Beethoven’s last piano sonatas: An edition with elucidation (Oxford University Press, 2015) is the first English-language edition and translation of Heinrich Schenker’s landmark editions of Beethoven’s opp. 109, 110, 111, and 101 (Wien: Universal Edition, 1913).
Each of the four volumes incorporates references to corrections and other remarks entered by Schenker in his personal copies of the sonatas, many of which have not been presented in any of the previous German editions of the works.
Also included are supplements to the original text with explanations of certain points in the commentary and graphic presentations of several passages.
Below, Svâtoslav Rihter performs the op. 101 sonata.
In a 1997 interview, Svâtoslav Rihter spoke about his love of unscheduled performing.
“I now know from experience that things planned too far in advance always end up being aborted. Always! Either you fall ill, or you’re prevented from appearing for some other reason, whereas if you improvise—“The day after tomorrow? Of course, why not?” or, if the worst comes to the worst, “Next week?”—everything passes off smoothly. I may be on form today, but who can tell what I’ll feel like on such-and-such a date in the more-or-less distant future?”
“And so, when I arrive in a country I prefer to open a map and show my impresarios the places that have certain associations for me or that excite my curiosity and, if possible, that I’ve not yet had a chance to visit. We then set off by car, followed by the pianos, avoiding motorways like the plague. And then I may play in a theater or chapel or in a school playground at Roanne, Montluçon, or in some remote corner of Provence. All that matters is that people come not out of snobbery but to listen to the music.”
This from Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and conversations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, pp. 110, 114).
Today is Rihter’s 100th birthday! Above, in Kiev in 1958; below, a 1964 performance of Prokof’ev’s second piano sonata.
The increasing range of Beethoven’s performance indications paralleled the growing depth of expression in his music. While his predecessors had been content with four basic tempos—adagio, andante, allegro, and presto—he began to add qualifiers, indications of gradual tempo change, and descriptive words and phrases in German.
Still unsatisfied, he began to rely on metronome markings, although he stressed that they only provide a point of departure for a performance in which “feeling also has its beat, which cannot wholly be conveyed by a number”.
He started to favor graphic treatments of crescendo and diminuendo, ensuring dynamic shapes that would not necessarily be intuited by the performer. He used sforzando in structural as well as expressive ways, and expanded volume markings beyond the range from pp to ff.
His pedaling indications usually reinforce harmonic contexts, though sometimes they cause harmonic areas to overlap; this might explain why some of Beethoven’s contemporaries complained that his pedaling resulted in a confused sound. His articulation markings often reinforce motivic structure and development.
All of these performance indications are most fully understood in the context of the particular instrument he was using at the time.
This according to “Interpreting Beethoven’s markings: A preliminary survey of the piano sonatas” by Tallis Barker (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 169–182). Below, Sviatoslav Richter demonstrates his approach to Beethoven’s performance indications.
Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore