The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience

The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience

The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience

The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience

Synopsis

Drake groups the Beethoven piano sonatas according to their musical qualities, regardless of where they occur in Beethoven's oeuvre. He explores the interpretative of rhythm, dynamics, slurs, harmonic effects, and melodic development and identifies specific measures where Beethoven skilfully employs these compositional devices.

Excerpt

It was an afternoon when Stanley Fletcher felt the need for a break before continuing teaching. We were joined by Alexander Ringer, and the conversation turned to the study of applied music. “The trouble with you people,” he inveighed, “is that you teach skills but not what makes the music tick.” No doubt Mr. Fletcher agreed in the privacy of his mind.

The desire to become a pianist is sustained by dreams, typically of study with a famous teacher, winning a competition, and playing concerts. Motivation feeds on examples of “legendary” performers who play throughout the world to “critical acclaim”—public relations phrases that never wear out however often they are run through the presses. For this, there is a science of performance to be learned in order that technique and musicianship can be reliably displayed. How else can one hope to reach the final round of the competition, or pass the DMA recital, or even one’s recital approval audition? As a consequence, the loftiest model to which one is obliged to aspire becomes the flawless performance on the CD.

The years pass, and the anticipated rewards for years of study may not materialize, leaving a choice between believing in a mirage or believing that life, as José Echàniz reminded his students, is always more important than playing the piano. Stated another way, it is life—not the competition prize or the academic degree or rank—that lends significance to the act of making music. Whether a recital in Alice Tully Hall or an afternoon teaching privately in small-town America, the personal fulfillment of giving it away to however few or many—this love of the language of music—constitutes the real fabric of “culture,” and culture, we often forget, is not restricted to a geographical location but is taken by the mind wherever it goes. As I think back on those years of study with Mr. Echàniz, his attitude toward the profession permeates the basic premise of this writing, that “each of us is gifted enough” and capable of being the medium for the composer’s thought.

Understanding the language of music is the skill for which all the musician’s other skills must be cultivated. Growing older, to quote Schumann, one should converse more frequently with scores than with virtuosi. The language of a Beethoven sonata is as precise as a legal document; it should not be played without discerning its uniqueness any more than a contract should be signed without understanding every clause. To that end, the player’s tools are intuition, intelligence, and reflexes that respond to shapes in the score like fingertips reading . . .

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