Tuesday, August 3, 2010
8/3 The Ludwig Code
Did you follow that? Me neither. I think he said something like "use a petronus spell". Or something about will.
Check out this mysterious instruction from bar 27 of the Grosse Fugue string quartet:
Those 2 eighth notes are slurred together. That's means 'slide' from point x to point x. Played literally, it sounds like 1 quarter note.
So why didn't Beethoven just write 1 quarter note? Because he meant 2 eighth notes slurred together. But then what's the difference? Michael Tree from the Guarneri Quartet says:
"We all agree that something should be done, but not on what should be done. Interpreters of Beethoven have struggled with this question for more than a century and a half."
Here's a good one from Piano Sonata 31, Opus 110, kind of similar:
The two slurred 16th notes are the same as one 8th note. To make sure you know something is happening, B says to use your 4th finger for one note and your third finger for the next, as if that makes any difference (and the lone 16th note where he asks you to hit one key with 2 fingers is almost straight out of the John Cage playbook).
"The key which is touched by the 3rd finger should produce a tone hovering between reality and imagination - but must be heard nonetheless."
OK. You just heard it from the most revered Beethoven pianist of the 20th Century. So let's see how he actually played it in 1935:
Hmmmm. You know, I think I actually heard something magical in there.
One last odd mystery is something I heard in the somewhat recent film "In Search of Beethoven" by Phil Grabsky. In it, Emmanuel Ax explains how in one of B's piano compositions he specifies a fingering that is literally impossible for a human to play. The keys are too far apart for one hand to reach. He thinks it might have been a joke....or maybe Beethoven was an alien....ludwig coooode....
(The Michael Tree / Artur Schnabel quotes are from The Art of Quartet Playing, interviews with the Guarneri Quartet, by Michael Blum. Recommended.)