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XVIII The Witness Tree

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Wem meine Musik sich verständlich macht, der muss frei werden von all dem Elend, womit sich die andern schleppen.

BEETHOVEN

In a field requiring sustained dedication with no guarantee of reward, the serious interpreter becomes obsessed with finding reassurance of valid accomplishment and self-worth. Within the vastness of musical creativity that has preceded us, the phenomenon of Beethoven, like the witness tree (a marker from which nineteenth-century surveyors made their measurements), becomes a living point of orientation for establishing aesthetic boundaries and clarifying one’s professional values. One would like to believe in the accuracy of the quotation above (“The one to whom my music makes itself understandable will, as a matter of course, become free of all the misery that others drag around with them”), which was included in a letter from Bettina Brentano to Goethe.

What scholarly research cannot prove or disprove, personal experience can. The comment attributed to Beethoven is remarkable, first of all, in personifying the music as an active agent: it “makes itself understandable.” The German modal muss is problematic, not to be understood “that the listener must (first) become free of all the misery,” but that it will happen unavoidably as a result of the experience. Above all, the statement is remarkable for linking the music inseparably to the human condition, although following this concept to its logical conclusion presents unsettling implications for our profession.

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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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V The Role of Silence

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Speech after long silence; it is right.

WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Whether a jazz band playing sempre fortissimo, or electronic nothings piped into our ear when phoning or swathing our consciousness when shopping or dining, we become accustomed to decibels and white noise and become uneasy when we have to listen to silence. Silence is the sound of aloneness, when we become conscious of unhappiness or boredom. For the musician, silence is the sound of the inner self, the sound of concentration. As shown by the following table, Beethoven frequently notated an extended silence at the conclusion of a movement, creating a frame for the listening experience. The sonatas listed are those in which one or more movements end with a fermata over a final rest (marked *) or with a fermata over a complete measure of rest (marked **).

 

Tempo

Meter

Dynamic Level

Op. 2/1

*Allegro

ff

 

*Adagio

3/4

pp

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II Technique as Touch

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Among the misguided reasons for playing an early instrument is the intent to do a demonstration, as though dressing in its clothes will bring the past to life. Music making is not historical reenactment. An early piano should be used only as a medium to conjure up the spirit within the music. The Spirit of St. Louis, like the Concorde, enabled a person to fly nonstop across the Atlantic. Lindbergh, however, flew without the aid of sophisticated instrument systems, depending upon his skill and endurance. He came to know, as we cannot, the awesomeness of transatlantic distance and the elements, as well as the possibility for disaster.

Playing an early piano, though not life-threatening, also requires an exercise of judgment and skill. Lacking the resources of the modern piano, the player is responsible for believable dynamic levels and sensuous tone quality. When listeners remark that the period piano enabled them to hear the music for the first time, what they heard was the stimulus of the instrument to the player’s imagination and ingenuity. In Beethoven, the player’s involvement extends to the expressiveness of physical effort as well. As the historic piano is forced beyond the limits of its sonority, the music itself sounds more imposing. Because of the lesser sonority and the change in character from one register to another (as opposed to the homogenizing of sound on the modern piano), expressive details become as personal as words whispered directly in the ear of a single listener.

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III Tempo and the Pacing of Musical Ideas

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notesah, that is where the art resides!

ARTUR SCHNABEL

A score, like a map, is a visual representation of an abstract idea, the one a design in time, the other a location in space. To be meaningful, each must be experienced. A highway map indicates the exact distance between Denver and Salt Lake City, but driving a certain number of hours over mountain highways, through traffic, or while hungry or thirsty or tired will indicate the conscious distance between the two cities.

The indicated tempo for a piece may be conceived as an absolute, exact and unchanging, like the movement of a clock by which one keeps daily appointments. Pacing, as in “pacing oneself,” is the tempo of the moment, the time it takes to make musical ideas intelligible. Like the words we speak, not every musical idea is of equal importance, taking more or less time to be introduced, thought about, and left. The metronome marking merely indicates a mean, as Beethoven noted in a sketchbook: “100 according to Maelzel, but this is valid only for the first measures, since feeling also has its beat, which however cannot be expressed completely by this tempo (namely, 100).”1

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