Friday, October 3, 2014

A Minuet Rides Again and Wins

This morning I had the privilege of discovering  as if I had never known it before a minuet by Beethoven.  It was the student's choice to work in B-flat, a key that inspired a lot of writing for the piano when it was a new invention.  We chose to work on the minuet of Op. 22  because, as a rule, it is the most approachable movement of a sonata.

Where did we start? Not with beats and barlines because this student already knows there is more to it than that.  Sizing up the score he decided there was an undercurrent of 4s.  Then started the search for explicit fourness.  Following his nose he found some astonishing things in this piece that I never knew were there, things entirely consistent with other extraordinary works of the same period (1800-1801) of Beethoven's life, during which he composed some two dozen (count them) sonatas.

We turned up startling things in common with the "Moonlight" Sonata, composed in the same year.

We turned up also a startling paucity of chords, finding only one in the main part of the minuet, and a chord which, at that, defies standard definition, consisting of only two tones, the fifth left out, as it resonates anyway as a prominent overtone of the doubled B-flat root.

Incidentally, by sticking to my definition of a chord other fascinating elements of the movement are exposed:  A chord is a combination of tones, usually three or more, played simultaneously with the same note value in all voices and the same articulation.  What might look like a chord, if slurred to another chord, is not actually a chord but an unstable combination of tones in motion.  A chord must pronounce itself clearly and with stability in order to function as a truly vertical harmony.  Everything else is contrapuntal in nature.