Beyond Beethoven – Beethoven Our Contemporary

Beethoven Our Contemporary

Beyond Beethoven

In a nutshell

This tab contains a few unpublished essays that I developed over a very long span of time. Research started in my native Romania, as soon as I had acquired some basic knowledge of composition theory. I thought that the statistical description of the preferred keys of the great composers might reveal some interesting results. It was also in Romania that the curious idea of  a possible connection between musical genius and solar activity struck me serendipitously. However, the music itself being only my violon d’Ingres, there was no way to pursue such ideas at the time. Development had to wait until I had immigrated to the States and until Internet arrived, giving me far better access to needed information. Neither ideas stirred significant interest in the musical publications to which I submitted them, even though (or perhaps because?) they are quite novel and may have appeared as leading to nowhere. I am including them here as downloadable pdf files, perhaps out of a sense of nostalgia. (For the casual reader, don’t worry: the math is tucked into the appendices!)

My research on the use of the 24 tonalities as the main key of a piece (whether with one or several movements) considers almost 6,000 pieces by thirteen composers from the Baroque (Vivaldi, Bach, Händel and Domenico Scarlatti: 1,899 pieces), the Classical era (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven: 1,765 pieces), early Romanticism (Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin: 1,527 pieces) and late Romanticism (Brahms, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky: 632 pieces). Perhaps a musicologist will find some application for these statistics and/or my findings. Overall, there is a (probably pragmatic) tendency to use less-accidented keys, but the distribution curve, although smooth enough, is not centered on the C major and A minor; one can in this way define some (more or less expected) “effects” of the accidents.

The statistics of the four musical styles differ from the overall ones, especially those of the Romanticists, which show much more flattened curves (suggesting more flexibility in key choices) and other effects. More sophisticated statistical analyses yielding other quantitative measures (correlation coefficient, entropy) show additional affinities within the four styles.

The second essay, on the possible connection between the birth of musical geniuses and sunspots, may seem very speculative, but is a good illustration of how ideas – sometimes even “crazy” ones – may occur when the mind works out connections. A survey of the birth year of the composers born between 1700 (when the solar activity began to be quantified as the Wolf number – the average yearly number of sun-spots) and 1859 shows that almost all great composers whom we consider geniuses (about forty) were born during years of low solar activity. Statistically, the chance is twice as high for a great composer to be born in a low solar activity year than in any other year, while the birth of less important composers is evenly distributed across the years.

It seems that musical genius is unique in this regard: a comparison analysis of both writers (88 cases) and visual artists and architects (45 and 83 cases) shows an even distribution of the births across solar activity. (Interestingly, solar activity has no effect on the birth of composers after 1859, who pertain to what we may call modernity; whether they belong to the small group of “important” composers or the thousands-strong body of minor ones, their births are evenly distributed across the board.) What could be the explanation for this unique correlation between great musical genius and sunspots? I advance a speculative extra-terrestrial connection; it is plausible, I think, given what we know of gene mutation, but I am ready to scrap it should anyone offer a more “reasonable” explanation for this pattern.

A third short essay tackles an even more unconventional topic, announced in its title: it argues that Karl Marx – a name more and more frequently beckoned nowadays, either to be hailed or reviled – was right about classical music and music in general, even though music was not a field that he was interested in.

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