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VII Descriptive Music: Op. 81a, Op. 13

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

If a music appreciation class were to listen to the Sonata Op. 81a, without being aware of the programmatic titles, and another class were to listen to the same sonata but after being told the titles of the three movements, the second group would almost certainly remember the piece in greater detail. The historical background alone is like a fabric of fantasy woven of threads of a variety of colors—the Archduke who later became an Archbishop, Beethoven’s gifted student and patron, the relationship of a Hapsburg royal to a composer who once felt the need to insist that the “van” in his name indicated nobility, the approach of the French armies, the flight of the Archduke—making a pattern we know as the Les Adieux Sonata. Descriptive or programmatic music will be taken seriously or not according to the associations established in the mind. If they are too literal, the piece will seem more entertaining than serious. However, imagining the sentiments that were exchanged between these two flesh-and-blood human beings coming from two widely separated levels of society and meeting in a kind of temple of the spirit, musician and nonmusician alike will hear the music as an “immortal sign” of a human experience. Life does lend significance to the act of making music.

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I The First Raptus, and All Subsequent Ones

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

For approximately ten years, according to Anton Schindler, Beethoven considered preparing an edition of his works in which he would have described the extramusical idea or the psychological state that had led in each case to the composing of the work. The importance of extramusical stimulus in Beethoven’s creative process was mentioned by others as well. Ferdinand Ries spoke of Beethoven’s use of “psychological images” in his teaching. In a similar way, Czerny, the most important contemporary witness because of his long association with Beethoven and his stature as a professional musician, referred again and again to character, mood, extramusical events, and images.

In the Adagio of Op. 2 No. 3, Czerny writes, there is an evolving Romantic tendency, leading eventually to an integration “in which instrumental music was heightened to painting and poetry”; it was no longer a matter of merely hearing the expression of feelings, “one sees paintings, one hears the narration of events.”1 Czerny describes the opening movement of Op. 27 No. 2 as being “extremely poetic” and easy to grasp—” a night scene, in which a plaintive ghostly voice sounds from far off in the distance.”2 The first movement of Op. 31 No. 2 will never fail to make a powerful effect “if the fantasy of the player stands on an equally high level with his artistic skill.” The sixteenth notes divided between the hands in the finale must be played as evenly as possible “in order to sound, as it were, like the gallop of a horse.” In a footnote Czerny continues: “Beethoven improvised the theme of this piece as once he saw a rider gallop past his window. Many of his most beautiful works originated through similar occurrences. With him every sound, every movement became music and rhythm.”3

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XV The Cosmopolitan Impostor: Op. 2 No. 3, Op. 14 No. 1

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Throughout its existence, the keyboard has been the central meeting place for every genre of composition. It is the instrument of accompaniment, a chamber music partner, a concerto soloist, and the instrument for orchestral reductions. In a letter to Breitkopf & Härtel, dated July 13, 1802, Beethoven referred to the popularity of transcriptions as an “unnatural mania,” saying that the piano and string instruments were so different from one another that the practice should be checked.1 One wonders what he might have said about Liszt’s transcriptions of his symphonies, in which form the piano became a cultural missionary, making the music accessible in places where there were no orchestras.

Thinking in choirs of instrumental sound and independent voice parts is central to Beethoven’s keyboard style, just as an operatic vocal style emerges from the Mozart sonatas and the Chopin concertos. Op. 2 No. 3 has been chosen to group with Op. 14 No. 1, the only sonata Beethoven transcribed for strings, because its orchestral manner—in addition to a concerto-like cadenza in the first movement—is its most prominent characteristic.

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XII The Moment of Creation: Op. 28, Op. 31 Nos. 2 and 3

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

As musicians, would we choose to have lived in another time? During the 1780s in Vienna to hear Mozart play his own concertos? Or London in the 1790s to hear Haydn conduct from the keyboard? Or Vienna in March 1807 to hear Beethoven premiere the Fourth Concerto? Or conduct the Ninth Symphony? Or hear Chopin play a mazurka or a nocturne? Or attend a Schubertiad?

One could go on and on. Looking at a score is like reading the road signs beside dry creek beds in the American Southwest that warn of swollen streams. Dry ink on a white page is the only trace of the ideas that swept through the composer’s mind. Each of the three sonatas in this chapter—Op. 28 and Op. 31 Nos. 2 and 3—begins as though out of nowhere, as though grasped in the act of preludieren (to use Czerny’s term) and stilled as a specimen of a moment in Beethoven’s imagination. Even if one had been alive at the time, it would hardly have been possible to approach any more closely the freshness of the first moment.

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VIII Motivic Development: Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 57, Op. 110

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Armed with our urtext editions, scholarly studies of performance practice, and doctorates, we may think that our performances represent a more accurate reading of the printed page than any in the past. However indispensable reliable editions and an understanding of performance practices may be, to realize literally and irreproachably the printed page is no feat at all, compared with the “original interpretation” of the Fourth Concerto when it was still a blank page in the sketchbook. Like the composer, with every performance a true interpreter mentally faces a blank page of manuscript paper. The muscles know the notes; the intelligence and fantasy of the player must decide what to do with them.

Grouping particular sonatas under various headings should not be regarded as excluding other sonatas that illustrate the same procedure, in this case, motivic development. Op. 2 Nos. 2 and 3, Op. 13, Op. 27 Nos. 1 and 2, Op. 28, Op. 49 No. 2, Op. 78, Op. 106, and Op. 109 all contain one or more motives that reappear, playing new roles and wearing new guises throughout the sonata. The three sonatas grouped together under the heading “Motivic Development”—Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 57, and Op. 110—have been chosen because the motivic pattern is the vehicle for developing the singular character of each sonata; and because they are works that span a lifetime, one may follow Beethoven’s growing sophistication in the use of simple patterns to develop character.

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