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.
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