Riddle Canon Ars longa, vita brevis, Woo 170 (Solution by Willem)

Riddle Canon Ars longa, vita brevis, Woo 170 (Solution by Willem)
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Author: Willem
Length: 3:13
Ars longa, vita brevis, Riddle Canon, WoO 170 (1816)

This riddle canon was written by Beethoven as a parting gift to composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel in April 1816. The text (later appropriated as the motto of MGM Studios) is taken from the beginning of the Aphorisms by Hippocrates, one of the earliest known doctors and author of the doctor's code. The autograph is lost. First published by Ludwig Nohl in 1867 in Neue Briefe Beethovens, Willy Hess found himself perplexed for a perfect solution for the riddle canon. He proposed the best solution was entry of the second voice at a fifth higher, though he acknowledged that it sounded rather poor. Willem has discovered a much better solution that had eluded Hess, with the second voice entering a second higher. Willem notes, "The deliberate dissonances created this way are the crux of the solution, and makes it a great deal more interesting. Also, it closes in a very natural way on the tonic, while the Hess solution ends rather unsatisfactorily on a half cadence." A little adjustment was necessary, however, moving the second voice to B flat in bars 7-9, following from Beethoven's B flat in Bar 9, 2nd count, in the first voice. Otherwise we would have C against B natural, followed by B flat against B natural in the first two beats of bar 9, which is out of the question. In bar 10, E natural against F smacks of bad counterpoint, and therefore a change to E flat was deemed necessary.

The midi provides the riddle canon as written in a single voice by Beethoven, Hess's solution, and Willem's new solution, which is a world premiere for the Unheard Beethoven. Finally, Willem's solution can be extended to four voices, and that is the final segment of the midi; however it seems unlikely that Beethoven had this much in mind, for the positions of the repeat signs indicate that he did not think beyond a 2-part canon.

WoO: 170

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