Thursday, 8 January 2004

Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky

Here are two extracts from notes about Beethoven in The Record Guide, by Edward Sackville-West and Desmond Shawe-Taylor. The book was published in 1951, and the recommendations for the best (78rpm) recordings now seem very quaint, but the essays on composers are wonderfully concise and perceptive:

“…Discussion whether Beethoven or Mozart is the “greater” composer are fruitless, since both are supreme examples of the two opposite types of artist which Nietzsche first distinguished. Mozart is essentially the Appolonian, the classic whose deepest and saddest utterances can never take a form that is not shapely and rounded; while Beethoven is the Dionysiac, the blows of whose gigantic hammer and chisel are still visible on the marble of his noblest masterpieces.”
[How about Gielgud Appolonian, Olivier Dionysiac?]

“…For some time the two most popular composers have been Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. This simultaneous enthusiasm for two very different artists, one unquestionably of the first rank, the other unquestionably not, is so curious as to be worth investigation. What have they in common, and why do their messages seem so important to our tormented world?

The clue perhaps lies in that word “tormented”. ….In a chaotic and hostile environment some people turn to those artists who created exquisite beauty within an accepted framework of religion or social life…….but the majority seek for a kind of art which springs from conflict, questioning, disorder resolved into order.
Both Beethoven and Tchaikovsky wrestled all their lives with what they called Fate; to put it crudely, Beethoven conquered, while Tchaikovsky succumbed......”

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