Friday, March 28, 2014

The Necessary Heft

What I call "offbeat" Beethoven is the focus of my current piano series, exploring his fascination with beats in unusual, unexpected places.  How can he get away with it?

The answer has to be that in anticipating a beat which does not materialize we are doubly engaged in the musical moment.  We want, we need, our wish is not granted, therefore we delight, or we reject.   All of that is packed into every single upbeat instant .

This implies an awareness of real commitment to the beat as a physical event, i.e., the dance.  We have to be careful, in our dance-deprived era, to recognize our lack of knowledge in this area.  Can you tell a minuet from a mazurka from a landler from a furiant?  I doubt that I can, particularly because I have to rely on versions of these 3/4 meters that may or not accurately reflect the essence of the dance step.

I think it best when a movement is marked "Minuet" to ask to what degree it really conforms to whatever it is we know about minuets.  Don't be surprised if it does not conform.  The designation "Tempo di Menuetto" indicates a departure from the formal minuet though with some of its characteristics.  Perhaps we should play more of these before tackling the "real" thing, as if we knew what that was.

When I was ten my sister took me to see the ballet in Chicago.  To this day I recall my dismay when they danced a Mazurka, clearly in 3/4 time but with no discernible downbeats!