Thursday, October 7, 2010

Yesterday I heard an eminent theorist/musicologist present two versions of a Beethoven Sonata for Piano and Cello, Op. 69. It was a fascinating presentation which featured performances of both versions of the piece by a highly competent student duo. I had to leave before the conclusion of the presentation, but heard enough to realize that the scholar, himself a cellist who has played the piece many times, got it backwards: It is an accompanied sonata, but it is the cello that is accompanying the piano, not the other way around. The duo who played definitely had been advised to keep the cello on top, so to speak, and the piano took a receding role. This is entirely wrong as it skirts all the critical issues raised by the composition: why it contrasts A major, a fine cello key, with F# minor, a lousy cello key but a fascinating piano key.

The piano was a knockout invention. Its sound, then as now, is unfathomably rich, particularly in the black key department. Beethoven was totally fascinated with the sound of black keys in contrast to white. How do I know? Look at the key signatures of Op. 2: No. 1-- four flats; No. 2 -- three sharps; No. 3 -- none of either. This pattern repeats throughout his life. Can it be accidental, then, that he regards this as subject matter?