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6 - Beginning as Public Statement

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 March 2021

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Summary

BEGINNING AN OPUS

IN a book of essays on the importance of order in poetry collections, Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections, the editor, Neil Fraistat, points out how little attention readers pay to the order and presentation of items in a book. “The decisions poets make about the presentation of their works,” he writes, “play a meaningful role in the poetic process, and hence ought to figure in the reading process.” The fact that Beethoven placed the F-Major quartet first in the set of six that was published as his Op. 18, despite the fact that it was the second one he composed, exemplifies another kind of beginning: the Beginning as Public Statement. There are many “sets” of works published as groups in Beethoven's oeuvre, and in this he was following a tradition of eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century publishing practice. Almost all of Haydn's quartets were published in groups of six (some intended as groups of six, but published in subsets of three), as were Mozart's (although they are less apparent to us today with our separation of all Mozart's works under individual Kochel numbers.) Each set contains works with different tonic keys, and normally one in each set is in a minor key. In his Op. 18 Beethoven was obviously emulating his forebears, but he, like they, had a choice as to the order in which they would be publicly presented. In some instances, for example in the Op. 18 set, we know that the final (published) order is different from the order in which the works were composed, showing that the ordering of the works was a deliberate ex post facto decision. The composer is making a pitch for approbation or for sales appeal, creating a Beginning as Public Statement. But even if the final order is the order in which the works were composed, this does not mean that no deliberate organization is taking place. When a composer is contemplating a set of six works, he may well bear the arrangement of the entire opus in mind and compose accordingly, starting with the work that is designed to begin the set and creating a first movement that by virtue of its key, affect, style of presentation, tempo, and meter can stand as a Beginning as Public Statement.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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