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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:16 pm 
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It's curious the evolution that a musician's interpretations go through over the years. I've come to believe that the first movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" is actually richer with musical possibilities when played faster -- not more loudly or harshly -- just faster than it is conventionally. How fast? I'd say 90-110 beats per minute. To my ear, the contour of the entire piece becomes stronger, the melody assumes its rightful place, and rubati become more effective. What are your thoughts?


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:29 pm 
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Hey, Chicagoan!

Welcome to the boards! Kick your shoes off and set a spell. We have lots of pianists here who will leap to answer your question.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:48 pm 
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Welcome here and keep posting. Your first question is much harder than it seems. I would almost rather deal with issues of nuclear proliferation on the Pub. But, deep breath, and here I go.

Most great classics suggest their own tempo, within a frame of reference, which is often not known historically. In other words, it is a matter of educated instinct. It helps to have had a teacher like my dear old Mrs. Troidle (I am not making that up--that was actually her name).

I have never known a performance of the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata to be taken at an inappropriate tempo, and I don't think it should be rushed. I am not exactly sure where you are coming from, but it is possible you have heard "dragged" performances, which would simply be unidiomatic. Who can tell?

The last movement, BTW, should be taken like a bat out of hell, no holds barred.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 3:54 pm 
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Well, obviously Beethoven didn't intend the piece to be played at that tempo, or he would have marked it "Allegretto" instead of "Adagio sostenuto." If it's more meaningful to you at that tempo, by all means play it that way. It certainly can be played too slowly, such that the ideas stagnate rather than flow. I find a tempo of around 54 beats to be quite satisfying.

All the best,
Teresa

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 4:11 pm 
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That first movement is also famously marked "e siempre senza sordini" (idoomatically: and throughout with raised dampers). You raise the dampers by keeping the foot on the pedal, as Teresa well knows. There is never anything uncomplicated about Beethoven.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 5:15 pm 
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jbuck919 wrote:
That first movement is also famously marked "e siempre senza sordini" (idoomatically: and throughout with raised dampers). You raise the dampers by keeping the foot on the pedal, as Teresa well knows. There is never anything uncomplicated about Beethoven.


I thought that 'senza sordini' referred to the third pedal that used to be on pianos and fortepianos from a long time ago.

http://www.fortepianos.pair.com/Duketalk.html

However, back to the question. The 'melody' (poor word I know) as such in the Adagio is primarily in the left hand and to speed up the music is to take away much of the dramatic effect that Beethoven intended. This is actually a very dark piece of music (C# minor should tell you that) and this is efected by emphasising that left hand and also taking into account 'senza sordini'. Many of todays pianists have eponymous 'moonlight' idea in their minds what I believe to be the original mood that Beethoven intended is lost when the piece is accelerated and the RH gets the emphasis.

Solomon's recording for EMI (Testament) is a great example of how the first movement should actually be played. As another poster said "Well, obviously Beethoven didn't intend the piece to be played at that tempo, or he would have marked it "Allegretto" instead of "Adagio sostenuto." You hear the converse in the Allegretto of Beethoven's 7th symphony where many conductors slow down to Andante.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:18 pm 
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It has to flow in a way that sounds absolutely natural. I recently played the Hungerford recording for a student who was learning the piece and despite all the times I heard him play it, couldn't get over how terrfic it was.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:53 pm 
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I prefer the first movement to be on the slow side, although Schnabel keeps up a decent pace, but with such a tremendous feel, that he is an exception for me.

I remember the first time I heard a recording of it with a faster tempo that I was used to (I think it was Horowitz). It just sounded so wrong. I suppose if I had learned the piece from faster recordings, I may have felt differently.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 6:57 pm 
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jbuck919 wrote:
That first movement is also famously marked "e siempre senza sordini" (idoomatically: and throughout with raised dampers). You raise the dampers by keeping the foot on the pedal, as Teresa well knows. There is never anything uncomplicated about Beethoven.


Yes, but the prescription aimed at fortepianos. On a Steinway the effect becomes grotesque.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:33 pm 
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I was a high-school senior when I tackled the whole sonata. A teacher at a music camp I'd attended the previous summer heard me during a period when I thought I'd "impress" someone with the slow tempo (which I didn't really like). She verified my original opinion: the qualifier is the ALLA BREVE (2/2, or "cut-time") meter at the beginning.

Rubinstein & Klien dragged it out. Schnabel, Casadesus & Cliburn have a more reasonable speed.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 7:58 pm 
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Well, the recording I have of Beethoven playing it is at a pretty quick tempo. :D

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:25 pm 
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Holden Fourth wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
That first movement is also famously marked "e siempre senza sordini" (idoomatically: and throughout with raised dampers). You raise the dampers by keeping the foot on the pedal, as Teresa well knows. There is never anything uncomplicated about Beethoven.


I thought that 'senza sordini' referred to the third pedal that used to be on pianos and fortepianos from a long time ago.



If you take a look, all modern pianos have three pedals, one of which is called the damper pedal. I think we're all saying the same thing here. All pianos, going back to Crisofori, who invented the damned thing, have damper pedals that raise the dampers so that the sound may be sustained. This was practically useless in the early classical period. There is absolutely no use for the damper pedal in Haydn or Mozart, as I'm sure Teresa, with her brilliant playing of Mozart, would affirm.. Saying "actually use it" in the Moonlight Sonata is an innovation.

For those who don't know, the left pedal is called in English the soft pedal and causes the hammers to strike two strings rather than three, and the middle pedal is called the sustaining pedal and through a very complicated mechanism causes keys to be sustained while making it possible to play other keys that are damped. Our dear Lance, who has to make sure that everything works on such a complicated mechanism, will verify that. These two pedals (the middle and left) are almost never used.

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Last edited by jbuck919 on Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:28 pm 
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Thanks for the thoughtful replies. It's true that some people play this piece at a glacier's pace, but most, I think, play it about 60 bpm. There's certainly nothing "wrong" with that tempo, but when a conductor friend of mine some years back asked me to sit down and play it for her at 90 bpm, the theme leapt out at us like never before, in part because the triplets became lighter and recessive, though serving to set the key and create momentum. It was reminiscent of Bach's Prelude in C and, at the same time, of Schubert's "Spinning Wheel".


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:58 pm 
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chicagoan wrote:
Thanks for the thoughtful replies. It's true that some people play this piece at a glacier's pace, but most, I think, play it about 60 bpm. There's certainly nothing "wrong" with that tempo, but when a conductor friend of mine some years back asked me to sit down and play it for her at 90 bpm, the theme leapt out at us like never before, in part because the triplets became lighter and recessive, though serving to set the key and create momentum. It was reminiscent of Bach's Prelude in C and, at the same time, of Schubert's "Spinning Wheel".


They are not triplets, and though Beethoven did use metronome markings, they do not apply to this movement. There is something called common sense, and I think it has to apply to something as straighforward as the Moonlight Sonata.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 9:21 pm 
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jbuck919 wrote:
They are not triplets, and though Beethoven did use metronome markings, they do not apply to this movement. There is something called common sense, and I think it has to apply to something as straighforward as the Moonlight Sonata.


Your reply puzzles me a little. The piece opens with 8th-note triplets in the right hand. And of course there are no metronome markings, but I have to specify a speed for the sake of the dialogue.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 9:56 pm 
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Thanks, jbuck, for the compliment re: the Mozart. :D As far as the tempo of the Moonlight goes, I am in favor of Adagio, but flowing. I have a feeling the quiet yearning nature of the piece might be lost with too fast a tempo.

The pedals are always an interesting proposition in works by 18-19th century composers who had fortepianos with far less sustaining ability. As you fathomed, I used very little damper pedal in Mozart--virtually none in rapid runs. A little pedaling is needed in some areas to keep it as smooth as possible, of course.

Beethoven's "sempre senza sordini" as you know would sound horrible on a modern Steinway if we really did it that way. I always just go by the sound I'm looking for--pedal enough to get a nice legato, but hopefully not enough to cloud the clarity.

I use the soft (una corda) pedal at times, and almost never the middle (sostenuto) pedal. Beethoven, in the PC no 4, second movement, specified in the chromatic passage near the end to go graduallly from tre cordi (sp) to due to una corda and back again. This is not really doable on the modern piano, so you just try to get the gradual crescendo the best you can!

(Actually my favorite side comment by LVB is in this concerto after the title of the second cadenza; "cadenza, ma senza cadere" --cadenza, but without falling down).

Teresa

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 1:07 am 
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90-110 is geting perilously close to Allegro isn't it? I don't know that I would play it at that tempo. It is marked Adagio. To the metronome, that means about 60 to 75. My Schirmer edition says 52, which to me is a bit slow. I would settle for 60. I would settle for Serkin or Schnabel also.

All I mean is that I have fooled around with the tempo myself, but that is just fooling around. When Schnabel or Serkin try it, then it becomes art.

In any case, the tempo may not matter so much as the Sostenuto part. I think the music is good enough to survive a lot of experiments, but think it will eventually seek it's own pace.

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PostPosted: Sun Oct 01, 2006 10:43 am 
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I don't know much about music theory. All i can say is that Emil Gilels seems to get it about right.

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