Research

Updated June 2012

Beginning in 1997, I have concentrated my musicological research on Beethoven performance practice, biography, and organology with a focus on the early piano. The public defense of my dissertation was on 5 May 2007. An abstract and an errata list can be found further below on this page.

My post-doc project at the University of Southampton, financed by the Swedish research council, is reaching its conclusion. I am presently working on my second book with results of my study.

Abstract of the new project, as submitted to the Swedish Research council

Stability and change in Early Romantic Viennese piano culture

This project investigates the rapid development of Viennese pianos during the Early Romantic period, focusing especially on innovation in piano making and playing in Viennese musical culture. I will study how conservatism and progressive thinking both appear in the goals and products of Viennese piano makers, and how customers’ use influenced the makers and thus helped to shape the development of Viennese pianos. The sources include letters, technical descriptions, early histories of the piano, and surviving pianos. I plan to select a series of events from the period that relate to innovation in piano building, such as a specific development and its reflections in the accounts, a builder’s reluctance to change, or contemporary opinions that demonstrate conservatism or progress in some other way.  I will analyse the material using theories that offer alternatives to the evolutionist idea that instruments developed towards an unachieved but clear aesthetic goal. To develop an appropriate theoretical framework, I will investigate concepts such as path dependence and Howard Becker’s art world concept as well as actor-network theory. My approach, borrowed from social studies of technology, is relatively new in organology. In studies about the history of the piano, the evolutionist approach has traditionally been prominent. My study should constitute a major contribution to this new tendency in organology. It should also provide fresh insights into early Romantic Viennese piano making.

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Below follows an abstract and an errata list of my dissertation Beethoven the Pianist: Biographical, Organological, and Performance-Practical Aspects of His Years As a Public Performer. Ph.D. Diss. Skrifter från Institutionen för musikvetenskap, Göteborgs universitet nr 84. Göteborg: Göteborg University 2007. ISSN 1650-9285. ISBN 978-91-85974-00-9.

[order at the Centrum för Kulturstudier, Institutionen för kultur, estetik & medier, Göteborgs universitet, Box 200
405 30 Göteborg].

The errata list below refers to the original dissertation and not to Beethoven the Pianist by Cambridge University Press (for this book you find an errata list here).

Abstract

Modern performance practice research has accepted the traditional picture of Beethoven as a rough pianist, impatient with his instruments. This picture is not altogether accurate: modern ideas about Beethoven’s pianism are influen­ced by anecdotes dating from when deafness had begun to impair his playing. A revision of this picture is necessary for approaching Beethoven performance practice with confidence. This study reviews Beethoven’s formative years and his career as a keyboard virtuoso in order to show how his musical develop­ment was influenced by his teachers, contemporary theorists and various key­board instruments.

The development and decline of Beethoven’s pianism is described by analyzing the contemporary reports. His opinion of fortepianos is juxtaposed with other contemporary judgments and with modern organological findings. His treatment of his Érard piano from 1803 is studied in detail. The result is a revised picture of Beethoven the pianist showing his development from an im­petuous young musician into a virtuoso in command of many musical resour­ces. At the peak of his powers, Beethoven was able to play exceptionally well on his fortepianos and the public response was unanimously positive. Not until the early years of the nineteenth century did Beethoven’s pianistic powers decline.

Two selected topics are discussed that were special for Beethoven’s pianism; his legato and the performance of his trills. We know less than is often assum­ed about the influence of the 18th-century keyboard tutors on Beethoven’s style. The influence of Beethoven’s teacher Neefe, however, is clear in some notational details.

Two conclusions provide help in performing Beethoven’s piano music and a starting point for further studies in this field. First, playing Beethoven on historical pianos is a representative choice that reflects Beethoven’s professional practice. Second, his expressive notation was designed to indicate his personal style to a reader used to traditional notation. For understanding this notation, 18th – century conventions generally still apply.

Errata, February 20, 2007

p. 52, n. 112: add “accessed November 2006.”
p. 57, n. 123: add page nr. 96.
p. 70, line four: parenthesis, change into: “or perhaps, to Ludwig’s ambitions.”
p. 84, n. 207: Rosetti and Rößler are one and the same person.
p. 112, n. 316: delete “convincingly.”
p. 144, second line, second §: correct 1780s into “1870s.”
p. 149, n. 431: add “Broadwood grand piano.”
p. 156, line 16, penultimate word: change into “unfortunately.”
p. 174, beginning of line five: add “the.”
p. 194, seventh line from below: delete “resulted.”
p. 197, third line: close parenthesis.
p. 216, second line: delete “p. 98.”
p. 218, line 6: “bridge.”
p. 226, line 12: “completely.”
p. 229, line 9: change “eight” into “eighth.”
p. 324, first line: separate “Czerny” and “to.”
p. 333, n. 880. Omit footnote. The knee levers in Mozart’s piano are indeed inverted, as Rampe and others state, but this is inconclusive, since they are not original.
p. 334, line 7: “notes.”
p. 334, line 17: delete “which.”
p. 337, music example, change to bass clef in lower system.
p. 339, n. 886: begin first sentence with “however” and delete “as well” at the end.
p. 352, fourth line from below: trill sign in parenthesis is stretched too far apart.
p. 381, line 6: insert “that” before “belong.”
p. 386, fourth line from below, last word: “right-hand.”
p. 408, Beethoven Briefwechsel reference: change into “Brandenburg, Sieghard.”
p. 417, third reference: change into “Pollens, Stewart.”
 

Booking: tilman[at]skowroneck[dot]de or view the contact page.


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