Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Travails of Habit - Beethoven Edition

I have been noodling around with Beethoven's 2nd Piano Sonata for about a year now, and have finally settled down to try to actually learn it by practising.

As many musicians know, there's an upside and a downside to playing through something - on the one hand, there's the whole sight-reading thing, that exhilarating sense of that first encounter of "playing" a work, which, especially for an amateur like me, typifies much of my playing. I have no concert to perform, so I have the luxury of screwing up and not worrying too much about it.

The problem with this kind of playing though is that by the time you sit down to actually learn a work, clean it up and make it performable, you find that all the little habits you've accumulated over time have become the barnacles that get in the way of a clean, thoughtful performance.

So it is with Op. 2 No. 2. For reasons that will remain mysterious, I have been playing (or more accurately, trying to play) the following with only the right hand (image taken from this score on the IMSLP:

This image happens to be the 1st edition of the sonata. If you take a look at the whole score, you'll see that this happens to be one of the few places where fingerings are marked, which is a pretty sure sign that those fingers come from Beethoven himself.

For some reason, I took these fingerings to mean that this was meant to be played with the right hand. After all, the marking are all above the stave, so they're for the right hand, right? But then it occurs to you that this is really, really difficult to pull of cleanly. So I practise and practise and it never really comes together.

Then it hits me - my left hand sits limp on my lap while I try to execute these octave arpeggios with the right hand! And then I take a good look again at my own score (the Henle), and realise that they've got some of the fingerings below (indicating use of the left hand), while also preserving Beethoven's own fingerings.

My apologies if this is too much inside baseball, but seeing this, I decided to grab my dvds of Daniel Barenboim playing all the Beethoven sonatas to see what he does - to my absent surprise, he uses both hands!

This takes quite a load off then, doesn't it? Playing these arpeggios over two hands makes them a lot easier, doesn't it? But there is a problem, and it's right there in that image of the 1st Edition:

Beethoven wants you to play this with the right hand alone!

Or does he? One could see this as economy on the part of the publisher, but knowing what I do about Beethoven, it seems pretty clear to me that he's taken the time to write in the fingerings because this is how Ludwig van frickin' Beethoven wants you to play this. If he wanted it played partly with the left hand, he would have pointed that out in addition to the fingerings, especially when this is the only time in the entire movement where he indicates fingerings.

So he wants it rough and tumble, maybe a bit insecure, but definitely with the right hand. Or does he? What do any of you think?


Anonymous said...

All the money I spent on piano lessons for you and they never taught you this!!! I want my money back!!

Andrew W. said...

Very funny. This isn't something they can teach anyway - it's a decision that needs to be made, but one that isn't discussed nearly as often as notes and rhythm!

In other words, no refunds!