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PDG
11-22-2000, 03:53 AM
Great website! Something I`ve always been curious about: Is there any record of anyone ever bothering to time B at the piano while playing his own music? I`ve heard, for example, the first movement of the `M oonlight` sonata played to last anything from 5 mins to 9 mins! It would be fascinating, I think, to know how long it`s composer took to play it. I know that pianos were different then, and we have tempo instructions to guide us, but if we knew B`s own timings, then I think we would have a much greater insight into his intensity of mind at any particular performance where he was timed; plus, by allowing for the pianos of the day, and the size and content of his audience, it can only assist us in trying to imagine what it might have been like to be there. People then had clocks and watches, so WHY DIDN`T THEY USE THEM?!

Serge
11-22-2000, 07:13 AM
Beethoven had always seemed very conscious of scoring details like dynamics, tempi indicators (presto thru andante), and, of course, actual metronome-measured tempi. Apparently B. was a great supporter of the metronome and wished performers would abide by his marked tempi; the nature of his work changes drastically when played at "incorrect" pacing. But B.'s metronome was also allegedly broken, so this has helped spur the debate over what exactly Beethoven would have meant by his tempi had his instrument worked. Concerning his symphonies, some assert that they are
pretty much being played too SLOW; that conductors either dislike the frenetic pace of certain mov'ts or feel the music would take on a more imperious, "romantic" personality when played as such.
No one to my knowledge has ever timed a performance by Beethoven and written it down, so if this is indeed the case, then all we have to go by is what B. said he wanted (follow my marked tempi) and what his contemporaries and future interpreters did with those wishes. I believe that even if Beethoven's metronome were malfunctioning, it wouldn't be that far off the mark. Beethoven was a supreme composer and fully involved with the art of music-- he would have known the difference between 80 and 108 beats per minute-- so the idea that B.'s tempi are marked down wrong doesn't hold much water IMHO. Besides, there are such things as tempo categories, so the range within each would likely have included the "incorrect" tempi marked by B. if B. had actually marked them wrong by innocent error.
So, while I'm not a musicologist, I do suspect that Beethoven would do well played faster on a whole. There is no end to the debate over how fast or slow is appropriate: you'll find sonatas lasting ten minutes longer than other recordings of the same, and artists who end up renowned for taking Beethoven slow (Furtwangler) or fast (Zander). Is there a standard to follow? Yeah, I think so. Follow Beethoven's tempi AS MARKED as best and as properly as you can-- at least you can never be reproached for NOT following Beethoven's intentions.

Rod
11-22-2000, 04:46 PM
Some total duration timings were made of some of the symphony performances, but I'm not so sure how useful these are because I don't know if the times included the pauses and applause between the movements (I believe ALL the movements would have been applauded in those days). I don't know where all this problem with B's metronome indications come from, they are pretty well on the mark from what I've heard. The only point of contention being the march in the finale of the 9th Symphony, for which B indicates a very slow pace indeed, and so the figure is generally regarded as an error by Karl who wrote them down for B.

But you are right about the variety of timings in existance today. I have posessed recordings where the adagio of the 9th lasts just under 11 minutes, and another that lasts 20 minutes. Similarly, as has been discussed here before, there are recordings of the adagio for op106 that range between 14.5 and 25 minutes!! I doubt in B time such ultra-largo tempi were ever used, and were probably not possible on the pianos of the day.

Rod

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"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

Stephen F Vasta
11-29-2000, 07:17 PM
<<Beethoven was a supreme composer and fully involved with the art of music-- he would have known the difference between 80 and 108 beats per minute-- so the idea that B.'s tempi are marked down wrong doesn't hold much water IMHO>>

If Beethoven, or anyone else in his time, had not been accustomed to thinking in terms of beats-per-minute - a way of thinking that seems to have been precipitated *by* the prevalence of the metronome - how would he have known the difference between 80 and 108 beats per minute? He would have noticed slower and faster, but probably wouldn't have quantified his perceptions beyond that.

SFV