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The Beethoven- Mind before Mutter....

December 14, 2006 at 11:17 PM

Greetings
For some its Bach, for others the Beatles, for me, Beethoven is the music I always come back to. Of all his works nothing has haunted me more than the violin concerto. It`s an itch you can’t scratch, a melody out of nowhere, a thought for the end of time.
And it still poses the unanswered question as to why it is at least for me, the benchmark of a true artist. I think it took this concerto (recorded with Munch as opposed to Toscanini) to bring out the absolute best of Heifetz. Where he showed once and for all the depths he really was capable of, perhaps, said rather tongue in cheek, if he had been burdened with less technique. I have heard many of the great players live in the Beethoven, including Campoli, Goldberg, Szeryng, Milstein, and a glorious Nigel Kennedy before he discovered grunge as a means of self expression. But the performance that stick in my memory with the most tenacity is by a `lesser` name: Manoug Parikien. He played with such ease, such lack of pretension and warmth and musicianship it was uncanny. Interesting that Parikien was a long time friend of Szigeti with whom he played a kind of game of posting the most eclectic fingerings possible for various concertos- rather like postal chess. No surprise that a great interpreter of the Beethoven should be so close to someone who lived the work with such totality. Its unfortunate the current available video of Szigeti in the work is the master so far past his best with a very slipshod orchestra.
So how does one go about learning this work? A question recently posed on the discussion list. For me, the first priority is recognizing the organic nature of this work. A successful Beethoven is not so much a well learnt solo part played with orchestra as the sum of the parts equaling the whole. I think that as far as is humanly possibly ones practice should be accompanied by an open score at all stages. That the process of learning occurs simultaneously with what the orchestra is doing. For example, it is easy to think one has mastered the long trills from 205 just by playing them through a couple of times. But what is the orchestra doing? What questions does this pose about minute inflections (or the absence of them) or changes in speed or finger pressure that make the difference between sevcik and music? Only the whole will tell you.
This relates to the single greatest danger for violinists: the absolute complexity and awkward nature of the instrument, difficulty of bowing etc leads a player to use reverse feedback. That is, instead of imagining what one wants, one listens to what one plays and works on that product. So our incompetence leads our imagination. In the Beethoven that isn’t going to cut it. The initial and long practice stage should, in my opinion, be concerned with having a clear idea of the longer shapes of the passage sand how they work with orchestra. We have to let go of our prediliction to think `technically.` Oh, its Friday morning, I’ve only got three days left to prepare `the octaves` before my lesson on Monday. This presupposes that one has enough technique to be able to sight read most of the notes for the first time. Anything less and one should perhaps be thinking about some more preparatory stuff;)
What then, is one looking for in this broad preparation of the canvas? Nobody has ever spelt this out with greater clarity than Auer in his book on violin teaching. In the length (perhaps lengthiest ) chapter on nuance he points to Beethoven as the teacher of nuance to us all through the quartets , Trios, symphonies and violin sonatas. A knowledge of all of these is another example of the organic nature of Beethoven - the concerto is a part of a whole that includes the oeuvre. It needs to be considered in context. Auer identifies three factors that make notes worth playing at all: dynamics, timbre and tempo, the last of which subsumes rhythm. What makes the Beethoven concerto one of the most potentially violent (in a psychic sense) of his master works is the sheer number of dynamic markings. And yes, he meant them all. One reason this concerto is occasionally described as bland is simply that is the way it is often played. To do what Beethoven actually wrote, even in just the opening prior to the violin entry is a Herculanean task that even the best orchestras sometimes fall down on through over familiarity. The player who is beginning the task of exploration should be asking first and foremost, what is the dynamic here, where doe sit come from, where is it going? Not concerned with technical polish of the nth degree. And this question cannot be answered without reference to the score. Nor canquestios of timbre be answered without references to the score. Not questions like `which fingerings works best?` but `which instruments am I playing with?` become primary.
If Clinton played the violin instead of the saxophone he would have had an appropriate maxim for every time he picked up this work on his desk:
`It`s the mind, stupid. `
Cheers,
Buri

From Scott 68
Posted on December 15, 2006 at 1:14 AM
Kyung Wha Chung made my favorite recording paired with the Bruch (you know she studied with szigeti ?)

Francescatti I like almost as much as much, Kogan made a good recording and I like Kreisler also (how can someone not like Kreisler)?

...I actually like the young mutter dvd alot but not as much as the above recordings

Other than that, I know what you mean. I could spend a lifetime practicing the first 20 notes with those friggin octaves. If you practice octaves every day and get good at them I would imagine the concerto would be alot easier (I suspect this is why heifetz practiced scales so much)

From Anne Horvath
Posted on December 15, 2006 at 3:52 PM
I didn't even like this piece until I heard Kreisler's 1936 Barbirolli/LPO recording. That is when the 'a-ha' happened.
Also, according to the recent thread, my 1982 Henle is sadly behind the times. Do you play D# in measure 173?
Also, I agree about playing with the score. Which edition do you use? I have the Dover "Great Romantic Violin Concertos" cheapie. And yes, this too has the passe D# in measure 173...is there a more scholarly edition you recommend?
Thank you.

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