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20 - Another Little Buck Out of Its Stable

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2020

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Summary

Preamble: Two Anecdotes

A well-known professional cellist is at our home, trying out an instrument that my wife is hoping to purchase. The expansive phrase with which the cello introduces itself in the first movement of Beethoven's Sonata for Piano and Cello, op. 102, no. 2 splays across its two-and-a-half octaves, prompting our cellist to recall that when she performed the work many years ago for the eminent music theorist Ernst Oster, he took aim at those two As that establish the octave breach in the middle of the phrase. Which of them, he is said to have asked, was “the more important”? It would be easy enough to dismiss the question as mischievous, since each A has a stake in the internal counterpoint of this lavishly convoluted phrase, each its own claim to “importance.” Oster, I suspect, was after bigger game, and in any case, the question inspires us to work through those differences in the play of theoretical abstraction against the immediacy of performance. (The opening of the sonata is shown in ex. 20.1.)

Some weeks later—and here's the second anecdote—moments after a performance of the piece with another cellist at a chamber music workshop where I was engaged as pianist, a sharp-eared friend accosted me: “You played a wrong note!” The stern inflection in his voice hinted that this wasn't merely a question of the inevitable dropped note in the heat of performance. A larger issue was at stake. Ironically, it was another A, in yet another register that was in question, this at the recapitulation in the first movement (shown in ex. 20.2). To my eternal mortification, I now saw that from a first slapdash reading of the passage I had misread those ledger lines, answering the grace note F♯ at measure 92 with an F♯ an octave higher. This fugitive high F♯ always troubled me, in the main because it would exacerbate the pile-up of F♯s, tripled (indeed, with the grace note, quadrupled) above the deep F♯ in the bass. But I failed to make the correction, and the loss of that A, a betrayal of what may be thought of as the crux of the work, sticks in the mind with a tenacity that repudiates the fleeting evanescence of performance.

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Chapter
Information
The New Beethoven
Evolution, Analysis, Interpretation
, pp. 466 - 482
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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