Archive for the ‘piano’ Category

beethoven the pianist, neefe, and a clarification

March 13, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

Early Music has, to my knowledge, been first with an encouraging and generous review of Beethoven the Pianist, for which I am very grateful. For subscribers of EM, the full text is available here.

Reviews inevitably reveal some points of lacking clarity. In this case, reviewer Siân Derry alerts me to a missed chance of an explanation during my presentation of one of my side plots, which addresses the extent of Christian Gottlob Neefe’s influence on the young Beethoven (I am arguing that that influence may not have been quite as great as the usual Beethoven biographies are claiming).

Here is the passage of the review that explains the problem:

[Skowroneck's] assertion that Neefe “does not mention giving Beethoven keyboard instruction at all” and that “by 1783, any keyboard tuition by Neefe (if it ever took place) belonged to the past” (pp.43-3) is compromised by his omission from consideration of Neefe’s letter of 19 January 1785. Yet on an earlier page (p.41) Skowroneck includes parts of this letter–which states that Neefe was forced to teach six hours each day and that “Beethoven will be most happy of all, but I doubt nevertheless that he will truly profit from this” — but fails to pursue its implications for his argument.

What Neefe actually addressed here is explained by his own position in early 1785. After the death of the old Elector Maximilian Friedrich on April 15, 1784, some influential people at the Bonn court acted to diminish Neefe’s influence there, partly because he had been frequently absent, replaced by Beethoven. The situation quickly turned ugly; (more…)

brahms’ handel or handel’s brahms?

February 19, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

In anticipation of Murray Perahia’s new CD with Brahms’ Handel Variations, which I ordered minutes ago, a few thoughts about the tangles of performance practice in this work are in order.

These magnificent variations are based on an aria from Handel’s first keyboard suite in B-flat Major. Although Brahms – as we read in the article I linked to above – drew his inspiration mainly from the bass, the theme, with all its added and omitted twiddles, is Handel’s own. Now, how does the pianist have to approach these eight bars of Early Music? (more…)

artistic-creative research and beethoven trills

February 19, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

After a recent musicological seminar, a co-listener took me aside and said,

“There should be a sign at the beginning of some of these lectures, like on those bags of sweets that may contain traces of nuts: ‘may contain sociology’.”

I have neither problems with nuts, nor sociology. But I have, indeed, come across a few  too many perfunctory footnotes in music studies, especially about cultural capital and the likes, so I think I understood what he meant. Something to be allergic for, in music or otherwise, is the buzzword.

Look at artistic-creative research, for example. Hearing that I had participated in the artistic-creative research program at Gothenburg University, someone once asked me about the methodologies we had applied in that program. It was uncannily difficult to answer that question. This is in part to be explained by the fact that everyone in artistic-creative research does a little what pleases them best, and in part it is a consequence of the discipline being relatively new.  In part, however, it is a consequence of nobody really knowing what artistic-creative research is about, while it is so nice to say the words anyway. Artistic. Creative. Research. Sounds like funding right there.

(more…)

faithful amz

May 26, 2010

One of my years-old ideas about Beethoven’s piano playing is that it developed from, roughly said, “impetuous-youthful-but-rough” via “virtuosic-professional” to “stepwise declining”. First signs of that “decline” can be seen in documents from around 1800. Clear indications date from 1805 and onward.

This view is not so much based on my innate perseverance in the making of claims, but rather on the circumstance that I spent my time returning to the canonic documents about Beethoven’s playing, re-reading, re-organizing and re-interpreting their meaning (at that moment and over time). Unbelievable that a perfectly accessible passage in a very well known body of source material (the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung from Leipzig) has escaped my (and – it seems – most Beethoven scholars’) attention. It beautifully summarizes what I have tried to establish:

AMZ Zehnter Jahrgang, No. 19, 3 February 1808 p. 303. In a review of the trio Op. 2 by Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven’s former student, we find the following passage:

“Mr. R. is the last, and in fact perhaps the only pupil mr. v. Beethoven consented to take on, and whom he kept here in Vienna for some time also for the following reason; that he played his (Beethoven’s) piano concertos and other important works in public, which the composer himself no longer liked to do, [who has] in fact really neglected himself regarding his playing for several years.” (more…)

beethoven the pianist update

May 24, 2010

My new book Beethoven the Pianist (Cambridge University Press) is now definitely published and available at booksellers all around. There is a small pile of them on my little table at home, so I can’t be wrong about this. Previews are available on Googlebooks and at various Amazon sites.

I am announcing this only for the sake of completeness (since I mentioned the upcoming event in an earlier post) and in the hope that the community of piano and Beethoven aficionados will have patience with my style and a good time reading it.

With even more enthusiasm, I would like to direct interested harpsichordists to the tab “Skowroneck harpsichords” in the sidebar of this blog to check out a new second hand offer of a Franco-Flemish 5-octave Skowroneck harpsichord in Spain, that has reached me yesterday. This instrument is especially dear to me since I played my first series of public recitals on it in the early 80s. Judging from the pictures that I have seen, it is in very good shape.

time management II

April 29, 2009

The magic ingredient of the method outlined in my previous post is boxes. If we create boxes of time, we can fill them with concentrated activity. If, on the other hand, we have a luxurious chunk of unstructured time ahead, we likely will fail to fill it with anything more elaborate than an occasional morsel of activity (or chocolate).  To be sure, if one, for example, has the task of reducing a book manuscript by 15.000 words in two and a half days, without throwing out all the good stuff and creating a mess with the footnotes and cross-references in the text, the only thing one needs to do is to sit down and do it. The boxes will be five: one workday, one short night, another workday, another short night and a frantic print-out wrap-up, topped off by the ride to the post office to get the final manuscript out of the house. While I have been in such situations, they should not be called normal. Also the required energy level is nothing one should try to mobilize on a regular basis – it cannot be good for one’s health. In normal circumstances, we’re given choices for our activities – and so we choose.

The act of preparing a new piece of music offers too many choices. Most of them can be justified in some really good way. For example, if we hate working on some easy passages, we can claim that some really difficult stuff needs a lot of training first. Conversely, the inclination to jog through a piece without bothering about the difficult passages can be excused because one needs to get a grasp of the structure before one dives down into the details. One can keep practicing the exposition of a sonata, fooling oneself with the belief that the recapitulation is very similar. One can skip the minuets of a suite until the last minute because one might be able to sight-read them, unlike some other movements.  All these evasive moves can be summarized in two words: sublime dawdling. (more…)

bach on the piano

April 3, 2008

After years away from the studio, Murray Perahia has issued a new CD with three of Bach’s partitas. The official Perahia website, maintained by Sony, provides audio samples of the new recording. As reviews are being written, we will in all likelihood once again have to endure the silly arguments for and against playing Bach on this, that or the other instrument.

To be sure, Perahia himself has an open-mindedness about the issue that many other pianists (and sadly enough many harpsichord lovers) seem to lack. In this interview, for example, he is quoted as saying “I think the pursuit of authenticity is fine. There’s nothing against it, but it’s not the only way.” (more…)


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