Beethoven's last piano sonata No 32 (Op. 111 in C minor) second movement - Arietta - is actually a set of variations. The third variation is unofficially called the "boogie-woogie" variation. If you listen to it, you'll surely reconsider about how jazzy Beethoven could be.
That’s very interesting. I’ll try to listen to it soon. And I wonder if that’s the same piece that was mentioned in the movie I just saw? The pianist was describing a certain set of variations that are supposedly very difficult to play. In one particular part, Beethoven wrote that only one hand (the right I think) is supposed to play a long descending arpeggio at breakneck speed. Except, no ‘normal’ pianist can do it – and not many professionals either. They cheat and use both hands.
If you look closely to scores, you'll find an abundance of interesting harmonic content. No composer would sustain dissonance or structure a work on what we today call jazz chords. They all tried to resolve dissonances so that they would not become annoying to the untrained ear. But they gave bits and bites, here and there, sometimes as extended hints of how they realised music or what path would music follow in the future.
Also in the movie, a string quartet played a Beethoven piece that was recently discovered and written near the end of his life. I can’t remember the name, but it sounded pretty wild to me. Not really ‘jazzy’ in a sense, but it had a lot of dissonances. That’s what got me thinking about all this in the first place.
Chopin for example, always incorporated improved chords even in his simple works. He used a 9th or a major 11th or a trichord with alternate bass etc. Listen to his Nocturne Op. 48-1. The slow part is exceptional in the use of chords with added extensions.
Brahms, one of my favourite composers by the way, used modern harmony extensively. I had recently recorded an Intermezzo from Op. 116 and I was overwhelmed by his elegant harmonic textures.
Hmmm…I don’t hear anything jazzy in that particular nocturne. But I’m practicing a mazurka that has a couple ‘jazzy’ chords. And I agree about Brahms and his use of harmonies. Liszt too. And Debussy. I’m sure they (plus Chopin) laid down some jazz chords when they sat improvising at a piano and worked them into their music, albeit in a conventional public-friendly way dictated by the times. But Bach? I dunno…. Guess I’ll have listen to those pieces you mentioned, because I can’t imagine Bach having even a tiny crumb of jazz harmonies in his music.
So, yes, I believe that all major classical composers knew what could be done with harmony and if the consensus of their time permitted, they would have been more experimental.
Well, that’s the part I don’t get. I understand that they wrote music befitting the style of the day and for the most part, that is how they paid their bills. But as an artist, don’t you think a composer, if he had in fact discovered some jazzier-sounding chords, would want to write it in his music to show the world that there are other harmonies out there? Sort of like, “Hey, everybody. Am I not a great artist? Look at this new sound I just invented!” Or maybe even something to have in a different portfolio. Like he’d have his ‘classical’ repertoire, and then his ‘other music’ repertoire. I just don’t understand why composers were not writing music with a clear and definite jazz flavor since they sat at a piano with many keys and could easily have discovered jazz chords on their own. I guess this can relate back to what was acceptable to publish in the day and what was going to earn some income.
The rhythm thing is indeed a major factor here. Beethoven would not have known the word ‘swing’, or ‘groove’, yet he obviously knew how to write dotted rhythms. ( I wonder if he ever randomly played Fur Elise in a swinging fashion. ) But still, why didn’t composers back then know about jazz rhythms? I know things have to start somewhere, but…well…forget it. I’ve too many questions, and by now you all probably think I have lost my marbles.
Thanks for putting out some more thoughts on the subject, Pantelis.