Lost Notation 6

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John Ruggero
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Lost Notation 6

Post by John Ruggero »

Beethoven sometimes drew his slurs a little too long, leaving the exact ending in doubt. In the following passage from the first movement of his Piano Sonata op. 7, the overlong extension of a slur has lead to what I consider to be a misunderstanding of the passage in all the editions that I am familiar with, including Schenker’s.

The problem occurs where two left hand slurs seem to meet at the two arrows:
op 7.1 slurs MS ex 1.jpeg
op 7.1 slurs MS ex 1.jpeg (153.19 KiB) Viewed 660 times
Since conjoined slurs are rare in Beethoven and probably not intended here, an editor must decide which of the two slurs is too long. The fact that the two hands have matching melodies moving in contrary motion with obvious starting and ending notes would seem to make this choice easy: the slurs in each hand should match. This assumes that first slur is a little too short, and the second slur is completely misplaced: much too long at the beginning and too short at the end. However, one must reconcile this proposed change with quite different left hand slurring at B in the variation of this passage that occurs immediately after and which is quite precise. Some editors have left the apparent contradiction intact. More aggressive editors have handled this by altering all the slurring. These changes are seen in the old Peters edition:
op 7.1 Peters Ex 2.jpeg
op 7.1 Peters Ex 2.jpeg (169.14 KiB) Viewed 660 times
Comparison of a passage to a recurrence later in the piece can often be revealing. In his case, however, it yields nothing because the slurring is even less clear:
op 7.1 slurs MS ex 3.jpeg
op 7.1 slurs MS ex 3.jpeg (116.64 KiB) Viewed 660 times
I have always been bothered by the way the passage feels to play and the breaks produced by the traditional slurring. I have tried various remedies. Now I think that the solution is to correct the text.

What I think every editor has missed is that Beethoven is not slurring with the melody, but with the accompanying held notes! In other words, with the exception of the overlong first slur and the missing but assumed second right hand slur (at A in the first example), the passage is notated exactly as Beethoven intended in the first edition. With the slight shortening of the first left hand slur and the addition of the second right hand slur it will therefore read:
op 7.1 slurs Finale ex 4.jpeg
op 7.1 slurs Finale ex 4.jpeg (118.63 KiB) Viewed 649 times
The hands begin slurring together but the left hand breaks to play the downbeat held note while the right hand continues on. Then, while the left hand is holding and connecting, the right hand breaks to play the right hand held note and start the melody again. The overlap keeps the phrase from unduly emphasizing the repetition of the four-note motive. The same technique of slurring then recurs in the left hand in the following four measures where the left hand again breaks to play the held note.

Finally, the passage sounds right and feels right to one's hands.
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