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Distinguished Scholar Recipient Builds Graduate Program, Specializes in Beethoven

Posted July 4, 2011 | Sara Petersen
Theordore Albrecht
Theodore Albrecht, professor of
musicology at Kent State

Theodore Albrecht, professor of musicology at Kent State, recently received a Distinguished Scholar Award for his work in classical and romantic music. His interest in classical music started at a young age when he chose Beethoven over Elvis Presley.

"In those days, Elvis Presley was popular, and I found Beethoven to be preferable," Albrecht says. “I don’t know what that says about me, but at any rate, I continued to be interested in classical music throughout my entire life after that."

Albrecht wrote his master’s thesis on Beethoven and his doctoral dissertation on German singing societies in Texas, and came to Kent State in 1991 to oversee the graduate program in musicology.

"Kent had a small program, and I was encouraged to build it," Albrecht says.

Albrecht expanded the program to 20 majors and has supervised graduates who have become internationally known for their work on composers Mahler and Berlioz.

"There has been a real international profile out of our small program," Albrecht says. "We’ve had a master’s thesis come out of here on Berlioz last year that has already earned national recognition."

Albrecht says that he tries to instill into his students a scholarly discipline that they can apply to a variety of different subjects and situations.

"I make sure they get the tools of the trade," Albrecht says. "I make sure they get a good working knowledge of French and German because they need it. It’s nothing a reputable program wouldn’t give."

Albrecht says the real strength of the Kent State program is that the department helps the students develop skills that are very practical to the everyday problems and projects they’re going to expand to musicology as students. Albrecht also works hard to encourage students to branch out in musicology instead of working on his many projects, which mostly involve Beethoven.

"As long as they’re passionate, they will succeed," Albrecht says. "They don’t have to be interested in Beethoven to work with me."

Albrecht’s first major published work was Letters to Beethoven, a three-volume collection of more than 500 unpublished documents sent to and from Beethoven.

"I started looking very closely at biographical elements that we had taken for granted, but that hadn’t been re-examined for a hundred years," Albrecht says. "Everybody wanted to know what the great man had to say, but few people were interested what they wrote back to him, or what they wrote to him in the first place."

Albrecht started on his next project when he attained payroll documents of the musicians from Beethoven’s various concerts. He obtained the document from East Berlin before the reunification.

"I tried to figure out who these people were," Albrecht says. "I wondered to what extent, did Beethoven really know these musicians?"

Albrecht’s decided to dig deeper into finding out who those musicians were, because in Beethoven’s symphonies, concerts and operas there are instrumental solo passages that are difficult both for Beethoven’s time and today.

"I thought, he had to have known these people," Albrecht says. "These aren’t run-of-the-mill passages, and he has to have known who was and who wasn’t a run-of-the-mill musician. So I started messing around trying to figure out who these people were on a very serious basis."

Albrecht then traveled to Vienna and visited the libraries and city archives. Through researching the official death records, he found that about 90 percent of the woodwind musicians were Bohemians.

"Bohemians had a certain style of playing," Albrecht says. "Beethoven is probably hearing that kind of style in his head when he was composing those pieces. And today it becomes our obligation to figure out how Bohemians played in the early 19th century."

Through further research, Albrecht found that the brass and percussion sections were locals from lower Austria, and the string section was a mixture of Austrians, Bohemians and South Germans.

"So you got a mixture of Austrians, Bohemians and Germans under Bohemian leadership," Albrecht says. "That will bring you a particular sound. And that’s the sort of thing we can actually translate into modern performance."

Albrecht’s findings, titled Beethoven and the Orchestral Musicians of Vienna, will be published in 2013 by the Indiana University Press.

Visit http://dept.kent.edu/music/documents/MusicologyGAFlyer_000.pdf for more information on the graduate program in musicology at the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State University.