Studien zum Klavierspiel Beethovens und seiner Zeitgenossen, by Herbert Grundmann and Paul Mies. Bonn: H. Bouvier, 1966. 132 pages.
In contrast to problems of performance practice in the Baroque period, which have received painstaking attention in recent decades, those of the late 18th- and early 19th-centuries still provide relatively virgin territory for research. In these studies Grundmann and Mies compare Beethoven's and Mozart's approach to three aspects of piano writing—pedal, legato, and fingering—and attempt to show how their intentions in these areas may best be realized on today's instruments.
Despite the title, the music examples deal only with Beethoven and Mozart. However, the authors illustrate their discussion of this material with many fully documented quotations from the writings of other musicians of the time: Czerny, Starke, Milchmeyer, et al. Also valuable as background material are the descriptions of Beethoven's pianos. Because of differences in construction between the early 19th-century instrument and its 20th-century successor, certain pedal and phrase markings in an original score effective in their time, may need adaptation for performance today. A knowledge of the capabilities of Beethoven's pianos may well assist the performer confronted with such problems.
The practicing musician will probably find the section on Beethoven's pedal indications the most immediately useful. Pointing out that perhaps the least important function of the pedal in Beethoven's piano music is to increase volume, the authors go on to discuss several other techniques more important to his style. One of the most characteristic involves sustaining the pedal from the last beat of one measure to the first beat of the next in order to overcome the metrical domination of the barline. Another, more intriguing, method employs pedal to achieve a kind of registration effect. For example, in the finale of the Piano Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2, the first two bars—and analogous passages—consist of an unpedaled broken chord figure ascending to a chord that has both a sforzando and a pedal indication. Since the over-all dynamic level for both measures is piano, the pedal acts here less to increase the sound of the chord than to highlight the qualitative difference in sound between the chord and the preceding arpeggio.
At times Beethoven's pedal actually takes on thematic implications. In the final movement of the Piano Sonata, Op. 53, the pedal accompanies every appearance of the first theme, sustaining the low bass tone at the beginning of each melodic segment. Because of this consistency, the authors feel that the pedal here represents an integral part of the theme.
Of particular value to performers is the fact that the authors accompany some of the examples in this section with suggestions regarding similar passages in other works where Beethoven has given no pedal indication.
The premise underlying the entire section is that Beethoven always indicated pedal where he specifically wanted it. However, it does not necessarily follow that he did not want pedal where it is not written in, as the authors seem to imply. The only pedal marking in the first movement of the Piano Sonata, Op. 26, occurs just before the end (bars 216-219). Grundmann and Mies state that Beethoven intends a special effect in these measures that will be lessened if the player depresses the pedal anywhere else in the movement.
The sections on legato and fingering are less directly useful because they suffer from a lack of clear organization. Thus, in the chapter on legato one is presented with a seemingly endless series of examples whose significance becomes clear only after several readings. This situation is caused at least in part by the fact that the authors do not state their thesis until they reach the chapter summary.
Although the flaws in organization are most apparent in the chapter on legato, both of the other chapters would be improved considerably if they began with a clear statement of what it is the authors hope to prove. Furthermore, since these studies are presumably aimed at practicing musicians who may wish to consult them only in connection with specific problems, such reference tools as an index, detailed table of contents, and headings for chapter subdivisions would greatly increase their value.
Despite the shortcomings in organization, Studien zum Klavierspiel Beethovens und seiner Zeitgenossen contains much thought-provoking material for those interested in the development of pianistic style. Although one may not always agree with the authors' conclusions, studies like these tend to stimulate discussion of performance practice in a period many pianists still take too much for granted.