Monday, July 29, 2013

What Is There To Analyze?

Since I no longer teach theoretical concepts to my piano students I notice that they play with greater perception already at first sight--sometimes with greater perception than I bring to the same piece even after years of acquaintance with it!

How can that be?

Partly in search of an answer I looked yesterday at Schnabel's edition of the Beethoven "Moonlight" sonata.  The edition is famous for a couple of things: most helpfully, he numbers the phrase lengths.  These are often quite difficult to ascertain and it is extremely helpful to the young pianist to know that the difficulty is real in that a great interpreter of Beethoven has thus substantiated it.

The other thing is to me somewhat shocking: he puts in pedalings and fingerings that correspond to the most rigid visual analysis but which leave little room for actual sound.  For example, the very beginning consists of whole notes in the left hand with those famous triplets in the right hand several measures before that mysterious other line enters in the treble.  Is it the melody?  Schnabel clearly thinks so.

I do not agree.  To me the melody is in the left hand octaves inside of which -- senza sordini !!! -- i.e., with pedal -- the triplets melt and out of which the eerie treble line emerges as from another sound medium.  It is Beethoven's indication that the movement is to be played without dampers.

Only a purely visual analysis yields the other, more typical result, which I find not just inadequate but boring.

Then how can I say that Schnabel was a great Beethoven interpreter?  Clearly his playing turned a whole generation of pianists onto this repertoire:  it must have been exciting.  Does the edition correspond to his playing?  Only someone who had heard him live would know because even the recordings are suspect, in my opinion, since he didn't want to make recordings, who knows exactly for what reason and what his reactions were to the recordings once made.