Lost Notation 5

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John Ruggero
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Lost Notation 5

Post by John Ruggero »

After a meritorious start, staccato indications in the humorous second movement of Beethoven’s Sonata op. 31 no. 3, become more and more sporadic in the first editions. Beethoven starts to use occasional sempre staccato indications and leaves out dots in numerous places that he must have felt were self-evident. Most editions have supplied these. However the situation may have caused a sublety to have escaped notice.

At the end of the development, just as he is preparing for the return of the opening idea, Beethoven places a very strange sempre staccato over m.88, a measure already containing staccato dots. (This has happened once before in the piece and may be the result of crowding or carelessness in the manuscript since he does once get it right.) In any case, since it is so unlikely that he would have used a sempre staccato indication for a following single measure, most editions apply it to the left hand sixteenth notes in the following 7 measures.
op 31 no 3.2 dots 1.jpeg
op 31 no 3.2 dots 1.jpeg (55.05 KiB) Viewed 603 times
op 31 no 3.2 dots 2.jpeg
op 31 no 3.2 dots 2.jpeg (164.76 KiB) Viewed 603 times
Yet in both the first and corrected first editions, staccato dots appear with the two encircled groups but not the ones that follow, thus pairing them up in two groups: staccato-not staccato / staccato-not staccato! This fact has been disregarded in every edition that I am familiar with.

Note that along with this strangeness the relevant p dynamic marking appears misplaced to the beginning of m. 93. Shouldn’t it be moved over to apply to the right hand roulades as with the previous alternating f and p groups?

My theory:

The beginning of m. 93 is the exact moment when the previous E diminished seventh chord is transformed into the dominant chord needed to end the development. But the transformation is at first not conclusive, and the two chords fight it out, with the diminished seventh chord angrily swelling in resistance until the dominant silences it with the abrupt syncopated solid chord in m. 95. This is followed by several measures of laughter celebrating the victory.

This hilarious bit of musical humor is enhanced if the E-flat dominant chord is set off from the diminished seventh chord dynamically, thus the change to p, and by a change of articulation. thus the staccato dots. The dominant chord might therefore be played non legato and the E diminished seventh with a biting staccato to exaggerate the humorous effect.

But issues do remain. Did Beethoven expect the player to apply the swell in m. 94 as well as 93? Editors vary in their opinion. Schenker thought so, Schnabel thought not. And should a sf that appears in the first English edition be applied to the triumphant off beat chord in m. 95? Fewer editors favor that.

Perhaps this is one of those spots that should be left to the inspiration of the moment in a performance. I can imagine applying but toning down the swell and articulation effects a little in m. 94, and supplying a sf not only in m.95, but also to all the off-beat low E-flats in the following passage. Many editions supply a sf in m. 97 only and on no authority that I am aware of
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Anders Hedelin
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Re: Lost Notation 5

Post by Anders Hedelin »

I have a slightly different theory: Perhaps no sfs in the left hand of ms. 95, 97-99. The syncopated chord in the left hand of m. 95 is to me more a conclusion of the roulade section with its parodically agitated fast notes - like 'enough of this nonsense' - than a start of the new dominant-seventh section. This section starts with sixteenths in the right hand and gains momentum and determination by the sf in the left hand of m. 96, then growing with rf (!), sf, sf in the right hand. The low E flats in the left hand should of course not be overlooked, but in my ears work more like upbeats to the right-hand accents which now have taken the lead.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Lost Notation 5

Post by John Ruggero »

I think that is certainly a legitimate way to interpret it, Anders, and in line with the first editions. The sf in m. 95 apperas only in the first English edition by Clementi and may be an editorial intervention rather than a addition by Beethoven. Most editions, like Schenker's, have not accepted it. Only the new Wiener Urtext does. I don't have the new Henle.

However, it is curious is that the editions I have consulted, B&H, Buelow, old Peters, Schenker, Tovey, Schnabel, Arrau, and the new Wiener Urtext, insert a sf in m. 97 as well as 96, but not in 98-99. (Casella places them throughout 96-99, but his is a personal edition.) Where this lone sf in m. 97 comes from is a mystery, because it does not occur in either of the first editions, both of which support your interpretation of the E-flat acting as an upbeat to the right hand sf.
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Anders Hedelin
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Re: Lost Notation 5

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To refer to my old piano teacher again, he once claimed that Mozart had a 'real sense of humour', Beethoven didn't. I never understood that then, and still don't. I think Beethoven had a great sense of humour, not only in general, but of self-parody, which I think Mozart lacked completely. The Diabelli Variations might be the best example of this. In the variation XXI there are some very insistent repeated chords in the bass (similar to the Waldstein and his cadenza to Mozart K. 466, if that's familiar). I love the idea of Beethoven occasionally leaning back saying: "This is just too much me". Apropos m. 95 above, and why only the slightest accent would be needed there.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Lost Notation 5

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That was an odd comment from your old teacher. (Of course, as teachers we know well how our comments can be misinterpreted.) I can't think of any major composer, including Mozart, who didn't have a good sense of humor and expressed it in their music. As for self-parody, which may be a rarer gift, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 26 has at times struck me that way.

The whole range of human emotion is traversed in those Diabelli Variations, maybe the greatest work for the piano.
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David Ward
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Re: Lost Notation 5

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John Ruggero wrote:
11 Jun 2020, 14:44
… … …The whole range of human emotion is traversed in those Diabelli Variations, maybe the greatest work for the piano.
That is certainly the view of Alfred Brendel. I find the Diabelli Variations endlessly fascinating and wonderful, but I find myself less and less inclined to the notion of competitive greatness in anything - there are other truly superb piano pieces which in their different ways can stand beside it as equals (in the opinion of this non-pianist).
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John Ruggero
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Re: Lost Notation 5

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Hi David. i am glad that you share my feeling about the wonders of the Diabelli Variations.

Once before we discussed "the greatest". I don't view appraising art as a childish competition, but as a way of gaining perspective and understanding my own relationship with it. In this case, when I considered the repertoire objectively I couldn't think of another piece originally written for the piano that has the scope, unity, variety, humanity, universality, and profundity of the Diabelli Variations. And I find it wonderful that at the end of his life Beethoven was able to crown his piano music with such a piece.
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David Ward
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Re: Lost Notation 5

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Musically, I think we agree on the Diabelli Variations.

Philosophically, I find ‘greatest’ too absolute. Now that I'm a tad oldish (79) I've come to feel (I'd been inclined to say ‘I've come to realize’, but that suggests the absolute) that life has no absolutes except death.

Politically (maybe that should come into it too), I'm a bit wary of hierarchies.

But, yes, I find more in these variations than in any other piano piece I know, although I'm not in the least offended by those who disagree. I'm not only referring to that great majority of people who've never heard the piece and almost certainly never will. A couple of years ago I sat at the supper table, in the house we were both visiting, with a well known pianist who'd just completed an acclaimed recording of all the Beethoven piano sonatas. He didn't like the Diabelli Variations and had no plans to perform them in public, let alone to record them.
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John Ruggero
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Re: Lost Notation 5

Post by John Ruggero »

I wouldn't be offended either, just bemused, since op. 120 picks up where op. 111 ended, as Diabelli well knew, crafty guy. I have never understood "not liking" a particular work by a Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach. If I don't love something by a composer who has a great track record, I first ascribe it to my own lack of understanding and work at trying to remedy that.
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Anders Hedelin
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Re: Lost Notation 5

Post by Anders Hedelin »

I thought like that when I was young, making an effort to understand what I didn't understand, or like, immediately. I'm glad I did, for that considerably widened my horizons. Now, at my age (71) I find that I still don't like some works of the masters, and I don't blame myself for that. Everything has its own time.

And just one more comment on Beethoven's self-irony in the Diabelli Variations. In my view this doesn't in the the least diminish the greatness of the work. On the contrary! Greatness without self-irony tends to become pompous, and therefore less great.
Last edited by Anders Hedelin on 12 Jun 2020, 18:57, edited 1 time in total.
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