Mendelssohn and "The Anxiety of Influence"

David’s reply to a previous post on Mendelssohn’s relationship to Beethoven brings up an important point. How and to what extent did Beethoven’s (especially symphonic) successors respond to his overwhelming prestige, to his inescapable influence?

Mendelssohn’s three great Beethoven glosses (Piano Sonata in E Major, op. 6, String Quartets Opp. 12 and 13) are early works.  Mendelssohn appears to be more concerned with Bach, Handel and Mozart in most of his latter works, maybe because Beethoven seemed like too big an elephant in the room to the mature Mendelssohn, but then, of course, you have the “Lobegesang”, as a (problematical) exception.   A kid’ll try anything, and if you’re a kid like Mendelssohn, you just might succeed.  But the only kid like Mendelssohn in musical history had a father named Leopold.  Mendelssohn’s latter works are not nearly as experimental or progressively minded as the earlier works.  Beethoven, of course, is the most experimental and progressive composer in history. 

Is it coincidence that Mendelssohn’s two indisputably great symphonies are placed outside of the Germanic (Beethovenian) orbit, in Scotland and Italy? Is the “Lobegesang” weakened because Mendelssohn is Handelian grandiose, perhaps, but not Beethovenian grandiose?  

A work that takes up the Beethovenian gauntlet and works well is the Brahms First.  The 5th and 9th symphonies meet and reconcile in an incredibly classisizing synthesis.  Brahms was progressive by reinventing the past.  Bruckner’s Beethoven glosses in the Third, Ninth, and parts of the Eighth work well because, unlike Mendelssohn, Bruckner was attuned to the Beethovenian grandiose.  David mentitions a book by Bond that tosses Schumann 4th into the ring.  If Schumann’s 4th wasn’t in d minor, and didn’t accentuate submediant relationships, and wasn’t cyclical, would we associate it with Beethoven’s Ninth, and Fifth? And do all cyclical works owe their existence to Beethoven’s Fifth, with its famous motto? Maybe, but we can’t say for sure. The question is, is Beethoven so fundamental in himself, or was he accepted as fundamental because the zeitgeist of the 19th century was in accord with his nature? Some of both, but if I had to choose, I’d take the first alternative, when we’re talking symphony.

Tchaikovsky appropriated the model of the Fifth in his own Fifth, but I think he might have thought he was getting it from Liszt, a composer much closer to his heart than Beethoven.  And How about Liszt? Is the “Faust” symphony another Beethoven gloss? As for Berlioz, in “Fantastique” and “Harold in Italy”, how about that?  Berlioz was too much his own man to be sure about.  His big musical gods included Cherubini and Gluck.   And he was weird.