I’m reminded this morning, for reasons I won’t go into, of my favourite essay question of all time:
Why is Beethoven’s bad music so much more incredibly worse than his good music?
This was thrown at us in, I think, second year uni. If I’ve kept my essay, which is possible, it will be buried in a box somewhere, so I can’t quote from my undergraduate insights. I do recall thinking it would be a fun essay (true) and therefore easy to write (wrong conclusion). As a result I left it till very late and ended up focussing on the shortcomings of the Choral Fantasy and the truly dreadful [but I like you] Wellington’s Victory battle symphony. I think I wrote about genre pieces, function and intent, the changing role of the composer and the nature of ambition in shaping musical works, and a relative lack of sketches (for Beethoven). The good Dr R’s comments suggested that I, too, had suffered from a lack of sketches.
I don’t think I’ve ever found a satisfactory answer to the conundrum: why is it that when Beethoven is “bad” (ordinary, uninspired, dull even) he really is “bad” in a way that, say, Mozart never is?