Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beethoven as Rapist

Wall Street Journal Online has a good current article about Beethoven's Ninth, including the following odd interlude:
Naturally, the Ninth Symphony has its critics, and chief among them is a new breed of musicologist who sees the organizing principle of Western art music -- its reliance on the gravitational pull of tonal centers, and the artful control of musical tension and resolution -- as a direct reflection of the male libido and its primal urge toward domination. One of the leading figures of this school of thought, Susan McClary, found in the opening movement of Beethoven's masterpiece the "murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release" (in her article "Getting Down Off the Beanstalk"; she subsequently toned down the language for a reprint in a published collection, but the sentiments remained the same).
According to the ever-useful Wikipedia, here is a fuller quote of McClary's original passage:
The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.
And here is how she revised it:
The point of recapitulation in the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony unleashes one of the most horrifyingly violent episodes in the history of music. The problem Beethoven has constructed for this movement is that it seems to begin before the subject of the symphony has managed to achieve its identity.
What's "horrifyingly violent" about that? Incomplete revisions endanger coherence. Unless you're Beethoven maybe.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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