Posts Tagged 'Classical era'

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.

“I’m alerting people to the fact that we’re actually missing the point if we play the music exactly as it stands on the page. It’s not expressive in the way that they would have expected it to be.”

Dr. Clive Brown, Editor

In the 20th century, all that changed. Between the spread of recording, which captured and then propagated singular interpretive viewpoints, and the Modernist revolution, which sought literal adherence to the text, classical music performance lost its improvisational spirit in favor of technical correctness, leaving performance after performance of any individual piece to be, for all intents and purposes, much the same and even redundant.

In this edition, Dr. Brown provides a traditional Urtext violin part, plus a second edited violin part featuring suggestions for fingerings and bowings that might help the musician explore the text as a 19th-century musician would have. The edition also clarifies some notational conventions employed by Beethoven that went out of use since his time and were ignored or misunderstood in later editions, including the most recent Urtexts.

Dr. Brown’s edits and annotations are, it must be pointed out, intended only as suggestions to invite serious engagement with the soundscape of Beethoven’s musical era. They are not meant to be performed as written time and time again, but rather to serve as guides as we experiment with the music on our own.

“That’s what I would love to see classical musicians getting back to: not being so frightened of making mistakes. In order to be really bold in performance, you have to be prepared to make a mistake.”

Dr. Clive Brown, Editor

Here Dr. Brown himself introduces this performance approach to us and explains how it helps us connect with the emotional essence of Beethoven’s music. He also discusses the importance of tempo in Beethoven’s music, gives us some stylistic examples of the expressive potential that we can begin to experiment with as we revisit Beethoven, and shares some anecdotes that bring Beethoven and his contemporaries to life:

For further information about Dr. Brown’s approach to Beethoven and a more detailed analysis of historical sources, please refer to the introductory text, “Reading between the Lines of Beethoven’s Notation,” included in the edition and the detailed Performing Practice Commentary available in full here:

About the Editor: Dr. Clive Brown

Clive Brown was a member of the Faculty of Music at Oxford University from 1980 to 1991 and is now Emeritus Professor of Applied Musicology at the University of Leeds and Guest Professor at the Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst (University of the Arts), Vienna. He has published numerous articles on historical performing practice and, as a violinist, pursues practice-led research.

10 Fun Facts about Beethoven

by Jacy Burroughs

beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is arguably one of the most well-known composers of all time. From his deafness and notoriously angry look to the movie dog who got his name from howling at the famous first four notes of the Fifth Symphony, Beethoven is still recognizable in today’s culture. His music and life are incredibly complex and this post barely brushes the surface, but hopefully you will learn something new and interesting.

1. No one knows for sure Beethoven’s date of birth. He was baptized on December 17, 1770. In that era and region where Beethoven was born, it was the tradition of the Catholic Church to baptize the day after birth. Therefore, most scholars accept December 16 as Beethoven’s birthday.

2. Beethoven’s father wanted to pass his son off as a child prodigy so he lied about young Beethoven’s age at his first public performance. For a good portion of Beethoven’s life, he believed he was born in 1772 instead of 1770. Continue reading ’10 Fun Facts about Beethoven’

10 Interesting Facts About Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

by Jacy Burroughs

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791)

Wolfgang-amadeus-mozart_1-revert

1. Mozart was baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. (Imagine trying to learn to write that name!) His first two names, Johannes Chrysostomus, represent his saint’s name, following the tradition of the Catholic Church. This saint’s name was in all likelihood chosen because Mozart’s birthday, January 27th, was the feast day of Saint John Chrysostom. Wolfgangus, or Wolfgang in German, means Continue reading ’10 Interesting Facts About Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’

Ten Facts About Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

by Jacy Burroughs

Bach_Carl_Philipp_Emanuel_(small)


1. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the second surviving son of Johann Sebastian and Maria Barbara Bach (Sebastian’s first wife). This year we celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth. He was born on March 8, 1714.

2. Emanuel never had any music teacher besides his father. There is no evidence that he studied any instrument other than keyboard.

3. Between 1731 and 1738, Emanuel studied law, first at the University of Leipzig and then at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder. At this time, law was a very typical subject of study for university students. Unlike today, the study of law was considered to be more of a general education than a vocational course of study. Sebastian Bach was determined to give all his sons the university education that he lacked to defend them against society’s prejudices that musicians were simple servants.

While enrolled in school at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder, Emanuel supported himself by teaching keyboard lessons, and composing for or directing public concerts and ceremonies. It was during his years at university that Emanuel’s compositional career accelerated. Continue reading ‘Ten Facts About Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’

Introduction to the Classical Period

By Catherine Hua

Canaletto

Have you ever read a composer’s name on a music program and realized that you had no clue how to pronounce it, much less know what to expect for his or her music? (Mr. Dvořák, I’m talking about you.) While the pronunciation is simple to learn (it’s DVOR-zhahk by the way), it’s even easier to get a sense of a composer’s style, once you remember the period that he or she is from. If you need a refresher on the Baroque period, you can read more in our previous article here.

Introduction to the Classical Period

The end of the Baroque period took place as a Continue reading ‘Introduction to the Classical Period’

10 Facts About Franz Joseph Haydn

By Zachariah Friesen

474px-Joseph_Haydn

1. Franz Joseph Haydn was an Austrian born composer who spent his life as a court musician somewhat secluded from the rest of the musical world, but nonetheless was one of the most celebrated composers of his time and is equally revered today.

2. That other Haydn, Michael Haydn also a prolific composer, was indeed related to Franz Joseph Haydn. They were brothers.

3. Haydn was famous for his pranks. While Continue reading ’10 Facts About Franz Joseph Haydn’


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