Nigel Nettheim

[This article first appeared in the International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Vol. 27 No. 2, December 1996, pp. 101-122. It may not be reproduced without permission.]

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Index (click on a section, or read straight through):
Synopsis of Becking (1928)
Table of beat-figures
An example in detail


     The way in which music reflects different human attitudes was an absorbing interest of the German musicologist Gustav Becking (1894-1945). He undertook a systematic study of the music of different composers, nationalities and times.
     His approach was to characterize the different musical beats. To do that, he allowed the music to, so to speak, conduct itself, from which he produced conducting diagrams which became famous as the 'Becking curves'. Choosing sets of two or more musical excerpts matching in many respects, he derived important significance from those features which did not match. He systematized the results of such comparisons in a way which many have found very convincing.
     His work is, however, little known outside German-speaking countries. A synopsis of his main book and a detailed example are presented here. A commentary by the present writer deals with the musicological rather than the philosophical or psychological significance of the work. It is hoped that this article will lead to an appreciation among English-speaking readers of Becking's contribution and its far-reaching consequences.

     The German musicologist Gustav Becking (1894-1945) achieved great depth of insight and at the same time great breadth of coverage, using mainly comparative methods. His works are not well known in English-speaking countries, partly because they fell out of circulation in the second world war and partly because they have not been translated. 1
     Here we deal only with his most prominent work, Der musikalische Rhythmus als Erkenntisquelle. 2 The title may be translated directly as "Musical Rhythm as a Source of Insight" but this loses much of the original connotation, and a new title "How Musical Rhythm reveals Human Attitudes" may be preferable for an English version. The book has not infrequently been included in the references of published papers (see commentary section [2] below) but seldom with a specific citation, suggesting that it may less often have been read.
     Becking's topic in the book is the characteristic differences in the shape of the conducting beat (the internally felt beat rendered visible) between the musical works of various composers, nations, and historical periods; corresponding to the beat shapes are the characteristics of the subject people, especially their philosophical characteristics and attitudes toward life.
     We will first give a synopsis of the whole book, then one of its musical examples in detail, and finally a brief commentary. This cannot substitute for a reading of the original text, which would be needed to avoid many possible misunderstandings, but it may serve to draw fresh attention to this masterly book.

(Der musikalische Rhythmus als Erkenntnisquelle)
by Gustav Becking


{with remarks in braces by the present writer}

     Becking's purpose in this book is to find the interpretative significance of rhythm, rather than to analyse it. Rhythm operates not only through sounds but also through rests, when one sings along with expression. The rhythmic flow operates under the surface of the actual notes and rests, having no direct correspondence in the notation of the score. {It is felt internally by a sensitive person in the presence of the music.} A mechanically literal performance would be unsatisfactory; instead the listener thinks along the swelling of the rhythmic course, possibly even better than the performer does. Our art music uses discrete notes of the scale and discrete divisions of time, but the underlying concepts are continuous in both dimensions. The points at which the metrical weight is concentrated (Schwerpunkte) are like pillars over which the smooth flow takes place; although the bar concept of the 18th-19th centuries is not universal, it will be used in this work.

Ex. 1. Becking's Fig. 2.

Beethoven, Mahler

     An example of Beethoven versus Mahler (Ex. 1) shows similarity in externals, but when worked through with conviction it is recognized that Beethoven's beats stride while Mahler's hover. Beethoven's weight enters slowly and persists for some time, whereas Mahler's enters quickly and is short-lived. {To recognize this requires close attention to the manner of delivery of the music.} If a bar were transplanted from one composer's excerpt to the other's, one would stumble in singing along {this is an essential point of the theory, highlighting both the uniqueness of each composer's beat shape and the gripping way in which the shape takes hold of the sensitive listener}. Such examples could be proliferated but would not lead to systematic results, and neither would style and form analyses, so instead one makes use of the 'accompanying motions', which will now be explained.
     Conductors are taught the timing of the beats and their weight, but they are not customarily taught their shaping. Conducting for an orchestra or choir has special practical requirements for conveying information over a distance to the performers, and is not relevant here. Instead, one allows the music to conduct itself {as in 'armchair conducting' or 'auto-conducting', the latter term being a suggestion of the present writer}. Using a small stick, the basis is a downward movement of some kind at the heavy point of the bar, and then an upward one of some kind so as to prepare the next downward one; the theorist's task is to systematize the different kinds of movement which may arise within those constraints.
     The weight itself, or gravity (die Schwere), is simply given; the composer's attitude to it—to respect it, try to overcome it, act as if he created it, try to abolish it—reflects his attitude to the world. The downbeat may be violent, reticent, and so on. These varying attitudes will be seen to characterize personalities, nationalities and times.

Chapter I. Personal constants and typology of attitudes
     When we look closely at the character of the beats in examples of Mozart and Beethoven, it quickly becomes clear that one cannot successfully apply the beat shape of either composer to the music of the other. Mozart's objective and Beethoven's subjective approaches are contrasted, as well as Mozart's natural and Beethoven's wrenched gestures. Diagrams illustrate the typical beat shapes {see the detailed example given after this synopsis}. The relation between beating in duple and in triple metre is explained: in the latter the third beat as written corresponds to the second half of the gesture, being speeded up accordingly. {This is a convenient facilitation for Becking's method, and no counterexample is to hand, but the assumption and its significance might benefit from further examination.}
     Style alone is not sufficient for the characterization, for Beethoven and Mozart come from a similar historical time and nationality but differ as personalities. This difference is reflected in the character of their beats, for they don't admit just any rhythmic behaviour but instead control it in their own desired way. Becking compares and contrasts them in philosophical terms, taking the composer as the subject and the given weight as the object. Mozart is then seen as a monist and spiritualist, Beethoven a dualist and materialist, while both are idealists. {The philosophical aspect is not emphasized in the present article.}
     These and other composers operate throughout their lives with one attitude only according to their unchangeable inborn nature. Graphs are given for the conducting shapes of various composers {later to become known as 'Becking curves'; see the Table at the end (Ex. 5) and the explanation given near it}.
     A complete conducting gesture covers a main and a subordinate beat; each of these may have either a rounded or a pointed shape, the combinations of which determine the classification of rhythmic Types. They are round-round for the Beethoven group, called Type II, which includes Weber, Schumann, Brahms and others; they are pointed-round for the Mozart group, Type I, which includes Handel, Haydn, Schubert and most Italians. The third possibility is pointed-pointed, the Bach group, Type III, whose beats tick like a watch; here the rhythm is not created by man, so these are called the naturalists, and cover a wide variety of personalities including Chopin, Mendelssohn, even Wagner, and most of the French. (The other logical possibility, round-pointed, doesn't occur in practice.) Again, one cannot satisfactorily apply the emphasis nuances of one group to the music of another.
     These three attitude Types had previously been postulated by other authors dealing with speech and singing as well as with philosophy {and visual art}. Becking presents the philosophical relationships systematically. For the corresponding rhythms it is observed that those of Type I are naturally accented, Type II fastened together, and Type III merely time-dividing. More specifically, Type I follows the natural hierarchy of strengths so that the four counts of 4/4 time follow the order 1 > 3 > 2 > 4; Type II levels them out to all equally usable with strength: potentially 1 = 2 = 3 = 4; Type III divides them more nearly into 1 = 3 > 2 = 4.

Ex. 2. Relative strengths indicated by vertical lines.

Relative beat strengths in 4/4

{See Ex. 2, prepared not by Becking but by the present writer; it is based upon Becking's pp.78-79, and is to be taken as an indication of tendencies rather than as a strict prescription. Smooth curves representing the continuous rhythmical flux may be imagined flowing over the pillars, as if the looped Becking curves were stretched out across the page. Much conventional musical instruction refers only to the natural or Mozartean order 1 > 3 > 2 > 4, which can damage the performance of the other Types of music.}

Chapter II. National attitudes and viewpoints on life
     The distribution of the three Types among nations cuts across that among personalities. One nation might not interpret the music of another nation authentically, but the pronunciation of vocal texts can help to avoid mistakes here, and examples of translations of the original text to another language are instructive in showing the resulting incompatibility.
     The French-German comparison is made first. The German singing quality or dynamic swelling is delayed until well after the initial impetus of the main beat, whereas the French vocal utterance starts promptly and doesn't last so long. Thus the French beat is precise and dashing, the German one laborious and carefully prepared, even in cases where a German composer worked in France or vice versa, even in instrumental music, and whether the music is fast or slow. Whereas the main energy of the French beat is near the bottom of its path, that of the German is near the top. {As with most points made in the book, a number of examples are provided, for which there is insufficient space in the present synopsis.} In more philosophical terms, the French enjoy directly placing down the object represented by the given weight, while the Germans attempt to interpret and fathom it.
     The Italian-German comparison shows the Italian beat as lighter and freer, the German one as heavier and more inhibited. The main strength of the Italian beat is in the middle, which is the most natural place for it. In a pair of almost identical melodies (Ex. 3) Stefani places the top note naturally on the downbeat, Handel with restraint on the subordinate beat. Thus the Italians swing the conducting stick whereas the Germans draw it and the French rap. Again the conclusions hold even in examples deliberately chosen to be unfavourable to the theory.

Ex. 3. Becking's Fig. 31.

Steffani, Handel

     These national phenomena are next systematized. For Germans there is additional vigour in the beat, near the beginning, to what was naturally required, and the beat is felt to go from one bottleneck to the next. This corresponds to a degree of introspection; the vital living quality is a weak aspect of the German. For the French only the reaching of the goal is important, and an artificial additional strength comes low in the beat path, after which the stream of feeling breaks off. The German approach would seem obscure to the French, the French sacrilegious to the German. For the Italians the pressure just supports the natural beat; they value life itself, which the Germans would see as purposeless, the French as irrational.
     Thus the three national attitudes in rhythm are related to three points of view on life; these conclusions, though just stating tendencies, may nevertheless have some value. Becking offers a few implications: he observes that the French and Italians admire form and aesthetics in both life and art, the Germans in neither (German musical forms are imposed unnaturally); he discusses some instructive misunderstandings of art transported across national boundaries; and he touches upon the possible use of art for political purposes.

Chapter III. Historical Types. Periods of German Music History from Schütz to Wagner
     Having thus treated the personal and national coordinates, Becking finally adds a third: historical relationships. Using these coordinates is preferable to making overall classifications. The coordinates are mutually dependent, but Becking traces here only German music history, to which such terms as 'baroque' or 'romantic' are therefore taken to refer. However, Becking does not assume in advance the usual style periods but instead collects the observations to see what they yield. He uses the term 'generation' of composers to indicate discrete steps rather than continuous growth, his interest lying not in the average of all composers active at a given time, nor in the perfect rendering of past approaches, but only in the leaders (one or a few) who contributed something new and prominent. A composer can belong to only one historical stratum throughout life, as a result of his inborn attitude.

     In earlier music, called 'pre-classical', the beat was understood as given from above by God, whereas afterwards it was understood as made by man. Becking illustrates this broad distinction through the music of a single beat of Bach and of Mozart, showing that the latter beat can be understood as a separate entity while the former can be understood only as part of a continuous flow without start or end.
     The pre-classical period is divided into the baroque and the enlightenment.
     The German baroque, treated here only cursorily, had two generations. The first (1580, Franck and Schütz) has large solid beats from the shoulder; there are no separate impulses, the continuity being related to the basso 'continuo' and to the balancing of any slackening voice by activity elsewhere in the texture. The second (1680, Telemann, Handel and Bach) uses smaller units than the shoulder but is otherwise similarly continuous.
     The enlightenment, in which the religious principle is still present but becoming weaker, has three generations. The first (1690-1700, Hasse and Graun) is called rococo; the baroque approach is retained superficially but the beats have become over-refined. The second (1714, C.P.E. Bach and Gluck) is called rationalism; the composers observe emotions rather than taking part in them, as is reflected in the thin lines of their beat diagrams—the religious creed has been lost but is not yet sufficiently replaced. J.S. Bach did not discover rational order himself, but instead had faith in it. Schulz, a late manifestation of rationalism using folktunes, is sometimes misassigned as classical. The third generation (Stamitz, Wagenseil, Schobert and exerting influence lasting even up to Wagner) is called the Sturm und Drang; its adherents proposed unworkable reforms and martyrdom, indicated by an explosion at the beginning of their beat {see again Ex. 5}. They hoped that God would provide the continuation, for they had little of their own power, as is indicated by the emptiness remaining after the explosion. In a word, they were irresponsible. They operated between the baroque and classical times, thus having a mixture of divine provision and individual power.

     The term 'classicism' is used here more broadly than usual, and covers both 'special classicism' and 'romanticism'. In both divisions the composer takes responsibility for the beat, which had previously been God-given.

Special classicism
     The three generations of special classicism consist of only one man each.
     The first is Haydn. A series of minuet excerpts shows that he was the first to put his personal stamp on each beat. The latter phase of his beat reflects responsibility by contrast with the Sturm und Drang's irresponsibility. His vertical downbeat reflects the will to coerce, by contrast with earlier slanted ones corresponding to comfortable expressive indifference. {Note throughout the large amount of information revealed by the beat shapes when they are put under the microscope.}
     The second is Mozart the idealist, discussed already in the first chapter. The diagram of his beat looks similar to Haydn's, but the simlarity of appearance is deceptive. He introduced the galant and his beats are beautifully shaped, something which did not interest Haydn. Human emotion is contained within Mozart's beats, whereas in Haydn's music emotion was merely added to beats which in themselves are unemotional.
     The third is Beethoven, also discussed in the first chapter. The downward path of the beat was easy for Haydn and Mozart but Beethoven struggled to drive the object deep down, even beating it when it was already dead, as at the end of the Fifth Symphony. Beethoven overcame not only the object's weight but also the tendency of melodic lines to soar freely. {Hence he is not usually thought of as a specially lyrical composer, by comparison with the following romantic composers.} His dialectic theme-types have parallels in the philosohpy of the time {not emphasized in this synopsis}. In late Beethoven not just one but a profusion of melodic tendencies, especially in contrapuntal writing, is to be suppressed; this required a new technique, but the beat remained unchanged. In this late stage he surpassed even the philosophers Hegel and Schiller.

     Eventually the classical spirit could no longer restrain the object represented by the given weight, so there was a bursting forth. Whereas the main part of the beat had been vertical, it now became slanted to nearly horizontal. A soaring, singing, quality enters, involving the sustaining beyond their nominal duration of certain notes which could not have been so sustained before. Romantics risk disaster by giving up the security which the descendents of the enlightenment had. There are three generations.
     The first (1770's) consists mainly of E.T.A. Hoffmann who copied Mozart blatantly. His beats are however very different, lacking Mozart's certainty and being slanted instead of vertical. For Hoffmann, beauty cannot be attained in the real world, only indicated in the distance.
     The second (1780's and 1790's) consists of Weber and Schubert. (Spohr, Schulz, Schneider and Loewe could be called pre-romantics belonging to the late enlightenment, Meyerbeer and Marschner post-romantics.) The task now is to strive to reach the land of fantasy, there to savour its ideal experiences; Weber fulfilled the first part of this task, Schubert the second. Weber's beat compared with Beethoven's shows three main differences: the direction is extremely slanted rather than upright, the contents are empty rather than filled with power {note the thinness of Weber's curve compared with the thickness of Beethoven's}, and the orientation involves drawing towards the body rather than the classical manner; these together imply lack of security, an essential feature of romanticism. Schubert's beat in the piano music {in which he had not fully mastered the incorporation of his musical personality until his last year} shows striving similar to Weber's, but in the songs it is one of guiding and drawing; there he is a collecting lens, rather than a physically active explorer like Weber. 3
     The third generation (1809-10) consists of Mendelssohn and Schumann. The true romantics' slanted beats seek movement free from the weight of the Given, but the weight is still there and is eventually weakening. Romantics lack Beethoven's confidence or Wagner's ego to deal with the weight, so small forms are now preferred to operas and symphonies. Mendelssohn's fine, spiritualized beat operates on a smaller scale than Weber's or Schubert's. As with all romantics, Mendelssohn's forms copied classical ones but were too clearly set forth and not genuinely felt; his romantic attempt to look past crude reality had to collapse ultimately. Schumann's romanticism was introverted and of narrow scope: in compared excerpts Beethoven seizes a high note firmly, Weber enthusiastically, Schumann cautiously (see Ex. 4).

Ex. 4. Becking's Figs. 7c, 1a, 49.

Schumann, Weber, Beethoven

Compare the e'-flat in bar 2, e''-flat in bar 2, and f'' in bar 3 respectively: Beethoven's high note cannot endure a lyrical prolonging far beyond its notated length, as Weber's can, while Schumann's must be taken after a certain delay. Schumann's small world-view produces a small beat figure, pulling towards the body and then pushing away with unequal loops. As the two loops take approximately equal times, they are traversed at different speeds: just as the daring deed is about to be done, there is a braking into a pensive attitude. 4 The large fast loop corresponds to Schumann's stormy fictional character Florestan, the small slow one to the dreamer Eusebius {a fine example of the deduction of a human attitude from the music}. The defect of romanticism, that it cannot deal with reality, ultimately brings about its self-destruction.

     A final section discusses Wagner. He has no interest in the Given which had been the object from Haydn to Schumann; instead the world is seen just as a theatre for life as he aims simply for self-representation. His beat pattern is opposed to romantic ones, and constitutes a latter-day success for Sturm und Drang. He takes over some romantic resources, but uses them for non-romantic purposes. He is concerned with the autonomy of humanity, and may be said to adopt the modern world-view {Becking was writing in the 1920's}.

     A Table (Ex. 5) collects the 'Becking Curves' for the main German composers; a few non-German ones appear elsewhere in the book. {How the curves are to be understood can be found properly only from the more extensive discussion in the book itself. The motion of the small baton starts near the top right, proceeds to the lower left via the upper path (for the Type II composers) or the lower path (Wagner and the Type I composers except Haydn), and is completed by moving back again to the starting point; the varying thickness of the curve indicates the varying amount of force applied. The speed and quality of the motion are not indicated in the curves, the accompanying comments helping in those respects. Although Becking did not mention it, the vertical position of each curve within its cell apparently corresponds to the vertical position of the conducting gesture, consistently among all the curves shown [this feature is reproduced only approximately in the Table as prepared for this "html" or "computer-screen" version]. It is instructive to observe the gradual refinement of the gestures over the period from Schütz to Mendelssohn.}

Ex. 5. Becking Curves (explained in the text).

Historical Table of Beat-Figures.

(The curves can be given only as a hint, the instructions only incompletely.)


Baroque (incomplete) Enlightenment
Generation of 1580 - Generation of 1680 Rococo Rationalism Sturm und Drang
I     Händel
Arm. Downstrokes hollowed out in the baroque manner
Shoulder. Stiffly.

Arm. Restrained swinging

Hand. Freely rocking

Without flourish. Unassuming
III Franck
Shoulder. Stiffly
M. Franck
Arm. Downstrokes hollowed out in the baroque manner
J. Seb. Bach
Not hollowed out. Shy




Classic Romantic Wagner
1st Classics 2nd Classics 3rd Classics 1st Generation 2nd Generation 3rd Generation
I Haydn
Stout-heartedly downwards
Naturally down. Carefully shaded


Lead and swing

II     Beethoven
Force deep downwards

Draw downwards and push away

Swing out left and right
Draw towards and push away



Flaring pressure




     We have reached the end of the book, and now return to the beginning of Chapter 1 for a synopsis of one of its 50 examples. Here readers are invited to follow the beat character more closely than they may be accustomed to doing—one of Becking's essential contributions. The shapes of the downbeat portion of Mozart's and Beethoven's beats are studied in careful detail, and it is shown that one cannot successfully apply the beat of either composer to the music of the other. Again, this mere fragment of the book can provide a hint but not an adequate representation of the argument; if space allowed, further examples could be offered to confirm the thesis.


Ex. 6. Becking's Fig. 3.

Beethoven Op.31/3, Mozart K202

     {p.23} Becking begins by studying just the first part of the movement at the downbeat. In the Mozart example (Ex. 6a) the first quarter-note is accompanied by a straight, clean movement approximately vertically downward. A slanted movement would be too soft, losing the required simple definiteness. Although there is no anacrusis in the score, a brief, light upstroke with the stick is needed so that the downward movement can begin properly {p.24} rather than stiffly. (In singing, this is the 'breathing point' without which the beginning would be choked.) In the first moment of the downbeat after that small enhancement the stick is not yet fully under the control of the hand; presently, however, it is more firmly grasped and the real beating begins. Ex. 7 illustrates the downbeat with the preliminary spring dotted in.

Ex. 7. Mozart's downbeat (Becking 1928, p.24).

Mozart's downbeat

     The downstroke lasts for somewhat less than two quarter-notes. It contains three distinct kinds of movement: (i) during the downward part of the breathing point the stick falls freely, but only for a moment; (ii) then it is gripped, and for most of the way is beaten vertically downward by the forearm; (iii) towards the end the arm abandons it and the wrist leads the stick with a small change of direction to the left {assuming right-hand conducting}, preparing the upward move. If instead one used the first of these throughout, unrestrained falling of the arm, all the quality would be lost; beating throughout would be too forcible for Mozart's stroke; and by leading the stick throughout one would lapse into an inappropriate gentle indulgence. The composite movement is thus needed.
     {p.25} An orchestral conductor has to convey the requirements of actual performance to the players over a distance and so might produce a lashing motion having maximum vigour near the bottom of the movement; but here in our armchair rendition we follow the course of the tone itself and find that the maximum vigour lies near the top, as is indicated by the thick part of the diagram. The reduction of vigour in the lower part gives the downbeat much of its character. This first bar however provides too few clues; if it were all that we had seen, we could execute it in many ways. We therefore now look at the fourth bar, which pins down the character more clearly. The pattern of dissonance and slowly dissolved slurred resolution seen here is typical of Mozart and is reflected directly in the Example.
     The strongest pressure in the beating never falls literally at the beginning of the bar but a little later, the time lag differing in different styles. {p.26} The sound proper also arrives subsequently to the printed bar-line, the amount of delay again varying with the style. Thus the rhythmic structure and the sound structure are not exactly synchronised. (A further practical factor, the players' delay in executing the conductor's commands, is not relevant to the present method.)
     Becking now suggests attempting to use the Mozartean accompanying movement in the Beethoven example (Ex. 6b). The rhythms there are similar, but even if one manages to beat along in the first two bars one must fail in the third. Mozart's long sleek downstroke would break the first quarter-note off from the other two, for it is too sharp and lively. Mozart's first quarter-note falls too uninhibitedly for Beethoven, and Mozart's two remaining quarter-notes lack the power required by Beethoven's. Mozart, by cooperating naturally with the weight, gives each of his three quarter-notes very different strengths, Beethoven by struggling with it makes his more nearly equal.
     {p.27} Beethoven's beat thus operates on a completely different principle. Instead of an unhampered and quick entering of the tone, enormous effort over a much longer time is needed to bring it about. This is seen in the pressing up of the semitone from the third to the fourth bar, involving a tense crescendo which cannot be realised on the piano but which one nevertheless believes one hears. The effort is reflected in the accompanying movement; the diagram shows, instead of the smooth falling line, a thick camber, and before the beginning of the real downward movement it is pressed around in a broad arc from right to left, as if the weight were pushed forcibly into the downward leading path.

Ex. 8. Beethoven's downbeat (Becking 1928, p.27).

Beethoven's downbeat

     The cross-stroke in Ex. 8 indicates the entry of the heavy section. There is a small preparatory upstroke as in Mozart but here without acceleration. The arched top moves steadily from right to left—moving outward would not work—with a clenched fist, held breath and even detectable moaning. As with Mozart the greatest power is in the upper part of the downstroke {p.28} and the direction is again vertically downward (slanting would be similarly ineffective).
     The beat shape described applies not only to the third bar but also to the others. The sforzato on the six-four chord, for instance, could not have Mozart's clarity and agility but derives rather from personal effort. The concluding two bars begin with a similar profile though with less vigour. Once the right beat delivery has been found near the beginning of an excerpt, the remaining beats follow similarly.
     In the Mozart example the first bars were ambiguous and his manner of delivery was revealed only in the fourth bar—not only from that bar, however, but from our familiarity with similar effects in other works of Mozart. Thus the high d''' acquires qualities that would not otherwise have been found in it. When that first bar precedes a Mozartian continuation it obtains a different rhythmical course than if it had preceded, say, a French work, as a cold, grandiose beginning. The external musical means might be the same, but the musical feeling is completely different.
     Similarly in the Beethoven example the external features cannot provide conclusive evidence for the beat shape. Harmony, melody, symphony and architectonics are all inadequate for that purpose. Rather, all factors together form a suitable basis for it: the dark colouring prevents sharp, clear edges of the tones, the sound-pictures emerge slowly, and the melodic contour has only gradual changes; the semitones are laboriously pressed up. The formal construction also contributes, for the motif announced in the first two bars is answered in the last three only after a long intervention which is essentially a broadened anacrusis to the six-four chord (Ex. 9).

Ex. 9. Becking's Fig. 4.

Beethoven Op.31/3 example

Bars 3-6 are improvisatory; being motivically free, they focus attention on the inherent swellings of the rhythmic course. The whole character comes from the rounded beat delivery and the pressing in of the weight, yet this rhythmical attitude is not forced by any one of the favourably cooperating circumstances. {p.30} Its necessity arises autonomously as an independent feature. Anyone who doesn't perceive it will seek in vain to deduce it.



[1] Previous work.
     Becking's work naturally had antecedants; without going into detail we mention the main ones and their roles. 5
     Hugo Riemann (1849-1919). Becking did not take up Riemann's theories and scarcely cites his works in this book, but dedicates the book to his memory, and in the Foreword acknowledges his general influence (p.3).
     Eduard Sievers (1850-1932). Becking had studied in Sievers' laboratory where voice types were systematised by various experimental means. Becking acknowledges Sievers' acute sensitivity but is concerned to distance himself in connection with his (Becking's) subsequent work (Becking, 1928, 17-18 & 63). See Sievers (1924), where a number of curves are drawn including some quasi-Becking curves (p.73).
     Joseph Rutz (1837-1895). Rutz first proposed the three Types as used by Becking. His work was mainly reported posthumously by his son Ottmar Rutz (1881-1952)—see O. Rutz (1922). He dealt with both poetry and music and sought the connection with muscle use and body attitudes.
     Herman Nohl (1879-1960). Nohl attributed the beginning of the theory of Types to Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768) who dealt with visual art (Nohl, 1915, 30), but Nohl gave no specific reference. Nohl was, like Becking, influenced by Sievers. Nohl started from Dilthey's philosophical Types (see below) and arrived at Types in poetry and music similar to Rutz's Types.
     Nohl suggested a method of writing-along to speech and music; his diagram (see Ex. 10) is intended just to give a schematic representation of the underlying Types. Becking took these diagrams perhaps too literally and pointed out that Nohl neglected weight and dynamics, but Becking (1928, 69) acknowledged the importance of this first attempt to deduce the Types from rhythm.

Ex. 10. Nohl's diagram of writing along to the three Types of music (Nohl p.13).

Nohl's 'writing along' diagrams

     Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1912). The philosopher Dilthey had postulated the three attitudes of pantheism, idealism, and naturalism. He stands behind all the work here referred to, but his philosophy is not directly relevant to our present musicological purpose.

[2]Subsequent work.
     Again we mention just a few cases without going into detail.
     Sievers not only preceded but also followed Becking's book (see Sievers, 1924, 9-14, taking into account that Becking's manuscript was completed in 1921 and would probably have been known to Sievers).
     A number of essays by Becking's students appear in Kramolisch (1975); composers referred to include Schütz, Mozart, Schubert and Bartok.
     Danckert (1979) attempted a large and detailed treatment embracing much of the material referred to in commentary section [1] above. For example, whereas Becking's national comparisons included just Germany, France and Italy, Danckert attempted to add the Netherlands, England and Spain.
     Clynes studied the measurement of appropriate composer-specific performance nuances, and included Becking in many of his lists of references. However, he apparently took into account not specifics but just the general idea (Clynes, 1978, 92; 1983, 92).
     A survey of recent citations in the German literature is beyond the present scope.

[3] Synopsis and discussion by Repp.

     A brief synopsis of Becking's book was given by Repp (1995, 67-71); there the perspective was the history of empirical psychology, whereas here it is musicology.
     Repp wrote (ibid, p.70) that "Becking's method of determining the personal curve... required a thorough acquaintance with a composer's works as well as, presumably, performances by great interpreters and biographical details helping to elucidate the artist's personality". Those presumptions, however, do not correspond to Becking's approach, and we now take each of them in turn.
     Concerning 'great interpreters', Becking, (1928, p.9) wrote: "In fact the listener often discovers more than the reproducing artist renders, and in this way comes nearer to the ideal interpretation than the intermediary does." The listener, or silent score-reader, referred to there will of course need to be a sensitive music specialist rather than a more casual concert-goer. Wagner (1869, 50) made the same point as Becking: "If fate had not furnished such a path of safety [music studied apart from the concert-rooms], and if our noblest music depended solely upon the conductors, it would have perished long ago".
     Concerning 'biographical details', Becking's approach was to use musical rhythm as the source of insight; compare for instance the example given earlier of the derivation of Schumann's attitude from his beat shape revealed by the music, not the beat shape or music from the attitude. Repp appears to have reversed that approach, as if prior insight could help yield the resulting rhythm.
     Repp's conclusion that Becking's method is "somewhat circular" (ibid, 71) cannot then be accepted; his following remark, however, is not disputed: "Becking's extraordinary perspicacity, well-chosen musical examples and eloquent verbal characterisations make this book a unique and fascinating document".
     Repp wrote further that "The personal curve is not derivable from the score" (ibid, p.70). However, the curve must in principle be derivable, not from the score of any one example (Becking, 1928, 9), but from the collected scores; the correlations in the scores, as preludes to such derivations, are the subject of the present writer's ongoing efforts.

[4]Authenticity of the Becking curves

     Verification of results concerning the significance of music is commonly desired in the discipline of music psychology, but Becking himself rejected that approach (ibid, 7). Becking's contribution may be divided into two parts: his method and his results. Such a division acknowledges that another researcher might conceivably pursue Becking's method and yet produce different conducting curves together with their human significance. However, the wide scope of Becking's systematic treatment, carried out by one man undoubtedly very sensitive to the musical raw material, suggests that his results should be taken very seriously, and many have clearly found that those results do indeed ring true; yet there is no defence against a reader who does not share Becking's sensitivity.
     In respect of methodology, Becking acknowledged that a new observation could in principle force the rethinking of a result (ibid, 1928, 119, referring here to the dimension of nationality):

  After all, the number of cases doesn't prove anything. Theoretically it always remains possible that after a million examples that agree, a departing one will follow. Practically, on the other hand, an error is out of the question if, in the national constants, we have hit upon genuinely integral constituents of the German, French and Italian images. That cannot be proved. Only convincing demonstration can succeed, that must however always be verified again in new material.

[5]Technical means of observing and recording the beat.

     The underlying phenomenon in this work is the internal feeling of the beat by a sensitive person in the presence of music. For further study this feeling needs to be rendered external in some way, and many manifestations may be considered. On the largest scale the whole body moves as in dancing, but this does not lend itself readily to measurement, and the same is true of conventional orchestral or choral conducting. Tapping one's foot has insufficient freedom for characterisation. Clynes's fingertip pressure is suited to measurement but lacks the possibility of upward pressure. Nohl's written strokes provide only a schematic representation lacking detail. Becking's conducting not of the performers but of the music itself seems an excellent compromise. If a finger alone were used from a resting hand, the effect of weight would be lacking. If the hand and arm were used without a stick there might be too many degrees of freedom, though movement out in front of the body would become more natural and may be more appropriate than Becking's sideways movement in some cases (including especially Schubert's beat).

[6] Further score comparisons.

     Becking's Ex. 21 shows excerpts from Meyerbeer's Hugenotten and Marschner's Hans Heiling. Becking seems not to have noticed that this music, especially Marschner's, is virtually the same as Schubert's Lied Ungeduld from Die Schöne Müllerin D795. These are also very close to Beethoven's String Quartet Op.132 No. 2. 6 See Ex. 11, where Becking's examples included the accompanying parts, omitted here. The implications of such further comparisons are reserved for future work, but Becking presented such a wonderful array of apposite comparisons that the omission of this possible extra one did no real harm.

Ex. 11. Meyerbeer & Marschner: from Becking's Fig. 21; Schubert & Beethoven: further comparisons suggested by the present writer.

Meyerbeer, Marschner, Schubert, Beethoven

[7] National comparisons.

     It is pleasing to note that Becking shows no hint of national bias, treating national strengths and weaknesses dispassionately. The awareness by people of one Type or nationality of the world-view of another (and of their own) is an area where musicology may make a contribution outside its own field to the improvement of mutual understanding and the overcoming of prejudice and racism. Similarly, the awareness of the historical points of view can obviously increase the understanding of and tolerance for the past, so that it may not be too hastily rejected.

[8] Significance compared with Schenker.

     Whereas Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) reduced music to a single prolonged tonal progression (see Schenker, 1979), Gustav Becking (1894-1945) reduced it to a single reiterated rhythmical beat. Considering music as the union of the tonal and the rhythmical, Becking's work thus provides the counterpart to Schenker's. 7
     Two differences in the implementation of these ideas may be noted: (i) Schenker's reduction is more general, not systematically distinguishing and comparing different personalities, nations or times, which Becking's does; 8 (ii) Schenker's reduction is obtained rather directly from the notes of each given score standing alone, whereas Becking's is obtained more indirectly from the whole output of the given composer. The first of these differences might result from the nature of tonality compared with the nature of rhythm; the second certainly does.


    1 The present writer has prepared a complete translation of Becking (1928).
    2 Becking (1928). His next most prominent work is Becking (1921); for a bibliography of Becking's works see Kramolisch (1975) 499-500.
    3 Some might feel that Becking's Schubert curve, though of the correct shape, should proceed in the opposite direction: first away from the body, then back towards it.
    4 Such romantic braking was sometimes applied in early 20th century performances of classical piano music, leading to the spreading of chords between the two hands with the effect of prolonging the moment. The critical rejection of such playing, for instance some of Paderewski's Beethoven, might be seen as confirming Becking's theory that the mismatching of beat shapes to composers is inappropriate.
    5 Repp (1995) discusses some of the previous and subsequent literature.
    6 We do not here suggest that Beethoven had heard and imitated Schubert's melody, though that seems not to be ruled out by the historical evidence.
    7 Becking does not refer to Schenker and I know of no reference by Schenker to Becking.
    8 It is conceivable that Schenker's method could be taken to a second order of approximation in order to distinguish what has so far been reduced to similarity.


Becking, Gustav.
     1928: Der musikalische Rhythmus als Erkenntisquelle (Musical rhythm as a source of insight). Augsberg, Benno Filser. [The manuscript had been completed in 1921.]
     1921: Studien zu Beethovens Personalstil: Das Scherzothema (Studies on Beethoven's personal style: the Scherzo theme). Leipzig, Breitkopf & Härtel. (Reprinted in Kramolisch, 1975, 1-166.)
Clynes, Manfred.
     1983: Expressive microstructure in music, linked to living qualities. Royal Swedish Academy of Music Publication No. 39.
     1978. Sentics. New York, Doubleday.
Danckert, Werner.
     1979: Musik und Weltbild: Morphologie der abendländischen Musik (Music and World-representation: the Morphology of Western Music). Bonn - Bad Godesberg, Verlag für systematische Musikwissenschaft GmbH. [Posthumous].
Kramolisch, Walter, editor.
     1975: Gustav Becking zum Gedächtnis: eine Auswahl seiner Schriften und Beiträge seiner Schüler (In Memory of Gustav Becking: a Selection of his Writings and Contributions by his Pupils). Tutzing, Schneider.
Nohl, Herman.
     1915: Typische Kunststile in Dichtung und Musik (Typical Art-styles in Poetry and Music). Jena, E. Diederichs. New edition 1920, reprinted in Vom Sinn der Kunst, Göttingen, Vanderhoeckt & Ruprecht, 1961.
Repp, Bruno H.
     1995: [See Shove and Repp.]
Rutz, Ottmar.
     1922: Sprache, Gesang und Körperhaltung (Speech, song and bearing). Second revised edition, München, Beck.
Schenker, Heinrich.
     1979: Free Composition (Der Freie Satz). Translated and edited by Ernst Oster. New York, Longman. (2 vols.) (Original 1935.)
Shove, Patrick and Repp, Bruno H.
     1995: "Musical motion and performance: theoretical and empirical perspectives", in John Rink, editor, The Practice of Performance, Cambridge University Press, Chapter 3, 55- 83). [The section on Becking was written by Repp.]
Sievers, Eduard.
     1924: Ziele und Wege der Schallanalyse (Aims and Means of Sound-analysis). Heidelberg, Carl Winter. (Two lectures given in 1922: I, 65-90; II, 90-111.)
Wagner, Richard.
     1887: On Conducting. A Treatise on Style in the Execution of Classical Music. Translated by Edward Dannreuther. London, William Reeves. (Original 1869. Über das Dirigieren.)

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