Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I firmly believe that a person going into third year of high school is capable of understanding all kinds of things that in my day were not considered appropriate for young minds. Why play sonatas by Beethoven? was a question that arose in my mind at about that age. It is a difficult question to ask and a harder one to answer.

Many young people that age are given, as I was, the task of learning to play these works without the foggiest idea of what we are doing, let alone why.

My student is working, at her own request, on improving her rhythmic control. We use Vol. I of the Beethoven sonatas to work on this problem. This is the routine: She opens the book at random and spots a passage that seems playable. Today it was the second phrase in the A major Sonata, Op. 2 No. 2. It looks straightforward but, as must happen to everyone who reads it for the first time, her fingers were soon tied up in knots (as well as notes).

The meter is 2/4. Considering the length of a slurred group to be a single unit of rhythm there is a problem because one slur group is 1 1/2 beats while another is 4 bars, which is 5 x 1 and 1/2 plus 1/2. This proposition is so amusing and so obviously what holds the passage together that she was soon able to play it because it had been properly parsed.

Where does the idea originate, do you suppose? Contrary to what one would expect, in the opening idea the set of four 32nds is slurred into the following quarter--a most unusual occurrence--making a total of 1 and 1/2 beats. Did you ever notice that?

Did I ever notice that?