Waehner, Es ist kein Wahn - Hess 301 (mp3)

Waehner, Es ist kein Wahn - Hess 301 (mp3)
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Performer: Mark S. Zimmer
Length: 2:13
Waehner, Es ist kein Wahn - Hess 301
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Author: Willem
Length: 2:12
Canon "Waehner, es ist kein Wahn", Hess 301. (1819-1820)

The interpretation of this draft, and its subsequent solution is yet another musical detective story.

As in the case of Hess 300 (also on this site) there is no indication of clefs nor of key signature. The single melodic line is written on a system of two staves, which is maintained all 20 bars. The interpretation of the first stave having a treble clef, and the second a bass clef, results in a melody which runs the scale smoothly downwards and upwards again.

Unlike in the case of Hess 300, here the draft gives us no clue as to what the key signature might be. However, given the fact that our melody starts and ends on an "E", and since it's desirable to end on a note belonging to the tonic triad, there are three possibilities: C, A and E major. Since it's impossible to decide this question on the basis of the melody alone, we have to leave it unresolved for the moment.

The draft has a remarkable feature the last ten bars: it consists of five occurrences of a bar with notes, followed by a rest of a whole bar! Such "breathing pauses" we see often in Beethoven's canons. This tells us two important things: 1) yes, this is a canon indeed, 2) it indicates the second voice should follow the first at a distance of one bar, since the other voice is supposed to echo the first voice during these "breathing pauses".

And indeed, a canon at one bar distance is possible: the second voice has to be a fifth below the first. And now the really interesting thing: this two part canon, which Beethoven had very clearly in mind while writing down this draft, tells us that the key has to be A major. During the last ten bars, when the two voices no longer overlap each other, but merely alternate, the readings of the key signature of C and E major don't sound convincing, while the reading of A major is satisfactory. This view is reinforced by the fact that on the same page as Hess 301, we find the sketch Hess 256, which is explicitly in the key of A major. (Hess 256 can also be found on this site).

Having discovered the clefs, the key signature, and a 2-in-1 solution for the canon, can we lay down and have a rest? No, sorry, we can't! The last ten bars of the draft, which served us so well in finding the 2-in-1 canon as well as the key signature, also clearly indicates there have to be more than just the 2 voices. An obvious way to fill out these last ten bars is by adding a third voice, which follows the first at a distance of half-a-bar, and which is a second higher, and a fourth voice, at half-a-bar distance of the second voice, also a second higher. But can this solution be applied to the first ten bars of the canon?

Well, yes and no: this solution does work partially, but creates a cluster of dissonances in bars 4-6. None of these dissonances are problematic in themselves, but them coming so close together does make the counterpoint sound messy. This problem however can easily be overcome by making a few small adjustments to Beethoven's text: changing some quarter notes to two eighth notes. Beethoven himself didn't hesitate making the same changes to previously finished melodies when writing down a new arrangement (cf. Hess 94). Hess 301, "Waehner es ist kein Wahn" is deep music in the truest sense of the word: the extraordinary simplicity, even banality, of the single line gives rise to the stunning complexity of the 4-part canon, and one has to realize that this complexity is only possible because of the initial simplicity.

The midi first gives the single line as written by Beethoven, followed by the 2-in-1 solution, interpreted in A major. Finally the 4-in-1 solution, which includes the small changes to Beethoven's notes indicated above.

The words, by Beethoven himself, are a chain of puns, which unfortunately can't be translated:

Waehner, Waehner, Waehner,
Es ist kein Wahn
wenn man sich weidet
an einem Weid, Weid,
Weidmann, Weidmaennchen,
Weidmaennchen, Weidmaennchen,

Interpretation of the draft and working out of the canon by Willem.

Hess: 301

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