On Playing Beethoven: Marginalia

Interpretation? Some musicians have little patience for this word, while on the other side there is a recent surge of musicologists who strive to do it justice by elucidating its essence, its development, and its historical peculiarities. After a lengthy period of purely structural reasoning about musical works, topics such as psychology, character, and atmosphere are being considered again. Every tiny portamento or cercar la nota throughout the history of bel canto is being unearthed. Recapitulations are scrutinized with the help of the stopwatch in order to find out whether, why, and by how much they may exceed the scope of the exposition. The anti-interpreters consider all this to be a waste of time. All they ask for is a reliable edition of the score. The rest will be provided by their own genius. Here I would like to interpose and remind the reader of the fact that to decipher a score precisely and sympathetically is a much more demanding task than most musicians realize, and a more important one as well. Among the composers who had the skill to put on paper distinctly what they imagined, Beethoven is an outstanding example. Do not register his markings with one eye only: it will not provide you with the full picture. I am thinking of his dynamic indications in particular — Beethoven was well aware of where his crescendi and diminuendi should start or end. The metronome markings are another matter. The unhesitating adherence to Beethoven’s metronome figures even in the most dubious cases (Op. 106, Ninth Symphony) has resulted in performances that hardly leave any space for warmth, dolce, cantabile, for — in the words of the prescription in his Missa Solemnis — “from the heart — may it reach out to the heart” (von Herzen — möge es wieder

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