"Progressive Correction": Beethoven

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John Ruggero
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"Progressive Correction": Beethoven

Post by John Ruggero » 28 May 2019, 15:24

Composers like Beethoven, while highly logical in matters musical, were also human and capable of error and inconsistency. This creates the most difficult problems to solve in editing their music.

However, much of this inconsistency is only apparent, and has an explanation, which I call "progressive correction". The following example from the first edition of the second movement of Beethoven's Sonata op.49 no. 2 provides an example.

This piece is a simple rondo ABACA Coda. In measure 4 of the first A section, the melody B-G consists of two un-slurred quarter notes. But when the melody recurs in the second measure of the third line of the example, we have a quarter note tied to an eighth note and rest:
op 49 no 2 mov 2 ex 1.jpeg
op 49 no 2 mov 2 ex 1.jpeg (168.62 KiB) Viewed 899 times
There are no other changes in the first six measures of this melody other than the change of octave. This makes it doubtful that the first statement is Beethoven's final intention, since this kind of variation is not typical with him. What we probably have here is a case of progressive correction. He has changed the notation on the third line but failed to go back and correct the first line. This theory is confirmed by the final and third statement of the theme in the lower octave, which has the corrected version:
op 49 no 2 mov 2 ex 2.jpeg
op 49 no 2 mov 2 ex 2.jpeg (54.41 KiB) Viewed 899 times
What doesn't fit this theory is that when A comes the second time, it contains the same uncorrected error. But since it is an exact repeat, it was probably indicated as a D.C. which the engravers wrote out exactly as it first occured. The engravers usually followed the MS accurately, mistakes and all.

The sketch for this piece has the two quarter notes in every case. But while copying out the piece for publication, Beethoven may have realized that the pattern in m. 4 is related to the pattern in m. 9, 10 and 12 and should be notated the same way. Note that the theme is made up largely of such pairs of long-short groups starting with the very first two notes!

In any case, most later editors have changed all occurrences to a quarter-note slurred to an eighth note and rest, and I think that that is correct.

But inconsistency is NOT always a matter of progressive correction. In the following example from the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata op. 53, he first notates the broken octave transitional motive exclusively in beamed pairs, but then seems to correct this by beaming mostly in groups of four:
op 53 mov 1 ex 3 .jpeg
op 53 mov 1 ex 3 .jpeg (105.7 KiB) Viewed 899 times
Editors have assumed that he changed his mind and failed to go back to correct the initial occurrence. They have beamed in fours (as possible) throughout. But this is not born out by the evidence, for when the passage occurs in the recapitulation, it is notated exactly the same way:
op 53 mov 1 ex 4.jpeg
op 53 mov 1 ex 4.jpeg (103.22 KiB) Viewed 899 times
In my opinion, we don't have an example of progressive correction but an example of ingenious notation. The pattern is beamed in pairs at first for good reasons:

1. The broken octave pattern is derived from the previous group of four sixteenth notes by omitting the inside notes. This relationship is lost if we don't see the first pair as a distinct group. Having established this, there is no more reason to notate in pairs, particularly because:

2. The broken octave pattern is gradually squeezed together until it coalesces as a single note G-sharp (C-Sharp in the recap) that is the first melody note of the following theme. This gradual destruction of the octave interval might be best shown by pointing out the octave leaps very decisively in a distinct quarter pulse at first but then gradually letting the tempo move ahead in a half-note pulse while diminishing the dynamic level as requested by Beethoven.
Last edited by John Ruggero on 01 Jun 2019, 17:46, edited 1 time in total.
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benwiggy
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Re: "Progressive Correction": Beethoven

Post by benwiggy » 31 May 2019, 11:31

These threads are making me hesitate before I edit anything, in case I haven't understood the usage!

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John Ruggero
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Re: "Progressive Correction": Beethoven

Post by John Ruggero » 01 Jun 2019, 17:44

I also hesitate before making changes in the notation of the best composers. Unless there is a clear error, I go with what is in the most authentic original source. Over and over, I have found that making changes simply to "update" the notation or promote superficial consistency can destroy the composer's message.
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David Ward
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Re: "Progressive Correction": Beethoven

Post by David Ward » 01 Jun 2019, 21:01

It also makes me wonder whether I shouldn't try to preserve more of the personal touches (even eccentricities) from my pencil sketches and drafts when I typeset my own scores in Finale. Something can be lost, certainly.
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Re: "Progressive Correction": Beethoven

Post by John Ruggero » 03 Jun 2019, 01:16

I think you should, David. Beethoven shows us that our notational system has many more possibilities than we are use because of our adherence to convention. Of course, one must know the conventions, as you do, to be able to break with them meaningfully and in a way not disruptive to the performer.
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