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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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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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XI Movement as Energized Color: Op. 53

Kenneth O. Drake Indiana University Press ePub

Once the technique to articulate non legato sixteenths has been developed, the keyboard patterns of the “Waldstein” lie well under the hands. Although the writing may lend itself to common virtuoso display, the extended piano and pianissimo writing (the first movement contains roughly twice as many indications of pp or p as f or ff) suggests a virtuosity through which notes shimmer instead of blind.

Ironically, the raw material out of which this quality of sound was created was something quite earthbound: exercises in the form of sequential scale passages in tenths, in contrary motion, and in canon. The sketchbook containing these exercises (and, a few pages later, sketches for Op. 53) was used by Beethoven primarily in the year 1803; it also contains sketches for the Third Symphony, Leonore, the Fifth Symphony, and the Triple Concerto, as well as the opening measures of the Fourth Piano Concerto.

Ex. 11.1.   BEETHOVEN SKETCHES TRANSCRIBED BY NOTTEBOHM.

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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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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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