October 26, 2012

Beethoven Week.


I’m in the middle of a week almost full of Beethoven, and am enjoying it tremendously (: Two days ago  Barry Cooper gave a talk in Manchester, which a friend, knowing my love for Beethoven’s music, very kindly invited me to attend. Dr Cooper showed us examples from Beethoven’s sketchbooks that later became great works, and spoke on “the transformation of base metal into gold” in Beethoven’s works as he called it. Speaking to him briefly after his talk, I think he was amused to hear that I was from Leeds, and that I would be travelling to London this weekend (in two hours, actually) for the Beethoven conference at Southbank Centre to hear him speak on the piano sonatas, among other topics.

Sandwiched in between the two events was performance class yesterday. I have been learning the Waldstein sonata for a couple of months now, and my teacher had suggested that I play it for performance class. And what a class it was, because Professor Clive Brown, 19th-century historical performing practice specialist was present and co-conducting the class with Daniel Gordon, performance tutor, accompanist, and a fantastic pianist. Needless to say, I played terribly (having sore, aching arms from rock-climbing two days before). Immediately this sparked a rather heated discussion of choice of tempo, articulation of notes and note lengths (- to play crotchets and quavers as they are written, or to just play them short anyway because Beethoven was fairly inconsistent?),  arpeggiation of lyrical chordal passages and playing equal semiquavers unequally to bring out certain harmonies as they would have done in the 19th century etc.. Prof. Brown labelled my playing as too even, too rigid and acceptable in today’s context, but was this how Beethoven would have played it?  Then again, on a modern Yamaha grand piano in such an echoey concert hall, would all this have worked?

The other two performers for the day weren’t spared academic debate either – one sang Berg’s Nacht, which started another debate on whether to sing with the more consonant North-German hoch deutsch or take the softer Austrian approach to pronunciation and enunciation of the text.. When a composer composed, did he take into account his own language slang for the performance?

The other played Bach’s prelude and fugue in a minor, and again more talk ensued, on the choice of articulation, tempo, instrumentation of that time – which instrument did Bach intend it for, the organ, clavichord or harpsichord?

What an interesting end to the week. Off to London for the conference, the British Library and meet-ups with friends! Excited much (:

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