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#2142020 - 08/31/13 11:20 PM Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19672
Loc: New York
This is an offshoot of Fnork's thread on his upcoming competition.

He has this sonata as the first piece of his finals round, which I think is a great choice and which gives a wonderful opportunity to make an immediate impression. We got to talking about the opening, and how in a competition it can be a challenge to get up there and start playing beautifully from the gitgo. I was going to do an additional post talking about this rhythmic thing but thought it was too much off the subject, and so I thought I'd start a new discussion and see if anyone's interested.

Like much other seemingly "easy" music, the opening intro of Op. 78 is actually a wonderful and interesting challenge. While it might seem like "the hard parts" don't start till later, we show a lot of who we are and aren't in such an opening. In a competition, it's an opportunity to grab the judges right away. Or not. smile

We talked about making the chords beautiful, and holding them just the right length of time. Another big thing -- it might seem little but I'm saying it's big -- is handling the dotted rhythm at the end of the 1st measure. The way someone plays the short chord and the following chord tell a lot about their musicianship and what is in store.

Here are a couple of 'principles' about such figures -- controversial, but they're my story and I'm sticking to it. ha

-- The short note or chord 'belongs' to the next note, not the previous one (even when, as here, the marked phrasing or slurring seems to say otherwise).

Most amateur musicians, and maybe a lot of pros, probably think of such figures the other way, because the short note is part of that beat. But musically, it's much more part of what follows. Does this matter? You bet. At least in a subtle way and all too often a blatant and gauche way, if we're thinking of it as belonging more to the preceding note, there won't be enough flow to the next note, and often there will even be a completely unmusical 'break.'
(Why then did Beethoven mark the phrasing as he did? We can talk about that.) grin

-- Mostly forget about arithmetic in how long the short note is. And whatever you do, don't let it have a value any less short than what's written. (Not talking about how long you 'hold' the note, but how soon you play it.)

Sure, it ought to be close to a "sixteenth." But worrying about the exact math can keep it from being flowing and musical. The main thing being indicated in such a figure (and I can already feel the mockery coming) ha isn't math, but "short note leading to longer note." It's about some kind of intense feeling, perhaps panting or throbbing, make up whatever adjective you like smile -- and it's way more important that this be conveyed than that the math be exact.
(We've discussed this similarly about the opening of Chopin's F minor Fantaisie.)


A couple of quotes that I got by way of Seymour Bernstein, I think both originally from Clifford Curzon:

"Long notes are long. Short notes are short."

"Wait as long as possible to play every note -- but not too long."

I'm with those. smile

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#2142036 - 08/31/13 11:58 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
AldenH Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/22/11
Posts: 412
Loc: Texas
Thanks for a great thread idea, Mark - what a marvelously beautiful and ingratiating sonata. Actually, the first movement (sans introduction) reminds me a bit of the finale of Schubert D. 959 - a similar sort of stroll through an autumnal garden of memories.

Regarding Beethoven's phrase marking: I would interpret the slur ending on the 16th as an indication that it is syntactically speaking less important than the chord on the downbeat of m. 2, and should (as you've said in with different words) "lead" or "prepare" that next chord. The break that is implied by the notation is manifested psychologically in the "holding back" of the downbeat, and is not necessarily an audible break in the legato line. One could certainly argue that it is in Beethoven's character to ask for a literal break, obstinate chap that he was, but in that case the legato break must be in the service of the musical line as a whole, which would be very challenging to bring off with the requisite sweetness, natural flow, even and smooth release, etc. Perhaps worth it, though.

P.S. I heard a quote from Veda Kaplinsky which was very similar to the second one you mentioned. She cited Fleisher, and the first half is essentially the same, but the second half is more precise: "... without actually being late."


Edited by AldenH (09/01/13 12:00 AM)

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#2142203 - 09/01/13 10:37 AM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1710
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Nice thread! I'll relate with a little story on this piece being played on a masterclass, back in 2007 (I'm paraphrasing):

Malcolm Bilson: "What is this?" (points at the first four bars), "what is it doing there?"
Student: "Um....."
MB: "It's gorgeous, but it doesn't relate to the rest of the piece, never comes back. How would you define those opening measures?"
Student: "Oh, well....(long silence)...It's perhaps a sort of summary.."
MB: "A summary?! In the BEGINNING of the piece?"
Student: "Well..."
MB: "It's more like this. You're having a distant reminiscence, it could be of a wonderful warm summer years ago, where you had this perfect summer romance, and..."
I want to avoid excessive paraphrasing which goes beyond what Bilson said - the point was that the opening is there as a way of recalling this past, and once the fermata on the 4th bar is over, you slowly start piecing those memories together into a coherent story. It was a highly illuminating class and I understood better afterwards what a special place this sonata has among the 32. It already reaches far far into Schubertian territory with its lyricism and storytelling - just think of the incredible variety in rhythm, articulation, dynamics etc in the beginning of the allegro ma non troppo...

Oh, I do I need to add that I was the student in that masterclass situation? laugh
_________________________
http://www.martinmalmgren.com/

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#2142259 - 09/01/13 01:14 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
beet31425 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 3729
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Can you imagine if we seriously debated repeating that opening material, the way we debate with the Pathetique? smile

Speaking of rhythms in this sonata, fnork, do you do anything special with all the two-note phrases in the second movement? I've heard Schiff play them all unevenly (short-long), instead of as even 16th notes. It was interesting. What do you think?


-Jason
_________________________
Beethoven: op.109, 110, 111

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#2142263 - 09/01/13 01:22 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: beet31425]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1710
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Originally Posted By: beet31425
Can you imagine if we seriously debated repeating that opening material, the way we debate with the Pathetique? smile

How do you mean, exactly?

Quote:
Speaking of rhythms in this sonata, fnork, do you do anything special with all the two-note phrases in the second movement? I've heard Schiff play them all unevenly (short-long), instead of as even 16th notes. It was interesting. What do you think?

I've given it much thought - Bilson said the same, Schnabel does it, and so do some others. It all comes from Czerny's book on the piano works, where he states that everything under a 2-note slur in that movement should be played rather more like an appoggiatura. I'd prefer to stress that he doesn't say LIKE an appoggiatura but just a bit appoggiatura-like. I play them MORE OR LESS like 16ths but trying to use less weight on the 2nd note in the slur. Then as other pianists have pointed out, it's more important to find the directions within the phrases, and it's challenging to maintain rhythmic drive/momentum when chopping the notes too much. What also should be avoided is playing it too mechanically and too simply - avoid Gould! (I'm thinking of the 2-note slurs in the 2nd movement in particular)

_________________________
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#2142277 - 09/01/13 01:53 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: fnork]
beet31425 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 3729
Loc: Bay Area, CA
About the two-note phrases: Yes, that sounds right. When I learn this I'll probably experiment with them being appoggiaturas, but I'll probably go back to something a bit more even.


Originally Posted By: fnork
Originally Posted By: beet31425
Can you imagine if we seriously debated repeating that opening material, the way we debate with the Pathetique? smile

How do you mean, exactly?

There's often debate, on this forum and elsewhere, whether to repeat the opening material of op.13 when one repeats the exposition. Thank goodness there doesn't seem to be ambiguity in op.78 whether to do the same.

-J
_________________________
Beethoven: op.109, 110, 111

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#2142279 - 09/01/13 01:56 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: fnork]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19672
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: fnork
....MB: "It's more like this. You're having a distant reminiscence, it could be of a wonderful warm summer years ago, where you had this perfect summer romance, and..."
I want to avoid excessive paraphrasing which goes beyond what Bilson said - the point was that the opening is there as a way of recalling this past, and once the fermata on the 4th bar is over, you slowly start piecing those memories together into a coherent story.....
It already reaches far far into Schubertian territory with its lyricism and storytelling - just think of the incredible variety in rhythm, articulation, dynamics etc in the beginning of the allegro ma non troppo...

I think you're in great shape for the piece. smile

BTW, that stuff about the intro makes me think I'd probably want to linger on that pickup to the "real" opening (i.e. the A#-B) a little extra long and not really get to the whole tempo till the 1st beat of the next measure.

Originally Posted By: beet31425
Can you imagine if we seriously debated repeating that opening material, the way we debate with the Pathetique? smile

(and the Chopin 2nd Sonata)
I thought about that last night when I sat down and noodled through the movement. It had never occurred to me that there could be that same issue about this piece until I got to the end of the exposition and I realized that I wasn't going to be going back to the very beginning.

And if we did, it would ruin the intro-ness (I know that the word doesn't exist) grin of the intro. And really I feel the exactly the same way about the Pathetique, even though it isn't fully the same argument because that material does come back later on anyway.


P.S. I see that the two of you are talking about the 2-note slurs of the 2nd mvt. I was going to be asking Fnork about it, to find out what he's doing with them and also to see if Bilson was still into the same idea about them that he was espousing years ago. Don't have time right now to look at exactly what y'all are saying about it, but I will later. smile
I'm really curious but not curious enough to further [censored] off the people who are waiting for me to close the computer and get out of here. ha



Originally Posted By: beet31425
.....I've heard Schiff play them all unevenly (short-long), instead of as even 16th notes....

OK, I'm back. grin

I went and checked out what Schiff does, because I suspected that you put it a little wrong -- and I think you did, or at least misleadingly. (Someone who doesn't already know this alternate way of playing it would misunderstand.)

It's not really "short-long"; it's more like "short-short with space afterwards before the next 2-note figure."

Indeed that's what Bilson was advocating way back in the Stone Age when I studied with him. grin
I loved it immediately. I wasn't playing the piece at the time but a couple of the other students were, and this thing got discussed a lot.


Edited by Mark_C (09/01/13 04:26 PM)

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#2142634 - 09/02/13 02:43 AM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
fnork Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1710
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
BTW, that stuff about the intro makes me think I'd probably want to linger on that pickup to the "real" opening (i.e. the A#-B) a little extra long and not really get to the whole tempo till the 1st beat of the next measure.

I tend to linger longer than that! The 2nd bar of the allegro (on the dominant chord) is where you should have reached a sort of tempo - gradually come to that tempo in the first bar, rather than starting mechanically...Also, dolce and piano. That's why the repeat (both repeats) make sense to me - in this case, I'd do the first bars more mezzo forte/fully voiced in the repeat, and more dolce the first time around.


Quote:
It's not really "short-long"; it's more like "short-short with space afterwards before the next 2-note figure."

Indeed that's what Bilson was advocating way back in the Stone Age when I studied with him. grin
I loved it immediately. I wasn't playing the piece at the time but a couple of the other students were, and this thing got discussed a lot.

It's spirited, but a bit exaggerated, at least the way he showed it to me. Again, I stress that Czerny's choice of words (which is our source for this issue) suggest something less intrusive to the rhythm than what Bilson was doing, to me at least. Also - where did Czerny get it from? I doubt every word in his book comes from Beethoven originally...!
_________________________
http://www.martinmalmgren.com/

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#2142707 - 09/02/13 08:29 AM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: fnork]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19672
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: fnork
I tend to linger longer than that! The 2nd bar of the allegro (on the dominant chord) is where you should have reached a sort of tempo - gradually come to that tempo in the first bar, rather than starting mechanically...

That's very close to what I meant too. I actually gave an unconscionable amount of thought to how I would put it before saying "not...till the first beat"; what I was thinking was "Somewhere between the middle of the 1st beat and the 2nd or 3rd beat" but figured that might sound too extreme and that the main point anyway was "not right away."
Cliff's Notes: I love it. grin

Quote:
....Also, dolce and piano. That's why the repeat (both repeats) make sense to me - in this case, I'd do the first bars more mezzo forte/fully voiced in the repeat, and more dolce the first time around.

I love that too, and it's what I was doing with it after reading about the master class.

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#2142724 - 09/02/13 09:24 AM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6070
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
I wonder if the slurring may have to do with fingering... Using a total finger legato on the top voice, but lifts occurring where the break in slurs are (in this case, a repeated chord, though that isn't the case in the next measure). Either way, I would pick a fingering that is totally legato on the top voice.

I feel like since the first note of the second measure (well, I guess the entire chord actually) is not a part of the tonic that the left hand keeps emphasizing, it's definitely something to bring out. Since there is a 16th note with the same harmony before it (does that have an official theory term? Anticipation? Am I making this ____ up?) I think that must be brought out, too, but still lead to the downbeat. Of course, after the downbeat, close the phrase back. Then the harmony changes from I to V7/IV and you begin to grow again.

That's how I envision this opening, anyway. smile

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#2142927 - 09/02/13 04:25 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: fnork]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19672
Loc: New York
P.S. About that 'narrative' for the 1st movement, especially the intro:

Y'know, it's making me want to take back most of what I went to all that trouble to say in the OP!

Mind you, I do think those things hold true for most such figures. grin
But not here.

I think the scenario you talked about -- which I love -- suggests a 'longer' short note than I said, and in fact taking the value of 16th note value pretty literally.

And that the short note should be viewed as being more connected to the preceding note than to the next. (But still with a strong connection to the next and with no audible break between them.)

Which also fits with the indicated slurring -- provided we don't think it means there's any 'break' after the slur.

Thanks for the story, Fnork. Now I'm itching to play the piece!

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#2142936 - 09/02/13 04:40 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Mark_C]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6070
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
I don't want to be like other members here and just insert recordings, saying "play like this," but a video I uploaded of a certain pianist I've been plugging a little has an EXCELLENT example of how one can do the opening very well. wink

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#2143095 - 09/02/13 09:19 PM Re: Beethoven's Op. 78, and what to do with dotted rhythms [Re: Orange Soda King]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19672
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
I don't want to be like other members here and just insert recordings, saying "play like this," but a video I uploaded of a certain pianist I've been plugging a little has an EXCELLENT example of how one can do the opening very well. wink

Can we say his name? ha

Lee Luvisi smile

I went and listened, and I agree -- it's lovely. He plays the opening super slow -- a lot slower than I ever would have imagined it -- but it's beautiful, and it flows nicely into what follows.

I also like very much how he does the contrasts within the movement in such a well-defined way but without being heavy-handed about them. I often feel that the contrasts are done either not enough or too blatantly.

P.S. I hope Fnork won't feel compelled to pay too much attention to anything we're saying. grin
The main reason I went and did this on a separate thread was that I know it's not necessarily good for someone preparing a concert or a competition to hear too much about his pieces. And here we are, dissecting the first few measures of the Beethoven under a microscope.....

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