“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”
Plato

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Beethoven Sonata Op. 28 and the Drama of the Small Hand


Beethoven c. 1801

   My student of the small-hand persuasion brought the first movement of Beethoven's sonata number 15, the ever so placid "Pastorale" sonata (1801). Virtually nowhere in this generally lyrical sonata do we hear anything of the brooding that would seem reasonable just a year before that fateful fall of 1802, the fall of the Heiligenstadt Testament: As the leaves of autumn wither and fall, so has my own life become barren: almost as I came, so I go hence. Even that high
 Heiligenstadt Testament autograph
courage that inspired me in the fair days of summer has now vanished.
We are so fortunate that Beethoven chose to remain among the living to fulfill his destiny. 

   For my student, the sonata was anything but placid, technically at least. She complained of feeling stretched in the gently undulating Alberti figures that outline octave positions. And her primary reason for taking this piece was to avoid octaves!
   As always, I listened attentively. Over the years, I've learned that it's best to first let the student vent, even though I knew immediately what the problem was and how to fix it. 
   This is a grouping issue, even in a normal-sized hand. On the third beat of measure one, release the eighth (thumb) D and feel (not hear) a new start from second-finger G-sharp, which serves as a hinge, a pivot point. There will also be a slight up on the second finger to down on the heavier octave. On the final quarter of measure two, I release the fifth-finger D because that 5th-finger next to 2nd-finger E creates too much of a stretch. Proceed in similar fashion. Voila. This avoids that uncomfortable feeling of staying open in an octave position. Discreet use of the pedal aids in maintaining the legato. 

Beethoven Op. 28, first movement, mm 88-96
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