Friday, September 28, 2012

Beethoven - What Kind of Performer Was He?

The story of Beethoven, as one of the truly defining composers in  history, is known throughout the world, and continues to entrance the reader and listener.
However, how many of us come across information relating to his powers as a pianist?
Generally, what the reader inevitably finds is that this titan was a pianist of considerable gifts as a performer, especially of his own works, and, more specifically, in his powers in improvisation.As a matter of fact, many considered him as the most gifted improviser in Vienna, though barely out of his teens.
What may be of interest to the reader are views of his contemporaries, as applied to his performance abilities. For instance:
One contemporary wrote "In general, Beethoven played his own works very capriciously, though, at times his sensitivity to tempo change and melodic utterance was of great beauty."
Another stated that "his extemporizations were the most extraordinary things that one could hear. No artist I ever heard came at all near the height which Beethoven attained."
Another statement: "His playing was not technically perfect. He left many a note 'under the table' ".
The great teacher Czerny  reported of "his extraordinary extempore playing  was his strongest gift, as a performer."
Other impressions included such items as Beethoven's remarkable abilities  to bring out subordinate melodic lines in especially  his own music(who could know better what to bring out?).
Czerny also mentioned Beethoven's ability "in the rapidity of scale passages, trills, leaps etc., no one equaled this man."
Just a few of the written tidbits about Beethoven the Piano Player - thought you might like to know. There are many more observations about his performance abilities and weaknesses, and they can be found, if one should like to pursue the subject.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Beethoven - Is There an Intelligible Definition of the Word 'Genius?'

Even before the total deafness had set in, Beethoven wrestled with the core meanings of his fusion with the art that possessed him. That is quite evident in his luminous Note-books, which are composed of his own words. The thoughts that he wrote down almost invariably connote the question of his own genius, and the meaning of what he had to pursue by way of the innumerable masterpieces he left to us. The result is a sense of questioning about his existence, in the words he wrote - but all the questions are invariably answered in his music, and with not a word uttered.
I sometimes wonder about the paucity of the music he wrote that had words attached - is it simply because the searing power of the musical ideas that poured into his consciousness required no words, especially after he becomes totally deaf?
At any rate, I thought that you might like to see some of the words he wrote down about both his art, and his love of nature. This is only the third time since starting my blogs in 2007 that I have consulted sources on paper, so that you can see the actual words, not paraphrases. The other two blogs dealt with; one, a visit to Beethoven by an officer of Napoleon's army, and; two, a description of the food that Beethoven once prepared for a group of his friends.
First, some words Beethoven wrote down about Art:
"True art is imperishable and the true artist finds profound delight in grand productions of genius."
"Truth exists for the wise; beauty for the susceptible heart. They belong together - are complementary."
"Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?"
Second, some of his words connected with his love of nature:
"O God! send your glance into beautiful nature and comfort your moody thoughts touching that which must be."
"When you reach the old ruins, think that Beethoven often paused there; if you wander through the mysterious fir forests, think that Beethoven often poetized, or, as is said, composed there."
"Nature is a glorious school for the heart! It is well; I shall be a scholar in this school and bring an eager heart to her instruction..."
These are but a few of Beethoven's many entries into his Note - books.
Look into his words - it can tell you more of what this giant was made of...


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Master Architect - A View of Haydn...

I recall a piano recital of music written by one of my colleagues, and during the intermission I mentioned to him the clarity of design and direction his music was redolent with. He, almost without hesitation, replied "thank Haydn."
His reply occasionally returns to me whenever I peruse the music of Josef Haydn. The level of design and clarity of purpose continues to astound me, no matter how many times I analyze his work. First of all, be reminded of the century that begins with the birth of Haydn in 1732 and closes a magnificent circle formed by the Trio Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in 1827 - a century like no other century in the history of music.
A few days ago I decided to look specifically at the techniques and tactics used by Haydn in his approach to thematic variation. As familiar as I am with the wonderful variations spread throughout his compositions, I find myself pretending to be a young Mozart and a young Beethoven, both of whom were students of Haydn, of course, and "imaging" their reactions to the endless array of possibilities that were actuated by Haydn in the variation form in so much of his piano music, for instance.
These two young geniuses must have been so strongly magnetized to the brilliance of the variational process that Haydn engendered(after all, both Mozart and Beethoven were master improvisers, especially Beethoven), that they must have been enraptured, both intellectually and spiritually, by the reality that these sublime examples of thematic variation were actually a form of, as it were, 'frozen' improvisation. And if musicians like me can be overwhelmed by the architecture of Haydn, one can only imagine the reactions of towering geniuses such as Mozart and Beethoven as they beheld, with their level of vision, the world of Possibility having been committed to paper.
Well, one can hear the results in the music of Mozart and Beethoven.