Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shadow Symphonies - The Truth Behind Beethoven's Masterworks

Unsung Symphonies is thrilled to welcome its second guest post, this time from NYU Music Professor Michael Beckerman. Professor Beckerman was kind enough to pass on to us a report he received from a Russian correspondent, Mitchell Bochermann, on the history of "side listening," which we reproduce below. Bochermann recently completed a monograph on the psychohistory of the "Love Story" theme and its use in skating competitions. We hope you enjoy his research and can report on some shadow symphonies of your own.

It was the two studies in Science and Nature that got things going. A group of Princeton scientists, all musical amateurs, claimed to find a group of shadow symphonies embedded within Beethoven’s works. Dr. Frieheer McGeer, formerly engaged with the mysterious collapse of honeybee hives throughout northwestern Europe, struck first with the following prescient comment: “If you listen in just the right way, you can hear fragments of two different symphonies within Beethoven’s Pastoral. I call these PSA and PSB and they refer to Pastoral shadows A and B.“ PSA A, according to McGeer (but later disputed in a randomized trial by Pollack and Jaystore) was actually the torso of a late Vanhal work, a programmatic overture known as “The Ambassador;” McGeer was able to tentatively (and surprisingly) identify PSB as an early Schubert piano sonatina, previously unknown. When McGeer and his other colleagues such as Ama Ada Unguent first advanced the principle of side listening it was not accepted by the majority of scholars as it is today. Using a little-known (and less well understood) homily taken from a late period lecture of Derrida now titled “The Gain and the Glance,” McGeer/Unguent theorized the existence of sonic shadows. Claiming that the ear could do precisely what the eye accomplishes in reading the so-called “Magic Eye” images, they first encountered a high level of derision, as had the Magic Eye inventors. But while the Magic Eye hid images of a mostly banal type—a chicken holding an Albanian flag or the word “Hola,”—the symphonies of Beethoven, and also several by Haydn, Mendelssohn and Brahms were discovered to hold smaller masterpieces within. And just as the validity of the Magic Eye could be proven by the agreement about what was being seen, listeners, at least most of them, rapidly became able to hear these shadow symphonies.

A personal favorite of mine is B4C4B (Brahms Fourth Symphony Chaconne Fourth Variant, B section) which contains the entire slowed down version of a Dittersdorf development section, though which one is not precisely clear. It was recently discovered that Mendelssohn “Italian” shares its Pilgrim’s March with a Czech Christmas Pastoral by Mrozek. The Mendelssohn/Mrozek is, as has been shown, the only example of a shadow symphony that contains vocal parts. Mrozek’s work was originally thought to be by Georg Zrunek, the pen name of Adam Vaclav Strcprst.

Mitchell Bochermann
Global University Site 34
Dneiper Smelting Plant
Russian Federation


  1. This is an outrageous post, containing much that is wrong and misleading! I was able to identify precisely the Dittersdorf development section mentioned. It's from his "Doctoral Thesis" Symphonies, the "Post-Defense Bacchanale in Eb." And Bochermann is completely wrong about Prof. Unguent's contributions, missing the shadow argument in her work that clearly (i.e. to any blockhead) delineates gender specificities heretofore-unremarked-upon, present in both the Vanhal overture and the "shadow within a shadow" phenomenon we are investigating here at Cornell College at Oxford (Mississippi) in our Heady and Well Met Scholars Program.


    Vraimont Dyerson

  2. I wish to protest the lack of comments. I mean, here we are being informed about one of the most important discoveries in the history of the discipline (which one we're not sure) and there's hardly a water lily been stirred in the pond.

    Am I perhaps the only one who has been hearing echoes and hints of Rachmmanninnoff's 8th Symphony ("The Pillbox") in some early works by Grainger?

  3. It takes courage to break the silence. The other day, I discovered that playing every 4 notes of Mozart's Symphony No. 35.5 ("Hugh Hefner") yields the theme that accompanies the nude scene in Beethoven's "Erotica."

  4. Exactly! The Hefner, written during Mozart's brief and unfortunate time in Hollywood, carries both the earthshattering sadness of lost hopes and the usual dollop of Hapsburg zaniness! I do have in my possession the sketches for Wolfgang's unfinished score for "How the Midwest Was Won," and a yellow pads containting some of his thoughts and jottings, such as this one: "So scared. Everything dark. Constanze back home. Can't remember diff. between diegetic and non-diegetic. And we shoot tomorrow!" And of course, as I'm sure you know, the shadow inside "How the Midwest...etc." is...Quartet for the End of Time. We live in a fascinating investigative moment, ain't it the truth?!