Archive for October, 2011


Beethoven “misses” the dominant

A curious passage occurs twice in the Missa Solemnis, during the Benedictus.  Beethoven asserts the submediant (vi) strongly, with dotted rhythms, brass and timpani.  The viiø/V  is then asserted in the same manner. 

Normally, this formula would proceed to the appearance in the bass of the fifth scale-degree, whether it’s accompanied by the dominant or the tonic six-four (which is, in reality, also the dominant, but retarded by two suspensions).

In the Beethoven, however, the viiø/V gives way to the subdominant – the IV!  This is exceptional because the traditional formula is not an arbitrary construct.  When we hear, in the bass, the sixth scale-degree  followed by the raised fourth scale-degree, we expect the fifth scale-degree.  The former two scale-degrees serve as a double neighbor-note configuration to the latter; they “close in on” the dominant.  Especially since the fourth degree is chromatically altered to achieve an upward-tending inflection.

But instead of the dominant, or the tonic six-four, Beethoven gives us the subdominant.  The raised fourth descends to the diatonic fourth.

I’m still trying to decide if this really works or not.  I can’t see any longer-range justifications for this peculiar harmonic turn.  I’ll let you know if I figure it out.


Zachary Woolfe can review me anytime

Here are a few gems from what Mr. Woolfe has to say about soprano Maria Guleghina in the Met’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco:

…the fire of wackiness still burns at the Met, lonely but bright, in the person of Maria Guleghina

It is somehow reassuring to see that Abigaille’s [Ms. Guleghina’s character] garishly iridescent off-the-shoulder dresses have stayed in fashion in the production’s ancient Babylon, and that at least one singer remains who relishes a long, luscious scene with an incriminating document, inhaling the paper deeply before folding it, ever so slowly, and securing it in her bosom.

Ms. Guleghina plays by old-school diva rules: find a way to caress any statue onstage and always keep your arms outstretched at climaxes. It is worth getting to the Met if only to see her gather an enemy army’s swords, march stoutly to stage right and casually toss them into the wings like so much bathwater.

And then this:

Her singing was rather beside the point.

Of course.  As singing usually is when you go to the opera.  I don’t expect “smooth, elegant phrasing, and clean ornamentation and pitch” from the singers in the operas I attend.  What a crude, unsophisticated approach to the artform that would be! 

And, let me tell you, I relish nothing more than I relish the costumes and the physical gestures made by the performers when I listen to my CD recordings of opera.


Here I’ve naively been worrying (when I give my own recitals) about performance issues like accuracy, structurally/harmonically informed expressivity, etc.  Apparently, all I really need to do is wear the right clothes and make the right physical gestures.

October 2011