Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64

Posted by: pianomouse

Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/15/12 09:12 AM

I would be very glad, if you could help me:
I'm teaching Beethoven's 'Variations on a Swiss Song' WoO 64, and just now, I was asked how the articulation in the theme should be played. Beethoven writes staccato dots with a legato bow. Until now, I taught some kind of portato/tenuto, but I would be interested, how others are seeing this.
Thanks very much for any inputs. smile
Posted by: LoPresti

Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/15/12 10:50 PM

I do not know the piece in question, but I used to think of this written coloration as portato (as you have mentioned), with an emphasis on keeping each effected note equal in attack and duration, as well as grouped in the same phrase.

It seems to me that the violins typically play this figure with a constant, halting down-bow, or a constant, halting up-bow, in an effort to keep the attack completely uniform.

KEYSTRING - Where are you when we need you?

Ed
Posted by: Minniemay

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/15/12 10:58 PM

I believe the portato sound is the most appropriate.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/16/12 12:24 AM

FWIW, the way I learned it and the way I teach it is portato in measure 1, metric half pedal in measure 2 and similarly for the remainder of the theme. Beethoven loved the sound of the piano senza sordini (without the mutes), which translates for us as rather heavy use of the pedal. It's a great late intermediate level piece and helps prepare students for a number of problems they will face as they advance.
Posted by: pianomouse

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/16/12 05:49 PM

Thank you all for the inputs :-)
John, you're right, it is a great piece - I use it quite often. That's why I thought it was worth questioning my opinion about the theme articulation.
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/16/12 11:38 PM

Originally Posted By: pianomouse
I would be very glad, if you could help me: I'm teaching Beethoven's 'Variations on a Swiss Song' WoO 64.....
Thanks very much for any inputs. smile

I was hoping for more input by other teachers on this wonderful upper intermediate teaching piece. Beethoven strings together a set of variations which address many of the problems students will face playing his advanced works.

Here are some teaching thoughts in no particular order. First, for the benefit of teachers who do not know this work, the theme is presented very briefly as one treble line, with a single bass line counter melody, which harmonizes, of course. Variation 1 introduces RH triplets, with the melody restated as the first note of each triplet. The LH echos the LH theme from the "Theme." Variation 2 introduces a rhythmic LH against the straight forward RH theme. Variation 3 switches to minor, with an eighth note pattern in the RH. Variation 4 introduces octave playing in the RH, against a triplet pattern LH. Variation 5 uses 3rd and 16th notes in the RH, again restating the theme. And finally, Variation 6 is quite bravura with flashing RH scale runs and octave LH. By far the most difficult of the variations, with Variation 4 being a close runner up.

If their pedal technique isn't up to snuff, working on both metric and harmonic pedaling is called for, plus half and quarter pedaling.

The first general idea I teach the students is that in this classical style, the pulse must be maintained as you move from variation to variation. No time outs or pauses. The first note of each new variation must follow the exact pulse of the ending theme/variation. Tempo changes can occur between pulse 1 and 2 of the new variation.

The 2nd thing I generally do is get students to locate the theme in each variation, and also the bass counter melody. This isn't so easy in some of the variations.

The dotted eighth and sixteenth note rhythm of Variation 2 in the LH is problematic for most students, and they generally want to play a triplet. This needs careful attention.

About tempi, I generally start them out as the score indicates with an andante con moto, and then with each successive variation, a slight tempo increase, so that by variation 2, we're moving along at a solid allegretto. That allows us to back off with a slower Andante at variation 3; this variation has a repeat, which is really neat, because you can rebalance the voices on the repeat, to great effect. Then moving into Var 4, we take off at a solid allegro, pushing 144 if possible. Var 5 is marked sempre dolce, so we back off the tempo to moderato, and then finally, the 6th variation flies as fast as the student can handle it. If their scales are coming along, some of them are actually able to pearl their scales, which is really, really nice!

The octaves in var 4 & 6 are problematic for young students with smaller hands. You have to watch carefully that the axis of the arm is proper and that they don't bang the keys, but rather start each octave on the key and use arm and shoulder weight to get the sound they need.

If I think of anything else, will add it later. Have fun!

Oh, FWIW, I am generally teaching the easier Inventions, Mozart K535, and some Romantic pieces, such as Grieg's Notturno, along with this piece. And the Kabalevsky a minor sonatina.
Posted by: pianomouse

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/19/12 07:13 PM

Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
About tempi, I generally start them out as the score indicates with an andante con moto, and then with each successive variation, a slight tempo increase, so that by variation 2, we're moving along at a solid allegretto. That allows us to back off with a slower Andante at variation 3; this variation has a repeat, which is really neat, because you can rebalance the voices on the repeat, to great effect. Then moving into Var 4, we take off at a solid allegro, pushing 144 if possible. Var 5 is marked sempre dolce, so we back off the tempo to moderato, and then finally, the 6th variation flies as fast as the student can handle it. If their scales are coming along, some of them are actually able to pearl their scales, which is really, really nice!

Dear John, thanks for 'advertising' for this wonderful Beethoven piece. smile
But I don't agree on what you wrote about the tempi. Beethoven writes 'Andante con moto' at the beginning of the theme and doesn't write other tempo indications in any of the variations. Beethoven's tempo indications have to be followed very strictly, so if he wants us to play the whole theme and six variations in the same tempo, we can't change this, just to highten the effect. Actually, it is especially demanding to follow all his other indications ('Minore, sempre piano e legato', 'Maggiore', 'sempre dolce') and to bring forward the different character of the variations without altering the tempo. By the way, he even doesn't write a ritardando at the end of variation six.
About tempo 108 seems to work well with my students
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/19/12 09:09 PM

Fortunately, I'm old enough to have known Ludwig personally. Not only did he grow up in the next town down the river from where my family lived, our ancestors both hailed from the same region in Zeeland. He & I tossed back many a brew together, and while not generally known, he was actually quite romantic and not as strict on tempi as some of his students suggest. Enjoy the piece.
Posted by: Minniemay

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/19/12 09:22 PM

I think the tempo does indeed vary somewhat, depending on the character of the variation. Listen to any recording of Beethoven's 32 Variations in C minor and I don't think you'll hear a consistent tempo throughout the work. There needs to be some flexibility.
Posted by: Gary D.

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/20/12 01:43 AM

Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
Fortunately, I'm old enough to have known Ludwig personally. Not only did he grow up in the next town down the river from where my family lived, our ancestors both hailed from the same region in Zeeland. He & I tossed back many a brew together, and while not generally known, he was actually quite romantic and not as strict on tempi as some of his students suggest. Enjoy the piece.

John,

You have showed admirable restraint in replying to an absolutely foolish post! laugh
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 10/20/12 09:04 AM

Gary,

One of the big problems teachers face, especially in Europe, is to be locked in by convention. I'm 100% certain I was taught exactly the same as pianomouse was taught in re variations composed in the Classical era. How these conventions come into being is probably worthy of a doctoral study; which conventions are worthwhile keeping, in the main at least, and which ones need shedding is yet another study in the making. I specifically remember a lecture on Mozart's Alla Turca where the prof was pointing out Mozart's device to increase the apparent tempo - going from quarter notes to eighth to triplets to sixteenths. Unfortunately for this prof, no great performer is a metronome and most do have slight tempo changes as they perform these variations. Thank goodness.

As I get older, and life shorter, I realize more and more that being restricted by convention has both its pluses and minuses. For my students, I'm willing to explore sounds beyond the narrow confines of convention, especially when the music itself pulls you in that direction. In the case of these variations, if variation #4 & #6 are played at Andante con moto, they will sound utterly devoid of life. Dull, listless, BORING! So why do it???
Posted by: antonia

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 01/29/13 09:21 AM

Alfred Brendel playing the Beethoven's Variatons
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQDTfdwug0I
It is an idea
Posted by: John v.d.Brook

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 01/29/13 06:09 PM

Always enjoyable to listen to a true artist at work! Thanks for posting this.
Posted by: btb

Re: Beethoven Variations on Swiss Song WoO 64 - 01/31/13 10:36 AM

In my student day I was fortunate to visit LB’s birthplace at Bonn ... toured Europe on a BSA Bantam motorbike ... screeching to a halt at the house ...
charged up the steps to the first floor museum and was intoxicated with the memorabilia and old Broadwood piano ... how many of the manufacturers tried to find an instrument which would improve LB’s ability to hear.

But after labouring the above chat ... I must mention that the WoO64 “Variations on a Swiss song” has to be the most elementary score I’ve ever seen of LB ... after downloading a copy of the score (which looks
like a yellowing original manuscript) I have just played the opening 11 measures ... but wonder what all the fuss (glowing admiration) is about.

Perhaps the work is meant for four year olds.