Sunday, August 29, 2010

Musings on the human mind and Beethoven’s head-games

The 1st concert in San Jose is just a week and a half away.  The work is exhilarating most of the time, and goes well.  It never ceases to amaze me not only that the human mind stores absolutely everything in some deep recess of our memory, but as far as piano playing is concerned, we apparently keep practicing the music unconsciously non-stop all the time.  Why else are passages that scared the bejeezus out of me 15 years ago, now more comfortable in a seventy-two year-old's hands than they were in his late fifties?  Why else do solutions to problems of interpretation in a given work now appear far more easily and quickly solved than they did then? It's not exactly as though I studied them superficially or did not practice hard the first time around….

Lately, I find myself wondering whether, after Beethoven realized he was creating an ever-growing canon of lasting piano music, he may have started playing head-games with the numbering of his pieces, or his choice of keys?  One of my correspondents jokingly referred to the Waldstein as a large dominant preparation for  the F major of Opus 54.  But she may have been onto something:  Following the brief hiatus, post No. 27, in E, Beethoven returns to serious piano sonata composition with Op. 101, in A major.  Not only does the the sonata begin on the dominant, but the hesitant opening phrase could easily translate into "Let's see now, where were we?"  as though he were picking up on an unfinished conversation a while ago.

Beethoven's ever-growing lifetime fascination with the interval of the third may also mirror the key choices of Op.109-111 (E to G# or A flat, then A flat to C. 

The Diabelli's Variations' thematic relationship to the final movement of Op. 111 has been oft-noted, not to mention that he composed 33 Variations, one more than the number of sonatas thus far, thereby hinting that this was really his 33rd sonata. Moreover, as Brendel notes, the number 33 fills a gap of sorts: He'd previously written a set of 32 variations in C minor, and and published variation sets Op. 34 and 35. 

Of course all this could all be coincidental. I’ll have to ask him the next time we meet

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