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13 - Meaningful Details: Expressive Markings in Beethoven Manuscripts, with a Focus on Opus 127

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2020

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Summary

There is an enormous amount of valuable information in manuscript pages that is lost in each stage of transfer to printed editions. My colleagues and I in the Borromeo Quartet each read the full score while playing quartets together. This method, made possible by computers and page-turning pedals, has caused a profound change in the quality of our work. When four people view the full score all the time while playing and in every discussion, the communal logic that emerges has a completely new set of possibilities. What was an unexpected bonus was that the computer made it possible to consult digital versions of primary sources, including manuscripts, during rehearsals. Studying original sources has been inspiring in our work with Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bartók, Schoenberg, and many others. But in regard to Beethoven, working from the manuscript has brought an extensive new set of expressive markings under our purview.

Expressive Markings in the Manuscripts that Are Not Represented in Print

The three categories of expressive marks in Beethoven's manuscripts that are not represented in print are staccato, dynamics, and swells.

Staccato: Four Types of Staccato

(Of course, Beethoven's writing is not always extremely neat, so distinguishing among these four categories can sometimes be challenging.)

These four types of staccato are almost always reduced in printed editions to just one type—either a dot for everything or a line for everything— though in rare and limited instances two are used. Beethoven does not hesitate to have different types of staccato happening simultaneously, and he also seems to relish using varied progressions of staccato markings, so eight notes in a sequence may start with one type of staccato and end with another. Sometimes, however, he marks an un-differentiated “sempre staccato.”

I have come to believe that what is being asked for, as the length of the staccato increases, is greater energy in the initial articulation. This does not mean it will be louder, just more energized in the bite of the articulation. In fact, often Beethoven uses long-line staccato in pianissimo (see, for example, fig. 13.61).

A related expressive marking under the heading of staccato is portato, which has dots under slurs. Beethoven is exquisitely precise in his notation of the dots underneath these slurs. In score after score, passage after passage, the dots are perfectly formed.

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The New Beethoven
Evolution, Analysis, Interpretation
, pp. 274 - 331
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2020

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