Musicology

“Tracking Trends in Beethoven’s Compositional Style: Manuscript Materials from Nottebohm’s Nachlass”

Thursday morning, November 1, 2012, Bayside A
Marie Rivers Rule, independent scholar, Ph.D. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“Tracking Trends in Beethoven’s Compositional Style: Manuscript Materials from Nottebohm’s Nachlass”

 In 1870 Brahms wrote to publisher Reiter-Biedermann about the quality and significance of Gustav Nottebohm’s work, “Are you aware that Nottebohm has some extremely thorough and significant works on Beethoven ready? …you may be assured that they are products of immense diligence and that they are of the greatest interest to artist, expert, and connoisseur.” Nottebohm’s arduous research on Beethoven’s sketch materials was championed by Brahms, who succeeded in facilitating the publication of Nottebohm’s writings in book form. Reiter-Biedermann would indeed publish two books of Nottebohm’s Beethoven studies in the 1870s, and his work remains a seminal source for the study of Beethoven’s manuscripts.

Nottebohm’s Nachlass at the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna is rich in transcriptions and commentary on Beethoven’s sketches. Much of this material was published in numerous articles in both the Allgemeine Musikalisches Zeitung and the Musikalisches Wochenblatt in the 1860s and 70s, and subsequently in his books. However, some of these fascinating materials remain unpublished and are explored in my study.

Research on Nottebohm’s Nachlass to date has been relatively scant. Aside from copious sketch transcriptions, Nottebohm’s Nachlass preserves bundles of pages with his commentary and analysis of characteristics he regarded as significant in Beethoven’s music. My paper presents findings from unpublished pages in Nottebohm’s Nachlass where he carefully traces specific compositional techniques throughout Beethoven’s oeuvre. One such page is devoted to Zirkel-Ketten (circle-chains) with notated chains of thirds, fifths, sixths and fourths appearing melodically and structurally. Another page features instances of enharmonic and abrupt modulations. I also provide an overview of the uncatalogued Beethoven materials in the Nachlass, many which await further study.

Nottebohm’s identification and synthesis of these ideas shows the impressive depth of his engagement with Beethoven’s music. His insightful identification of these compositional techniques offers a fresh perspective on Beethoven’s compositional style and further facilitates comparison to works by later composers, most notably, Brahms.