The "Beethoven Folksong Project" in the Reception of Beethoven and His Music

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Beethoven's folksong arrangements and variations have been coldly received in recent scholarship. Their melodic and harmonic simplicity, fusion of highbrow and lowbrow styles, seemingly diminished emphasis on originality, and the assorted nationalities of the tunes have caused them to be viewed as musical rubble within the heritage of Western art music. The canonic composer's relationship with the Scottish amateur folksong collector and publisher George Thomson, as well as with his audience, amateur music lovers, has been largely downplayed in the reception of Beethoven. I define Beethoven's engagement with folksongs and their audience as the "Beethoven Folksong Project," evaluating it in ... continued below

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Lee, Hee Seung December 2006.

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  • Lee, Hee Seung

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Beethoven's folksong arrangements and variations have been coldly received in recent scholarship. Their melodic and harmonic simplicity, fusion of highbrow and lowbrow styles, seemingly diminished emphasis on originality, and the assorted nationalities of the tunes have caused them to be viewed as musical rubble within the heritage of Western art music. The canonic composer's relationship with the Scottish amateur folksong collector and publisher George Thomson, as well as with his audience, amateur music lovers, has been largely downplayed in the reception of Beethoven. I define Beethoven's engagement with folksongs and their audience as the "Beethoven Folksong Project," evaluating it in the history of Beethoven reception as well as within the cultural and ideological contexts of the British Isles and German-speaking lands at the turn of the nineteenth century. I broaden the image of Beethoven during his lifetime by demonstrating that he served as an ideal not only for highly educated listeners and performers but also for amateur music lovers in search of cultivation through music. I explore the repertory under consideration in relation to the idea of Bildung ("formation" or "education" of the self or of selves as a nation) that pervaded contemporary culture, manifesting itself in music as the tradition of Bildungsmusik ("music for self-improvement"). Drawing on both contemporary reviews and recent studies, I show that the music's demanding yet comprehensible nature involved a wide range of elements from folk, popular, and chamber music to Hausmusik ("house music"), Unterhaltungsmusik ("music for entertainment"), Alpenmusik ("music of the Alps"), and even Gassenhauer ("street music"). Within the tradition of Bildungsmusik, adaptation of folksongs for domestic music-making, recomposition of pre-existing materials, collaboration between professionals and amateurs, and incorporation of musics familiar to and popular with contemporaries served as significant means for the composer to communicate with a middle-class audience. The hybrid and flexible nature of the folksong settings was not an awkward mix of various kinds of "trivial" music but rather a reflection of political, cultural, and social phenomena in Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century.

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  • December 2006

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  • May 12, 2008, 3:24 p.m.

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Lee, Hee Seung. The "Beethoven Folksong Project" in the Reception of Beethoven and His Music, dissertation, December 2006; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc5497/: accessed September 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .