WHAT AUTHENTICITY REALLY IS
London, 2021, featured on www.medium.com
I often explain how many — if not all — artists create; in my opinion, the saying that good artists copy and great artists steal should be admitted as common truth. While it is often well-hidden and sometimes resemble a game of investigation, some pieces of work expose their origins, influences and genesis quite clearly. It is the case with the following composer, whose reputation precedes him.
Beethoven. Surely one of the most admired composers in history. Also one of the most talented and historically important of course. The German musician is not only responsible for some of the most interesting — and beautiful — music ever written, but he is also a true innovator; whether in keyboard music — his thirty-two piano sonatas —, chamber music — his “Grosse Fugue” —, orchestral music — including his Ninth Symphony, one of the first example of choral symphony — and even religious music — including his Missa Solemnis.
But can a close observation of his works reveal that the musical genius might not have been too far from the rest of us — mere mortal musicians —, and that some of his creative techniques might actually be very well similar to ours, and some of his best works be at times borrowed from others?
Let’s render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and observe Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8, also known as the Pathétique.
Generally speaking, Bach is more than present in the composer’s work(s). Any musicophile will have recognised and identified the similarities between the opening bars of the first movement of the sonata and the Partita No. 2 in C Minor; whether it is in the texture of the fanfare themes, the rhythmic structure, and even the melodic aspect. The similarities are evident. The presence of Bach is not surprising as it is common for subsequent composers, including Beethoven, to study his works, and particularly his Well-Tempered Clavier.
It is additionally well-known that the second movement — if not the entire sonata — is very close to Mozart’s own piano sonata (K. 457). It is not more surprising to see such an influence when it is evident that both composers were very close in time, and that the former had a considerable influence on the musicians of his time — and until today. Both compositions share the same key and open in a nearly identical way.
Yet this sonata is Beethoven’s music. At no point does it feel like it is a process of copying and pasting Bach or Mozart. It is undeniable that both composers have had an influence on the former, and this is how it shows. Of course, the question that remains is whether Beethoven was aware of it — and did it consciously — or whether these musical quotes came out naturally.
Does that make Beethoven of a lesser composer? Certainly not. This isolated example is one amongst many others. It is common for artists to take inspiration in others — to copy —, and while at times it might be wonderfully hidden, at others the obviousness is well established. In spite of all, I hope this brings the pantheon of music and composers back to where they belong; with human beings, artists and creators on the same level.