18 Slices
Medium 9780253318220

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

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318220

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.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318220

XVII A Higher Revelation: Op. 10 No. 1, Op. 109, Op. 111

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

I must despise the world which does not intuitively feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.

BEETHOVEN

Assuming that the foregoing quotation received second hand from Bettina von Arnim is not apocryphal,1 Beethoven was saying that the creative experience, originating deep within the self, discloses that which was not previously realized through one’s intellectual powers. The creative experience is the experience of what something is “like.” We can more easily define the phrase “I am” by describing what a particular facet of being is like. Describing what something is like is the role of imagery and the function of adjectives and adverbs.

Imagery gives the abstraction a perceivable body. To give an idea of the depth of her feelings of guilt which the audience can neither see nor measure, Shakespeare has Lady Macbeth sleepwalk through the corridors of the castle while the voice of her subconscious reflects that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” Lincoln, writing a letter of sympathy to a Boston widow who reportedly had lost five sons in the war, referred to “the solemn pride that must be yours to have placed so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom,” sublimating the carnage of the battle to an image of a spiritual ritual for the survival of the nation. Or one might recall, as a moving example of imagery in everyday speech, the Civil War soldier who, thinking of the possibility of his death, wrote his wife that, were she to feel a cool breeze on her face, it would be his spirit passing by.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318220

X Line and Space: Op. 2 No. 2, Op. 101

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Touch may be the most basic of our senses. Form—repetition, departure, and return—is the means by which the mind recognizes continuity. Continuity, for the pianist’s fingers, is the physical feel of musical lines and shapes, perceived as keyboard space and the direction of movement. When we play Op. 2 No. 2 or Op. 101 our hands and our muscles discover the surface, the size, and the contours of the same piece of musical clay that Beethoven shaped with his hands. Thus, the composer speaks to the interpreter not through sound alone but also through the feel of the writing—the arm movement and the physical effort it requires. The grams of weight the finger should feel or the arc the elbow should describe cannot be notated, although the musician/pianist will understand as though reading an unwritten staff between the clefs.

The pianist who finds too few notes in Op. 2 No. 1 may occasionally feel that there are too many in Op. 2 No. 2. Both the A-major Sonata and the C-major, Op. 2 No. 3, surpass the F-minor Sonata in technical demands. In its vertical sonority and its clearly defined sections, the treatment of the keyboard in the C-major Sonata sounds orchestral. The A major, by comparison, is linear, suggestive rather than literal, smooth in its flow from section to section, and sophisticated in its invention.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253318220

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.

See All Chapters

See All Slices