“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.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Beethoven's Waldstein Sonata: Food for Thought

     One of the questions tossed at me during my doctoral orals had to do with the importance of music theory when making interpretive
decisions. In other words, why bother to analyze a score? Isn't this a little bit like having to understand how a car works in order to drive it, as one colleague put it?
     If in performance our objective is to convey meaning or emotion, then one question is, whose meaning or emotion are we offering? Is it our own, the performer's point of view? Or the composer's? Both? If the performer is the interpreter, then what is he/she interpreting? For me, performance begins with the score. There we find the composer's precise intentions, that is, precise as notation and words with all of their limitations allow. The notes and other markings are surface directions; in order to go deeper, we performers have to think.
   This, it seems to me, is why we need to understand how the piece was put together structurally. Where are the sign posts, the guard rails, the inn at the side of the road? In Beethoven's time a diminished seventh was still a scary chord. A deceptive resolution was still a surprise. In other words, we need to learn how to take the scenic route and enjoy its offerings. Stay off the interstate and much more will be revealed. And no, we don't have to be an auto mechanic to drive a car. We just have to know how to tell it where to go.
     So, I propose some questions. What does it mean that, in his Waldstein Sonata Beethoven  repeats the opening statement on B-flat, pianissimo? How incongruous is that? We are prepared for sunshine on a field of poppies and instead we get a small lake. Soon, with all those borrowings from the parallel minor, we get a sliver of doom, perhaps precipitation, on the horizon, only to be saved again by the sun. What do we think about the choice of keys? Is that incongruous B-flat a hint that things are not going to be as expected? What should we—could we—do about the second subject appearing in E Major instead of the usual dominant? E major seems to me even warmer, after  C major and especially after that soggy B-flat.
     Hah! I'll bet you thought I would tell you the answers, as if there were absolute answers. No, this is my way of thinking aloud, my way of getting the engine started. To view one person's analysis of the first movement, visit Waldstein. And do enjoy the view.


No comments: