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Digitus Offline OP
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Please pardon my ignorance. I'm not a student at a conservatory nor do I take any lessons.

Beethoven was known to be a particularly fussy composer, marking up his music sometimes in great detail. Yet, when I listen to recordings of his sonatas by the likes of Kempff, Barenboim, Brendel, Schiff, and Kovacevich I am struck by how the use of the damper pedal often results in the non-observance of staccato marks, and non-observance of phrasing indicated by slurs. Sometimes I also hear the damper pedal being held across rests! As an example, listen to how any of the above-mentioned pianists play the first movement of the Op. 26 sonata.

But it bothers me. If the pianist has taken so much liberty with the score, then is he or she also missing too much of the composer's intent?

I've read that Beethoven didn't usually indicate pedal markings unless he absolutely wanted the dampers lifted. It seems that the practice of the time was for the pianist to use the damper pedal judiciously, and at his or her discretion, to help with tone production and technique.

Yesterday I got my hands on Claudio Arrau's Beethoven sonata cycle from the 1960's. His much 'drier' pedal technique is a revelation. The difference really hit me when he played Var. III of Op. 26 1st mvmt. Just about everybody I've heard pedals the left-hand staccato. Arrau does not, and the result is quite arresting. It opens up the texture of the music tremendously.

As an aside, some of Arrau's tempi are ummm creatively slow, but it works a lot of the time.

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Quote
Originally posted by Digitus:

I've read that Beethoven didn't usually indicate pedal markings unless he absolutely wanted the dampers lifted.
I'm quite sure this is not true. I think he marked only those places he thought would not be obvious to the performer.

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Digitus Offline OP
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Originally posted by pianoloverus:
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Originally posted by Digitus:
[b]
I've read that Beethoven didn't usually indicate pedal markings unless he absolutely wanted the dampers lifted.
I'm quite sure this is not true. I think he marked only those places he thought would not be obvious to the performer. [/b]
I think our sentences overlap substantially in meaning. smile

Anyway, I thought as you did, so I pulled out the three editions of the sonatas that I have - Schenker, Tovey and Schirmer. All have different pedal markings and varying degrees of other markings as well, with Schenker having the least markings. Since Schenker is an 'urtext' edition (some people say the best researched) I assumed to be editorial anything else that appeared in Tovey and Schirmer that wasn't also in Schenker.

Tovey has the most pedal markings, and they largely observe staccato markings and slur boundaries. Among the exceptions include an indication to pedal through the repeated staccato in bar 9 of Op. 26 1st mvmt theme.

So even if the pianists I mentioned played from Tovey (which I seriously doubt, but who knows!) they shouldn't be pedaling the way that I hear them do so in the recordings.

I want to add that I am not trying to be pedantic. I just want some education about such matters of artistic freedom and whether or not by exercising too much we lose sight of Beethoven's intent.

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Originally posted by Digitus:
[..]I want to add that I am not trying to be pedantic. I just want some education about such matters of artistic freedom and whether or not by exercising too much we lose sight of Beethoven's intent.
Pedant that I sometimes - some here will say usually! - am, I don't think that you are being pedantic at all, in raising this question. When we think that the piano of Beethoven's time had a shorter sustain and a lighter tone than the modern concert grand on which recordings of his Sonatas are most frequently made, pianists of our day are a long way from producing the sound that Beethoven would have heard.

There are those who argue, though, that Beethoven was frustrated by the limitations of the piano of his time and they continue their argument by saying that many of the later Sonatas of Beethoven are very orchestral in concept and scope and that Beethoven, had he had a modern Steinway D, would have opted for the fuller sound and longer sustain of the modern instrument.

That's speculation of course, but an interesting one, and the only answer to the : "Well, if Beethoven had had a Steinway D...." is : "But he didn't, did he?"

Where do we go from there?

Regards,


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Digitus Offline OP
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Hi BruceD,

I also thought about whether the differences between the instrument of Beethoven's day and the modern piano would change my question about the apparent over-use of the damper pedal. And my answer to self was 'no'. One can sit at Beethoven's Broadwood and still smear the music's texture by pedaling through staccato and slur boundaries. It cannot be that the man was so masochistic as to carefully mark up his score for no particular reason! laugh

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One lesson my teacher has been trying to impart to me when playing Beethoven (and everything, really) is to be obsessive about being true to the score. Details, details, details he says. Every note must be precise in its length, every staccato and pedal marking observed, as well as every rest for its full value. These things seem obvious but you would be surprised how much you cheat them without even realizing it.

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Originally posted by computerpro3:
One lesson my teacher has been trying to impart to me when playing Beethoven (and everything, really) is to be obsessive about being true to the score. Details, details, details he says. Every note must be precise in its length, every staccato and pedal marking observed, as well as every rest for its full value. These things seem obvious but you would be surprised how much you cheat them without even realizing it.
That's what I was taught too, when I was a child learning to play the piano. Obviously, once the rule has been learned then one should, MUST, break it judiciously.

What puzzles me is why, when playing Beethoven, highly-regarded concert pianists don't just break the accuracy rule. They stomp all over it!

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Originally posted by Digitus:
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Originally posted by computerpro3:
[b] One lesson my teacher has been trying to impart to me when playing Beethoven (and everything, really) is to be obsessive about being true to the score. Details, details, details he says. Every note must be precise in its length, every staccato and pedal marking observed, as well as every rest for its full value. These things seem obvious but you would be surprised how much you cheat them without even realizing it.
That's what I was taught too, when I was a child learning to play the piano. Obviously, once the rule has been learned then one should, MUST, break it judiciously.

What puzzles me is why, when playing Beethoven, highly-regarded concert pianists don't just break the accuracy rule. They stomp all over it! [/b]
Well here is the thing - without realizing it, even if you try your best to stay accurate to the score, you won't be - my staying accurate to the score will be VERY different than your staying accurate to the score. This is where individuality and personality comes into play.

And not all concert pianists stomp all over it. My teacher stays pretty accurate to the score in my opinion. But yes, it puzzles me - especially Arrau...listen to his Pathetique while following on the score and sometimes you are wondering if you have the correct peice in hand!

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Originally posted by computerpro3:
Well here is the thing - without realizing it, even if you try your best to stay accurate to the score, you won't be - my staying accurate to the score will be VERY different than your staying accurate to the score. This is where individuality and personality comes into play.
Ah, you are right of course. Fortunately we are not programmable robots, otherwise we might as well program all piano music into a MIDI'd player piano and put professional musicians out of a job! smile

Aren't Arrau's readings interesting! One may not agree with them but they do have something to say. I don't particularly like Kovacevich's cycle, but I learned from them too.

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Originally posted by Digitus:
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Originally posted by computerpro3:
[b] One lesson my teacher has been trying to impart to me when playing Beethoven (and everything, really) is to be obsessive about being true to the score. Details, details, details he says. Every note must be precise in its length, every staccato and pedal marking observed, as well as every rest for its full value. These things seem obvious but you would be surprised how much you cheat them without even realizing it.
That's what I was taught too, when I was a child learning to play the piano. Obviously, once the rule has been learned then one should, MUST, break it judiciously.

What puzzles me is why, when playing Beethoven, highly-regarded concert pianists don't just break the accuracy rule. They stomp all over it! [/b]
There are those, such as the concert pianist and pedagogue Malcolm Bilson, who argue that pianists today are taught, in essence, to play so evenly and even rigidly that much interpretation is lost. I think that he argues for more freedom, e.g. for the freer use of rubato that used to be common even among great 20th century pianists such as Bartok and Rachmaninoff.

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Digitus Offline OP
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Hi faucon,

I would be the first to agree with Bilson that uniform rigidity is to be avoided. on the other hand, surely within all the artistic freedom that the pianist exercises it must still be possible to largely render the composer's intent. You gave the use of rubato as an example, and I am looking at note values and phrasing.

As I mentioned in my original post, up until I heard Arrau play Op. 26 I was also pedaling the way that I heard Kempff et al. doing. I singled out Op. 26 because that's what I'm working on now. During the past couple of days (after Arrau) I've revisited every bar up to the point where I am now in the sonata, looking for what I've glibly smeared over with a leaden right foot. And if my experiments are to be trusted then my finger and pedal technique suck worse than I thought! laugh

Simple example: Bar 26 of the 1st mvmt theme. Everybody except Arrau holds the dampers off on each semiquaver too long so that the right-hand portato on the repeated Eb is completely lost. But dang it, only the Eb is played portato, which means I must play the bottom two notes of the RH chords and all of the LH chords legato without pedal, or else do some fancy half-pedaling!

Oof! So few notes, but so much work and insight needed. When I abandoned the piano 27 years ago I was playing some Beethoven, but generally avoided him because I didn't 'get' him. Now I do, and its driving me nuts (in a good way).

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Hi Digitus, I admire your diligence in really trying to do justice to Beethoven's true intent. A deep respect for the composer's vision is always necessary. I do sometimes wonder how a pianist can come closest to realizing the composer's intention. We can perhaps only rely on the most authentic editions, and perhaps on a composer's students, such as Czerny, who passed on what they remembered of the composer's approach.

With a more modern composer who recorded his own works, like Rachmaninoff, Bartok, and Prokofiev, there can be a pronounced difference between their scores and the way in which they interpreted their own music. To me this leaves considerable room for interpretation by later pianists. It also raises the question of how much weight to give to the score, and how much to how they actually played it themselves. I believe I remember a forum member a few months ago quoting Bartok telling one of his students that she really didn't need to follow parts of this particular score of his so exactly, that she could feel free, in effect, to improvise in certain bars. He trusted her enough as an artist to allow her to do this---at least in that 'free-form' passage (I don't recall the name of the piece). But we don't know exactly how Beethoven interpreted his own music (except in a limited way through his students), because we have no recordings of him. You've raised some very interesting questions.

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faucon, coincidentally someone posted a link to a scan of Czerny's Beethoven performance notes. On Op. 26 1st mvmt var III Czerny writes:

Quote
The third Variation in the time of the theme. The right hand very tenuto, the left staccato, and the crescendo, as well as the sf strongly marked.
Only Mr Arrau plays "the left hand staccato". OK, so it has been said that Czerny should be taken with a pinch of salt, but at least what he says matches the markings in my Schenker score.

Diligence? Playing the notes is only half the fun. The other half is playing the music, whatever one conceives it to be! laugh


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