associations with one melody? It is a rather doubtful question. There is a little possibility for the melody to save the initial idea of the author and convey it to the listeners through centuries.

Moreover, when Hoffmann argues that the Beethoven’s works are individual and leave space for imagination, he later contradicts to himself, naming the concrete images that appear in his mind while listening to the Fifth Symphony. Namely, the critic mentions “surging storm”, “deep night”, “blinding sunshine”, etc (Hoffmann, 99). By these means, Hoffmann narrows down the content of the composition, suggesting that there are certain ideas expressed by the author.

In addition, the other symphony called “Pastoral” has every of its parts named. To be specific, the first part is called “Awaking the emotions full of life upon arriving in the village”; the second part is called “Scene at the creek”; the next part has the name ”Joyful reunion of peasants”, the fourth part is called “The Tempest”, and the last one has a name “Pastoral Song – Feelings of joy and gratitude after the Storm”.

In case if Beethoven was a genius master of music, why did he need to give such specific names to his works? Could he not organize the melody in a way that would allow the listeners catch the ideas themselves? One way or another, the names of the parts predisposed the listeners to a concrete perception of what they were going to hear.

However, these ideas can barely be preserved in the modern world with its changing values and ideologies. Indeed, if there were no names, the modern listener from New York would be unlikely to associate Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony with village, fields and peasants.

In contrast, the literary works manage to be treated similarly throughout the centuries; the classical novels are still popular, and even today they make their readers either cry or smile, or think of the sense of life. Fine art, similarly to literature, has an ability to impress the audience of different ages equally. It may be due to the nature of human brain, which suggests thinking with images and sometimes with words, but never with notes.

Concerning this point, Hoffmann noted that thanks to music we “give ourselves up to the inexpressible” (Hoffmann, 95). Indeed, if there is something more than words and images, some emotions and feelings that are too great to fit the paper or canvas, then music lets it all out. This conception of music as a very special art should be taken into consideration while analyzing the instrumental classical works.

Melody character

In his article, Hoffmann notes that Beethoven is a “purely romantic composer” (Hoffmann, 97). Indeed, living on the edge of the change of Classic age into the Romantic one, the composer’s works were more of romantic character. That age, based on symbolism, magic, allegories and use of different images, was far from the concrete facts and heavy ideas of the modern world. From this perspective, music can be viewed as an entirely independent art.

The author only needed to give the hints about the plot; the other was up to instruments and the listener’s fantasy. For instance, in the Pastoral Symphony the composer gives a contrast of motif repetition in the second part and the free form of the melody in the third part. In addition, he uses high tones to represent the birds singing in the coda of the first part, and powerful basses in the fourth part, which signal about the thunder.

As it was noted by one of the critics, “the peasant gathering and the storm that follow are full of character and greatness” (Munich, 125). Having no introduction, Pastoral Symphony is itself very individual, even though not many means of expressiveness are used. As we can see in this case, the task of the composer is achieved: the melody has a vivid character, which can be recognized by different listeners.

Beethoven is also sometimes referred to as “political composer” (Rumph, 4). Such conception contradicts the Hoffmann’s idea that the music has “nothing in common with the outward, material world that surrounds it” (Hoffmann, 95). Indeed, politics is a sphere, rather distanced from the mysterious ideas of romanticism. However, Beethoven’s political compositions now give us a chance to access his mastery of conveying the notions of power and triumph through the melody.

This can be seen in his symphony “Eroica”. As it is known, the composition is dedicated to Napoleon and his achievements (Rumph, 29). The composer chose a simple construction for this work; however, he used a range of tools to make it individual. The first part, allegro con brio, has a rather melancholic mood, which is achieved by the ternary movement combined with the minor tonality.

The second part uses string instruments to show the tension. The third part is rather optimistic, which is explained by the proper performance of allegro vivace. Finally, the allegro molto part is a culmination of the whole theme, signaling the triumphal feelings. Obviously, Beethoven was inspired by the image of Napoleon, and he was successful at expressing his feelings through the melody.

In contrast to the two mentioned works, the Fifth Symphony has a more complex character. Its changing melody with a range of instruments used makes it extremely individual and suggests that every listener has to develop their own understanding of the theme. The tonic harmony creates a smooth flow of the melody, which is sometimes intensified with the switches to the dominant harmony. The texture of the theme is typical of Beethoven’s works: the melody changes rapidly from soft to very loud and back.

The tempo is also changing throughout the composition, and includes allegro, andante, and accelerando. Such contrastive nature of the theme evokes a range of emotions in the listeners. The only feature that is common for all the listeners is the absence of purely negative emotions, such as anger or hatred. The Fifth Symphony is rather amorphous, but by no means can it be called less impressive.

In fact, the works of Beethoven are peculiar for their accurate use of means of expressiveness in comparison with other composers. For instance, the “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi are much more exposed in their form and ideas; their moods and images are obvious. Similarly, Orph’s “Carmine Burans” has a set of features, including tempo, texture, and instruments that indicate its concrete tremendous and apocalyptic character.

The Schuman’s melodies, with their distinct melancholic character, are also specific due to certain tools used. In contrast, Beethoven’s Symphonies are based on a much softer approach to the expressiveness. The composer’s smart organization of his themes allows the listener to dive into the melody and swim by the rivers of their own soul. Therefore, it can be stated that music demands interaction between the listener and the melody. Consequently, Beethoven’s intellectual music is best understood by the intellectual audience.

Conclusion

Having analyzed the general picture of the world history, we can conclude that music is one of the most influential kinds of art. Despite the fact that it develops in accordance with the world culture, music has a very specific character. Namely, even though it has a range of tools, music is less accurate in expressiveness in comparison with the other arts.

However, its aesthetical value is hard to overestimate. Music does not only function as an external subject, depicting the moods of its age and entertaining the listeners, but also serves as a guide to one’s inner world. Indeed, music allows the listeners discover the new lands in the space of their own soul.

These roles of music were examined with the reference to Beethoven’s works. Indisputably, the composer has a very individual style, which suggests a harmonious organization of the melody and expressiveness of the themes. In addition, Beethoven’s compositions involve the listeners’ fantasy, adding some mystery and romantic magic to the music.

The specific tools, styles, aims and audience of music suggest that it can be treated as an entirely independent art. Of course, music can be treated as a repetition of sounds, but in this case painting can be treated as a repetition of colors, and literature – as a repetition of letters.

Therefore, the task of the composer is to organize these sounds wisely. However, the audience should also be eager to understand the character of the melody. Indeed, we have proved that instrumental music in particular has its own essence, which can only be revealed by active listeners.

Works Cited

Hoffmann, E.T.A. “Review”. Allgemmeine Musialische Zeitung 12 (July 1820): 94-105.

Munich, A “News”. Allgemmeine Musialische Zeitung 14 (February 1812): 125-126.

Rumph, S. Beethoven after Napoleon. Political Romanticism in the Late Works. London: University of California Press, 2004.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Music as an Independent Art'. 1 December.

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