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 Post subject: "Understanding" Beethoven
PostPosted: Tue Dec 23, 2008 8:11 pm 
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Location: USA
Hello everyone.
I have recently decided to specialize in the works of Beethoven. In particular, I intend to study and learn several of his sonatas in the next several years of my life (or however long it may take). As I prepare to do so, I want to learn about Beethoven's intentions in writing each of his sonatas, and more importantly, the way that Beethoven played them himself.
Does anyone know of a book or of any writings about how Beethoven played, how he intended his sonatas to be played, what influences he was under, and what time periods he wrote them in?
I would also greatly like to read about interpretations of the sonatas concerning how they should be played along with an analysis of their musical progressions, chords, keys, key changes, etc.
Can anyone recommed any books? Thanks.
(PS - I do intend to formulate my own interpretations, but I believe I would greatly benefit from studying those of others.)

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 Post subject: Re: "Understanding" Beethoven
PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:23 am 
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Location: Piemonte, Italy
JBurke wrote:
Hello everyone.
I have recently decided to specialize in the works of Beethoven. In particular, I intend to study and learn several of his sonatas in the next several years of my life (or however long it may take). As I prepare to do so, I want to learn about Beethoven's intentions in writing each of his sonatas, and more importantly, the way that Beethoven played them himself.
Does anyone know of a book or of any writings about how Beethoven played, how he intended his sonatas to be played, what influences he was under, and what time periods he wrote them in?
I would also greatly like to read about interpretations of the sonatas concerning how they should be played along with an analysis of their musical progressions, chords, keys, key changes, etc.
Can anyone recommed any books? Thanks.
(PS - I do intend to formulate my own interpretations, but I believe I would greatly benefit from studying those of others.)


Well quite a daunting task you are facing. I am not aware of specific studies about Beethoven as a performer, let alone as a performer of his own sonatas (which were not intended for the public concert but essentially addressed to amateurs for study and private pleasure), only sparse accounts by some of his pupils like Ries or Czerny or other witnesses, but not always reliable.

As to analysis and interpretation, one of the best book (still) around is A companion to Beethoven's Pianoforte Sonatas by Donald F. Tovey (ABRSM Publishing), which is a bar-by-bar analysis of the 32's. Another very useful book to understand Beethoven's approach to composition is Beethoven and the creative process by Barry Cooper (Clarendon). Also, don't miss Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to His Music by Carl Dahlhaus, an in-depth collections of essays on inner aspects of Beethoven music (one essay is about sonata form in Sonata Op.31/2).

I think also that you should listen to many different approaches to that body of works by great Beethoven interpreters, like Schnabel, Arrau, Gilels, Richter, Brendel, Heidsieck, Nat and Schiff (just to name a few). In my opinion, listening carefully to great pianists is the single most important thing to do to understand what piano interpretation is really about.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:01 pm 
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Joined: Mon Nov 03, 2008 7:58 pm
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Location: Stroudsburg, PA
I want to argue and say that Arrau's interpretation of anything before the Hammerklavier is terrible.. I have the box set of his sonatas...

Some complaints off the top of my head...

Op. 1 - It sounds more like Mozart than Beethoven when he plays it... That's about all I can say to describe it. I really don't know...

Pathetique - all three are too fast, the introduction to the first, the transitions from sections in the second, and the pauses before the repeats of the a section in the third all have wayyy too much rubato to be played like Beethoven

Moonlight - It sounds very generic... all three movements...

Tempest - OK.... First movement is BEAUTIFUL... third movement bores me, and the third movement is my favorite piano piece of all... He needs to play it faster.

Op. 90 - To me, Op.90 is a matured Beethoven recomposing the Pathetique... This is not how he plays it...

That's just quick and brief... I really would rather not re-listen to the collection for better analysis, as I have all of the sonatas compiled from other performers.. The only ones I still listen to are Hammerklavier, Tempest 1st movement and second movement, Op. 110, and his Appassionata is doable. I've heard better. I think it has to do with Arrau being able to brilliantly play the Romantics (his Chopin is GORGEOUS), and Beethoven, after Op.100 was more romantic... I think he had a sonata Op.101 or 102 as well, but other than one or two listens, I'm not too familiar with that one, so I don't have an opinion on it.

Schiff, Ashkenazy, Horowitz, Brendel, Gilels, Leon Fleischer are my personal favorites.

Beethoven is not romantic. There's no need to abuse rubato, as I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 2:05 pm 
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mixah wrote:
I want to argue


Let's argue, then: grow up and one nice day you too will understand Arrau's Beethoven. 8)

How much time have you spent so far pondering over Beethoven sonatas? Arrau did it along all his life. :wink:

Said that, I don't like Arrau in many of the Sonatas, either. So what? It is nevertheless a Beethoven that IMHO cannot be missed by someone who's going to plunge deep into the 32's.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2008 3:26 am 
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to me it's not a matter of interpretation. it's a matter of him playing it outside of the scope of beethoven's music. he doesn't play it like post-classical music, he plays it like it was written at the heart of the romantic era, years after beethoven had been dead.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2008 3:48 am 
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Eh, Beethoven pioneered the Romantic era, and I don't know that it's entirely accurate to say that he is a purely Classical composer, and that Romantic interpretations are invalid. I don't like it when rubato is abused for Chopin, either, but everyone does it...

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Dec 25, 2008 5:11 pm 
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Terez wrote:
Eh, Beethoven pioneered the Romantic era, and I don't know that it's entirely accurate to say that he is a purely Classical composer, and that Romantic interpretations are invalid. I don't like it when rubato is abused for Chopin, either, but everyone does it...


That's entirely my argument, and I also hate it when people classify Beethoven as a classical composer. I don't like to categorize him, unless you take his periods... Until Op.32, it's very imitative of Mozart and Clementi's style... after that, it's a lot of experimentation until somewhere around 100...when he starts to show his most matured works (obviously....) his last 30 Op. numbers are culmination of his first hundred... (I'd rather leave it vague like that than get into exact numbers here...)

I don't mind if it's abused for Chopin... but do it at the right times... same way, I don't mind it if it's included in Beethoven's work (or any composers, as it's up to the performer to do it)... But limit yourself... don't make it seem like the introduction to the Pathetique has no meters at all (which is what Arrau does in that recording). Schiff does it in Bach's inventions, and I want to smack him for it. (listen to the d minor one... he does it on the first note...)

To me, too much rubato makes it sound like you just weren't able to keep your tempo up and need to take unnecessary breaks. Conductors do it all the time with Beethoven's Symphonies... OMG, I want to die when I hear it in the second set of the "short-short-short-long" of the fifth... dundundun daaa.... DUN DUN DUN DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.... it's not how it's written, fool... not even close... all that drama right in the introduction? Save it for the development!

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Good morning, my name's AJ. I've been playing piano since January of 2004, as a sophomore in college, and I changed my major to music. It's all I love now.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jan 10, 2009 10:49 am 
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Location: Piemonte, Italy
I've just fallen upon a book that from the outward appearance seems very interesting (and exactly what the thread opener was looking for): http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Playing-His-Piano-Music/dp/0393307190.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2009 4:47 am 
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Some of my favourite Beethoven Sonata recordings are those of Richard Goode. Just thought I'd throw that in there as he hasn't meen mentioned yet...

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