Rhythm and Tempo: A Study in Music History

By Curt Sachs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14

Romanticism

BEETHOVEN'S TEMPO. The tempo questions discussed in the preceding section cut across the chapter line, just as many of our rhythms cut across the treacherous bar lines through our staffs. The early nineteenth century, heir to the currents and counter‐ currents of the eighteenth, shows an even deeper contrast between the two ever active camps, between the "eunuchs of classical chastity" and the more aggressive anti-classicists.

But the master whose name is the musical symbol of the initial quarter of the century was far above these camps. Beethoven cannot be squeezed into either of them.

There are a few witnesses among his friends and contemporaries.

Around 1795, Wegeler tells us that the young master "had played a presto which he had never seen before so rapidly that it must have been impossible to see the individual notes." 1 Johann Friedrich Reichardt, once Capellmeister at the court of Prussia, heard Beethoven play his own Concerto in G, Opus 58, in 1808 "in the fastest possible tempo." 2

So much for Beethoven's outer tempo. As to his inner tempo, the faithful Anton Schindler (1795-1864) relates that the master changed his tempo freely within a piece, but only in the later years of what he calls the third period. If he is right, then we behold

____________________
1
Beethoven, impressions of contemporaries, New York [1926], pp. 17 f.
2
Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Briefe geschrieben auf einer Reise nach Wien, Amsterdam, 1810; English translation in Oliver Strunk, Source Readings in Music History, New York, 1951, p. 738. About Beethoven's unclassicistic piano playing cf. also Beethoven, impressions ( see note 1 above), p. 29.

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