Friday, April 27, 2012

Beethoven 101

 Last night I was sitting up late at the old Steinway working over Beethoven's Opus 101. I just had the yen to go back to it recently and I have been bringing it back out of my head.

Looking the sonata up today on YouTube I found this darling video of the sonata being discussed by the musicologist and author David Dubal and this pianist named Mark Salman.

If there is one thing I love it is watching eggheads poring over a piece of music that I love. These guys are great. Both of them are very intense. There are a lot of comments about their hair.

The uncompromising discussion of Beethoven, of this sonata, kills me. I love it, just love it. Both these guys who look as if they never see the light of day, speculating about what was in Beethoven's mind when he wrote this measure or that measure and how we may best serve his intentions.

"Probably of the generation after it was Wagner and Liszt who understood the late Beethoven best."

".... As if Beethoven were now living the life of a Zen master."

"The contrast between the depth of the lyricism and the rhythmic joy ... it's amazing!"

"It seems to transcend the practical limitations of the piano!"

"This intensity builds to a point that I think is unparalleled in the music of its time."

"Listen to the stridency and dissonance of this climax. I don't think anything like it appears until the 20th century."

And my favorite part, when Dubal says:

"Oh, my God, it's... cataclysmic! I think I'm ready to hear the entire work."

I am, too!

I have to say, I think Salman plays that opening movement especially wonderfully. It's such tender music. I love how there are a couple of phrases of simply pure pleasure. You expect that from Mozart but not from Beethoven. One starts at 9:25 in the video if you want to see what I mean. Another phrase I love is at 9:14, just a moment earlier. If this were a symphony that phrase would be colored by the French horns.

One thing I did not know is that business they go into in the video about this new low E that was added to Beethoven's piano. I was noticing that last night, this low E, how Beethoven emphasized it. It ends up that the low E had just been added to his piano and he was thrilled about that.

It was the only time in his career that Beethoven was given a new note to play with! That is what the video says.

I love human details like that.



  1. Notes from a pseudo-egghead: 1. You might want to fix something in your entry. Dubal said" Wagner and Liszt", not "Beethoven and Liszt". 2.It's possible that Beethoven himself might have burst out in laughter at all the zen talk; he did have a boisterous sense of humor. 3.Beethoven himself stated that he considered the piano an unsatisfactory instrument, no doubt wanting to transcend its limitations. Stravinsky once said he preferred the quartets because the part writing didn't have to be limited to what fingers on a keyboard could do, which is possibly what Beethoven was driving at. 4. And the saddest note: Beethoven had the low E and C when he could no longer hear them. And 5: If you can play that finale, you have to be a very good pianist. Parts of it (the double trills) are as difficult as anything in Beethoven. It's interesting that he had reached a point in his fame where he had a public for that kind of writing. Publishers hoped to sell those scores to piano playing music lovers.

  2. Prof. G, thanks for catching my late-night mistake! I made your pseudo-egghead correction. About Beethoven's sense of humor, you sure hear it in the last movement of 101. Also I like what Stravinsky said. In that last movement it does feel as if Beethoven has to get very creative to fit what he is trying to do into what two hands can do. The fingering is a riot!