Tuesday, January 18, 2011

1/18 Beethoven was My Piano Tutor

Imagine how many people must have wanted to take piano lessons from Beethoven in his heyday...like taking guitar lessons from Jimi Hendrix!  Actually, Beethoven did teach a few lady friends he was attracted to, but only a few people became his "official" students.
In general Beethoven hated giving lessons.  In his early days in Bonn he gave lessons from age 15 at students' homes but half the time he would knock on the door and then change his mind at the last minute, telling them that he'd come to tell them that he couldn't make it that day.  In his early years at Vienna, he seems to have given lessons to Ferdinand Ries, Carl Czerny...and lots of young women.  A couple ladies were actually virtuosi (Baroness Dorothea von Ertmann, to whom Opus 101 was dedicated being a notable example) but most were young well-to-do women who he eventually fell in love with.  Sadly, people who were able to afford piano teachers were typically looking to marry Counts and Princes...

Ferdinand Ries writes:
"When B. gave me lessons, I must say that contrary to his nature he was extraordinarily patient.  I could only attribute this, and his almost unfailingly amicable behavior towards me, mainly to his love and affection for my father (childhood friend from Bonn).  Thus he sometimes made me repeat a thing 10 times or even more...If I made a mistake somewhere in a passage, or struck wrong notes, or missed intervals  - which he often wanted strongly emphasized - he rarely said anything.  However, if I lacked expression in crescendos, etc. or in the character of a piece, he became angry because, he maintained, the first was accident, while the latter resulted from inadequate knowledge, feeling or attention" (Wegeler).
For counterpoint he would tell students that it took a special kind of teacher to teach that kind of thing and that "Albrechtsberger was the acknowledged master".

As far as piano methods, he disliked books by Hummel, Czerny or Pleyel.  He did however, like studies written by Cramer or Muzio Clementi.  In Gerhard von Breuning's memoir about his childhood spent with Beethoven in his last years, he recounts how B. made an effort to get Clementi's piano instruction text translated into German so young Breuning could make use of it.  While teaching Czerny he also used some exercises from C.P.E. Bach's (J.S. Bach's son) piano method.  Beethoven always had plans to write his own piano method ("I would have written something quite unconventional!") but never got around to it.  Now THAT would have been something!

Well I guess the closest one can get is to read William Newman's "Beethoven on Beethoven: Playing His Piano Music His Way":
From Library Journal/Amazon:  Eminent music scholar Newman, whose three-volume history of the sonata idea is a landmark work in musicology, has brought together his interests in Beethoven and piano playing in this important study of performance practice in Beethoven's piano music. Newman aims to discover how Beethoven actually intended his music to be played. Relying on autograph scores, early editions, Beethoven's letters, and eyewitness accounts of his performances, plus a vast and comprehensive array of source materials, Newman explores all the major issues affecting performance practice. Always fair and judicious, he presents the evidence, sometimes contradictory, and allows the reader to draw conclusions. The value of this book, both as historical study and practical guide, cannot be overstated. Susan Kagan, Hunter Coll., CUNY
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Here's a Beethoven lesson that might have been typical tho (starting at 5:23)

Full program below:
8/21 The Genius of Beethoven (2005 TV Mini)


  1. This was an excellent post!!! I have this book and it's one of the best--the title says it all.
    Another REALLY good one for pianists who want to focus on Beethoven is "Playing the Beethoven Sonatas" by Robert Taub. These 2 books are my favorites and I refer to them often especially when learning a new piece.
    If only, if only B had been given more time so he could've gotten around to writing his very own piano method!!

  2. Thanks Gwen! I haven't picked this book up myself since I don't play the piano, but maybe someday...now if B had written a method for guitar...WOW.