Posts Tagged 'Romantic 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.

A Short Foray into Beethoven’s Variations

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

HenleBeethoven250

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.

DresslerTheme

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’

Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9: A National Culture for the New World

AntoninDvorak

Antonín Dvořák

Even in a cultural era ripe with nationalism, Antonín Dvořák was one of the most nationalistic. Slavic folk music, especially from his native Bohemia, permeates his entire oeuvre. He develops these simplistic folk elements into sophisticated symphonies, operas and concertos through Romantic compositional techniques, while retaining a certain innocence that makes his music approachable and beloved by musicians and audiences alike.

For Dvořák incorporating Slavic folk elements into his music wasn’t so much a political gesture as it was a matter of musical philosophy. Having grown up in the Bohemian countryside playing folk tunes in his father’s tavern, he intuited an intimate relationship between music and the place it came from, and he believed that all peoples of the world should develop their own music stemming from their homegrown culture. Continue reading ‘Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9: A National Culture for the New World’

Cantabile Qualities: Choral Music by Beethoven

Guest post by Jan Schumacher

Beethoven is not primarily thought of as a vocal composer, but why not? The choral collection compiled by Jan Schumacher, which contains both well-known and unknown choral works by Beethoven and original transcriptions of Beethoven’s works by other composers, reveals a great deal of extremely attractive repertoire.

The widely-held prejudice that “he could not write for voice” sticks to few composers as much as it does to Ludwig van Beethoven. This may be due to the fact that his place in music history is primarily as a revolutionary symphonist and creator of incomparable chamber music like the string quartets and piano sonatas. To take this to mean that he had no understanding of the human voice or did not know how to write for chorus, however, is to draw the wrong conclusion. Beethoven, like nearly every other composer of his age and indeed until the first half of the 20th century (with a few notable exceptions such as Chopin and Paganini), was equally used to composing for voice and instruments.

It is when we try to label Beethoven that we develop what can be misleading expectations. Continue reading ‘Cantabile Qualities: Choral Music by Beethoven’

Top 10 Facts About Tchaikovsky

To celebrate Pyotr (Peter) Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s 178th birthday today, May 7th, we have re-shared a Top 10 Facts Article from 2015, written by SMP about Russian classical composer Tchaikovsky!

via 10 Facts You Should Know About Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Top 10 Facts About Claude Debussy

Written by: Austin Hennen Vigil

Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Paris

Claude Debussy was a famous French composer that was born on August 22nd, 1862, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France. The town is located near Paris and he was the oldest of five children.

He was a prominent musician who was known as the founder of Impressionist music and was one of the most influential/highly regarded composers in the world during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. March 25, 2018 was the 100th anniversary of his death, so in his honor here are 10 facts about the legendary French composer of which you may not have been aware:

Continue reading ‘Top 10 Facts About Claude Debussy’

Top 10 Interesting Facts About Frédéric Chopin

By Austin Hennen Vigil 

Frédéric Chopin was a Polish music composer and pianist of the Romantic era who wrote mainly for the solo piano. He was born on March 1st, 1810 and grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and then lived in Paris for his adult life. His life unfortunately ended early, and will be discussed in this article. Here are 10 facts you may not know about the legendary Chopin:

Continue reading ‘Top 10 Interesting Facts About Frédéric Chopin’

Gustav Mahler: The Conductors’ Interviews

Gustav Mahler was considered one of the greatest opera conductors of his time; he could even be called the first intercontinental star conductor. But that was not the case with his music; until the 1960s, his compositions were only performed by specialists, the pieces nowhere near belonging to the standard repertoire.

Today, however, performances of Mahler’s music rival those of Beethoven’s in frequency, thus counting Mahler among the most successful symphonists. What happened to cause that change? Continue reading ‘Gustav Mahler: The Conductors’ Interviews’

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 Fun Facts About Claude Debussy

by Jacy Burroughs

Debussy circa 1908

Debussy circa 1908

1. Achille-Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862. He began piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1871, he started to study with Marie Mauté de Fleurville, who claimed to have been a pupil of Chopin’s, although there is no evidence to corroborate her story. Regardless, Debussy was obviously talented and he entered the Paris Conservatoire in 1872, where he would remain for 11 years.

2. Debussy’s parents hoped that he would be a piano virtuoso, but he never placed higher than fourth in any competitions. Continue reading ’10 Fun Facts About Claude Debussy’


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