The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

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John Ruggero
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The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

Post by John Ruggero »

At the end of the second movement of his Piano Sonata op. 57, Beethoven wrote secco under the top staff and arpeggio under the lower staff to mean that the omission of the arpeggio sign for the right hand chord was no mistake and that the upper chord should not be rolled:
op 57 arpeggio MS.jpeg
op 57 arpeggio MS.jpeg (133.41 KiB) Viewed 393 times
Despite this warning, the passage was engraved as follows in the first edition and in many later editions (although modern editions have followed Beethoven's manuscript). Note the forlorn and now meaningless arpeggio still remaining in the lower staff:
op 57 arpeggio 1st ed.jpeg
op 57 arpeggio 1st ed.jpeg (39.6 KiB) Viewed 393 times
Clearly, Beethoven did not always have luck in communicating his ideas to his publishers. In the following case from the first movement of his Piano Sonata op. 90, this bad luck even extended to the many editors who followed, including modern ones, although he gave an explicit warning not to change what he had written.

Here is the relevant passage in the exposition from the first edition:
op 90.1 m 53-54  1st ed.jpeg
op 90.1 m 53-54 1st ed.jpeg (43.7 KiB) Viewed 393 times
And here is the corresponding passage in the recapitulation that has caused controversy:
op 90.1 m 196-197  1st ed.jpeg
op 90.1 m 196-197 1st ed.jpeg (83.72 KiB) Viewed 393 times
As we see from these last two examples, Beethoven makes several changes to the ending of the passage. What was an explosive moment of despair in the exposition has been transformed into a poetic cry by means of new dynamic scheme and reducing the right hand to a single note and octaves instead of full chords. I think that this was a response to the shrillness that five-note chords would have caused in the higher register.

Many 19th century editors could not accept the version in the first edition, added an octave to the first note, and even modified the dynamics. Here is the version in the Breitkopf and Haertel Complete Works edition:
op 90.1 m 196-197 B&H.jpeg
op 90.1 m 196-197 B&H.jpeg (43.63 KiB) Viewed 393 times
Many slurred the first two notes that he had specifically marked as staccato in the MS, both here and in the exposition. Here is the Casella edition:
op 90.1 m 196-197  Casella.jpeg
op 90.1 m 196-197 Casella.jpeg (66.44 KiB) Viewed 393 times
The slur clouds the relationship between these first two chords and the previously separated pairs chords from which they are derived.

And the von Bulow edition even suggested adding the missing chord tones to the first chord.

Aside from a wish to make the measures match, the evident disquiet over the measure with the lone B indicates that all of these editors felt that there something wrong. And they were right: even the first edition was in error.

What Beethoven wrote is totally unexpected and looks wrong musically and pianistically:
op 90 m 196-197 MS.jpeg
op 90 m 196-197 MS.jpeg (133.37 KiB) Viewed 393 times
Yet how carefully he writes it, leaving room after the B to make it clear that it is not under the octave sign. And to cap it off, he pencils in NB, “note well what I have written”, because he knew how strange this measure looked and how editors might react. Unfortunately, this did not stop the engraver from positioning the octave sign over the B. (See the fourth example above.)

But when one actually plays what Beethoven wrote in context, as wrong as it looks, it sounds right. It is better than the version printed in the first edition and all of the improvements by later editors, both acoustically and pianistically. Beethoven was guided by his ears in making his decision, which was apparently not an easy one judging from the evidence of some sort of modification in the manuscript.

To understand why it sounds better requires analysis.
op 90.1 m 196-197.jpeg
op 90.1 m 196-197.jpeg (231.42 KiB) Viewed 393 times
(To be continued.)
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benwiggy
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Re: The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

Post by benwiggy »

Just once again, to say how much I love your extraordinary insight.

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John Ruggero
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Re: The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

Post by John Ruggero »

Thank you very much for your compliment, Ben.
Mac mini (OS 10.8.5) with dual monitors, Kurzweil Mark 5 with M-Audio Midisport 2 x 2,
Finale 2014d with GPO 4, JW Plug-ins, SmartScore X Pro, Adobe InDesign CS4,
Inkscape .48.5 and .91, FontForge 20150526
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Harpsichordmaker
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Joined: 10 Apr 2016, 08:19

Re: The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

Post by Harpsichordmaker »

John Ruggero wrote:
30 Mar 2021, 14:58
To understand why it sounds better requires analysis.

op 90.1 m 196-197.jpeg
(To be continued.)
Please do.

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John Ruggero
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Re: The Nota Bene in Beethoven's op. 90

Post by John Ruggero »

Thanks for your interest, Harpsichordmaker. I'm working on it.
Mac mini (OS 10.8.5) with dual monitors, Kurzweil Mark 5 with M-Audio Midisport 2 x 2,
Finale 2014d with GPO 4, JW Plug-ins, SmartScore X Pro, Adobe InDesign CS4,
Inkscape .48.5 and .91, FontForge 20150526
http://www.cantilenapress.com

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