Archive for the 'classical' Category

Edition Peters: Piano, Pedagogy, Studies and the Influence of Carl Czerny

Guest post by Christian A. Pohl, Professor of Piano and Piano Methodology, Head of Piano Department, University of Music and Theatre ‘Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’ Leipzig 

The start of the nineteenth century saw a seismic shift in the world of domestic keyboard playing as the piano rapidly displaced the harpsichord and clavichord as the instrument of choice in homes across Europe. Seizing on this new opportunity, a series of piano instruction methods were swiftly published, followed by methods and studies over subsequent generations that covered the rudiments of piano playing, technique and performance practice. A huge number of these studies are represented in the Edition Peters Piano Catalogue.

Major names in the field of piano pedagogy were quickly established – including Beyer, Burgmüller, Hanon and Clementi – but it was one who followed behind them that arguably defined the shape of piano pedagogy for generations to come. Indeed, even today – nearly 200 years after this educational “meteorite” first struck the German-speaking piano world – the waves of his impact are still being felt. There is no getting around Carl Czerny when it comes to pianistic exercises or didactic approaches to building a virtuoso pianist.

Carl Czerny

Czerny’s lifetime was shaped by three phases or key words: Beethoven, pedagogy and composition. Beethoven had already established a considerable reputation in Vienna when, in 1800, a certain nine-year-old boy – Carl Czerny – made such an impression on the composer that he took him on as a pupil. This pupil became a colleague, and an apprentice relationship became a friendship, which – unusually for Beethoven – lasted right up to the composer’s death.

It is hard to imagine what the encounter with Beethoven must have meant for the young musician: how the intensive, decades-long contact with one of the greatest geniuses in music history must have affected his own artistic formation. It can be assumed that Czerny not only played all of Beethoven’s works, but also to some extent contributed to their development with Beethoven. However, although he was extremely talented as a pianist and could have pursued a career as a virtuoso, the young Czerny decided, on the advice of his father, that he would instead pursue a career as a teacher.

The second phase of Czerny’s life was characterized by an almost inhuman teaching workload, where he taught 10-12 hours a day for more than 20 years. The fruits of this labor decisively shaped the pianistic development of all subsequent generations and continue to have a major influence on pianists today. Just as Johann Nikolaus Forkel attests in his Bach biography that the compositional mastery of the St. Matthew Passion could only be achieved amidst a backdrop of an enormous corpus of works, so, too, does this reasoning applies to Czerny. Thanks to his exceptional educational talent, Czerny produced a multitude of students, including Liszt, Kullak and Leschetizky, whose educational lines extend to the present day and are associated with legendary names such as Van Cliburn, Artur Schnabel and Leon Fleisher.  It is only when we understand what kind of influence Beethoven made on Czerny, and what educational impact Czerny then went on to achieve, that his piano pedagogical work can be properly assessed and adequately appreciated.

In the third and final phase of his life, from 1836 to his death, countless compositions and educational works were created, including Czerny’s iconic études. These works do not claim to be mentioned in the same breath as the musically outstanding études by Chopin or Liszt, since they are largely designed for a different pianistic level and with a focus on the training aspect. Yet they are so musically composed that they bring real pleasure both to listen to and to play.

Czerny’s études are an almost inexhaustible source of inspiration for pianists and piano teachers, isolating and condensing musical and technical skills into a series of attractive musical miniatures. For these, and for so much more, we remain evermore indebted to this pedagogical and musical giant.

Chopin: Poland’s “Cannons Buried in Flowers”

Between 1772 and 1795, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Monarchy divided and annexed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth amongst themselves in a series of three partitions.

Though one of the largest and most populous countries in 16th– and 17th-century Europe, decades of protracted political, military and economic decline led the country to the brink of civil war, made it vulnerable to foreign influences, and ultimately rendered it unable to withstand the onslaught brought by the encroaching powers, even in spite of a revolutionary new constitution, a war in its defense and an uprising led by Tadeusz Kosciuszko. (As a side note, Kosciuszko was also a decorated hero of the American Revolutionary War and an accomplished military architect who designed and oversaw the construction of state-of-the-art fortifications, including those at West Point.)

Continue reading ‘Chopin: Poland’s “Cannons Buried in Flowers”’

Edition Peters: Reflecting the Composer’s Intentions and the Value of Urtext

Guest post by Linda Hawken, MD of Edition Peters Europe, and Kathryn Knight, President of C.F. Peters, USA

Being a music publisher in the 21st century presents many different challenges to those faced by publishers at the beginning of the industry 200 years ago. Nowhere is this better illustrated than at Edition Peters, founded in Leipzig in 1800 – a time when the idea of music copyright was only just starting to be thought about, with no laws in place to protect the composer. Instead, a successful publishing relationship depended solely on a close and ongoing collaboration with the composer.

Edition Peters’ unique history tells one of the most extraordinary stories of the music-publishing world.  The roster of composers with whom Edition Peters worked directly across the 19th century is dizzying, from Beethoven to Grieg and Mahler.

Edition Peters created the first editions of some of the most famous compositions of all time, with those editions being proofread and corrected by the composers themselves long before the concept of “Urtext” was conceived. Yet despite the provenance of these important editions, it became fashionable in the later 20th century to disregard them – and the unique value of the composer’s direct input – in favor of Urtext “interpretations” by musicologists.

The concept of the Urtext only emerged in the early 1930s, devised by musicologists who aimed to get closer to “the composer’s intentions” by reviewing multiple sources. Indeed it was Edition Peters who released one of the very first Urtext editions with its 1933 edition of J. S. Bach’s Inventions and Sinfonias. After the Second World War, other publishers took on this concept, producing their own Urtext editions. However, this led to much confusion about the meaning and significance of the editions, and whether they reflected the composer’s true intentions.

Continue reading ‘Edition Peters: Reflecting the Composer’s Intentions and the Value of Urtext’

Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas: Setting the New Performance Standard

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas are among the most famous works of chamber music history and represent, together with Mozart’s works for this instrument duo, the core of violin repertoire from the Viennese Classicist period.

Though composed in a short span in Beethoven’s creative life (nine of the ten were written between 1798 and 1803, with the final one appearing in 1812), these sonatas bear all the marks of Beethoven’s compositional innovation: the breaking of formal tradition, a vast emotional scope, skillful musical manipulation, and, of course, the trademark urgency and power.

The new Bärenreiter edition of the violin sonatas — or, as more appropriately titled by Beethoven himself, sonatas for the pianoforte and violin — offers a revolutionary editorial approach to the music that does more than simply hand down the text.

These new volumes, edited by historical performing practice expert Dr. Clive Brown, present an approach to performance that is quite different from what most of today’s musicians are accustomed to. This approach not only falls much more in line with what Beethoven would have expected, but also imbues the music with a renewed vigor and offers musicians an incredible array of opportunities for creativity.

“This is the highest quality of academic scholarship, but it is not only that: this edition has enabled me to bring these sonatas to life in a way that has not been possible before – this is historical research in the service of living and breathing music!”

Viktoria Mullova, Violinist

Here violinist Viktoria Mullova and pianist Alasdair Beatson demonstrate some of their most illuminating discoveries from the “Spring” Sonata (Op. 24) and show us why they’re excited to work with these new editions:

The Editorial Approach

Dr. Brown’s new editions of the Beethoven violin sonatas combine a traditional scholarly Urtext approach with a wealth of information on historical performing practice informed by the thorough study of recordings and editions made by 19th-century musicians, many of whom had direct contact with Beethoven himself or with others that did.

These historical sources reveal a striking discrepancy between performance and notation. Composers in Beethoven’s era, including Beethoven himself, simply did not write down a large swath of the expressive gestures that they would have expected musicians to make, including rhythmic and tempo flexibility, piano arpeggiation and asynchrony, portamento, cadenzas, and ornamental, rather than continuous, vibrato effects.

By not including these details in the text, composers created a space bursting with potential for the creative performer to exploit in what could and, most importantly, would be wildly distinctive and thrillingly emotional performances. In many respects, it was a creative freedom much more akin to jazz than to today’s renditions of classical music.

Continue reading ‘Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas: Setting the New Performance Standard’

Revisiting Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Mass in C minor (K. 427) stands alongside the Requiem (K. 626) as his most remarkable church composition. Today it enjoys almost cult status, first because of its monumentality, which is unique in Mozart’s sacred vocal music, and second because, like the Requiem, it partakes of the aura of the unfinished and mysterious. The exact circumstances that gave rise to it as a votive mass have eluded explanation to the present day. The same applies to the reasons why it was left unfinished and to many details of its first performance, which, as far as we know, took place at St. Peter’s Church, Salzburg, on October 26, 1783. Finally, the transmission of the original sources also raises many questions. Indeed, it is astonishing that the Mass, although left as a torso, was performed at all during Mozart’s final visit to Salzburg. Continue reading ‘Revisiting Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor’

A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations

Guest post by Dr. Dominik Rahmer, editor at G. Henle Verlag.

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The formal technique of “variations” played an important role in Beethoven’s work throughout his entire life. Critic Paul Bekker wrote in 1911, “Beethoven begins with variations,” and indeed this is true not only of the character of his oeuvre, but also of its chronological progression: Beethoven’s very first published work was his 9 Variations on a March by Dressler, WoO 63, which appeared in 1782.

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Dressler Variations, WoO 63: Beginning of the Theme

Similarly, we could add that Beethoven also ends with variations. The Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, which are amongst his last piano works, not only crown his creativity, but also, in the history of piano variations, are probably equaled only by Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The panoply of variations within his multi-movement works also indicates how fundamental this technique is in Beethoven’s musical thinking. Consider, for example, the profound closing movement of the last piano sonata, Op. 111, or the grand finale of the 3rd Symphony.

Though the themes of these movements were usually Beethoven’s own inventions, here we will focus on the pieces composed as independent variation sets on popular melodies. This vantage point reveals some interesting finds. Continue reading ‘A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations’

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire

BeethovenVonRichardWagner1870 marked the 100th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. After denying the invitation from the “Beethoven Committee of Vienna” to appear onstage together with Liszt, Joachim and Clara Schumann to celebrate the event, Richard Wagner decided to write an essay instead. While this essay is notable as a broader investigation of Wagner’s aesthetic philosophy and ideals, it also remains an insightful exploration of both the artistic significance and enduring popularity of Beethoven’s music. For Wagner Beethoven’s music isn’t merely beautiful, a concept that is for him constrained by convention and subject to changing tastes and fashions, but sublime. Beethoven reveals a sort of Platonic ideal of melody, thereby liberating it from its historical moment, and connecting his listeners with a timeless, universal human truth. For Wagner it is Beethoven’s radical defiance against tradition and his intense emotional expressions that make his music a vehicle for revelation.

Though these strains are apparent across Beethoven’s entire oeuvre, it is in his piano sonatas that Beethoven’s boldest thoughts and gestures shine most brightly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Beethoven was widely known as a brilliant pianist in his own right, giving him the natural freedom to stretch the boundaries of the instrument. Perhaps, though, it is also due to the nature of the piano itself: a solo instrument that lends itself to the realm of the personal and inward, even the diaristic, and one that, by allowing tones only to be struck and not sustained or driven forward, abstracts music into its most intellectually pure form, making it a prime medium for musical exploration and innovation.

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Ludwig van Beethoven

To explore Beethoven’s piano sonatas is to explore Beethoven’s musical innovations. In these 32 pieces, we see the concentrated version of the familiar trajectory guiding us from the Classical era into the Romantic: the experimental mimicry of his early years, the ego-driven defiance of his middle years where, at the height of his compositional powers, he most fully challenges convention, and finally his late years where, fully deaf, he introspectively explores the mysteries of life and death. Continue reading ‘Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: The New New Testament of Piano Repertoire’

Beethoven’s Ninth: How Reading What Beethoven Wrote Changed Everything

JonathanDelMar

Jonathan Del Mar

For a conductor music starts with Beethoven. And for the son of a conductor both can start very early, as they did for Jonathan Del Mar, Beethoven scholar and editor of the new edition of Beethoven’s nine symphonies for Bärenreiter.

In 1949 Del Mar’s father, conductor Norman Del Mar, purchased a copy of the 1924 facsimile of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, which he studied with Jonathan when he was still a child. The younger Del Mar, whose career also began as a conductor, remarks, “Had it not been for our possession of this endlessly fascinating document, it must remain doubtful whether my interest in Beethoven’s handwriting, and my work on his autographs, would ever have begun.”

Jonathan Del Mar’s edition of the nine symphonies for Bärenreiter, completed in 2000, has become the preferred edition for many renowned conductors worldwide.

 

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“We all are amongst those of gratitude to Jonathan Del Mar who simply did the work to give us the first, really true edition of what this music was.”

— Sir Simon Rattle

 

BarenreiterBeethoven9The most monumental symphony of them all, the Ninth, was the first of the new edition to be published, and it was in preparing this edition of this very special symphony that Del Mar made one of his most thrilling discoveries. Continue reading ‘Beethoven’s Ninth: How Reading What Beethoven Wrote Changed Everything’



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