Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Inanity of the Alberti Figure

Back to the "Moonlight" Sonata, third movement.  Long stretches of this movement feature the highly repetitive Alberti figure, mostly accompanying a somewhat square melody with obscure expression markings, like hairpin swells and decrescendos. 

Taking a closer listen to these passages proved extremely revealing this morning.  Assuming, as I do, that the function of the Alberti figure is to set off ripples of reverberation from the most often repeated tone, the other tones either reinforce or collide with those reverberations, producing a kaleidoscopic bouncing and rebounding of tones and overtones, making a rhythm that cannot be described or written down.  It can only be experienced and respected as taking on a life of its own, independent of controlled thought or instrumental technique.

The strings are literally doing the work.

It is nothing short of shocking to work through these passages tone by tone to experience the care with which Beethoven made the choices he did about which notes to change in which direction.

I consider this the most difficult challenge of the movement, though at first glance it seems the most obvious, almost inane.