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Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments:
- All of the above recordings were made on modern concert grand pianos. Also intriguing are any of several recordings on fortepianos, including those by Melvin Tan (EMI), Anthony Newman (Newport), Paul Badura-Skoda (Astree), John Khouri (Music and Arts) and Lambert Orkis (Bridge) - the last featuring on each of three period instruments. Regardless of whether Beethoven wrote his keyboard works for idealized instruments he could only imagine, the fact remains that these were the only models of instruments that he had available for his own use and on which he heard his works performed. Compared to the sound image to which we are accustomed, they have a distinctive woody timbre and a far richer display of overtones at the expense of vibrant bass and sustained tones. Their sheer delicacy and restricted dynamics add a mortal quality to the , as the instruments are pushed well beyond their design and natural emotional range and even seem to balk at the composer's demands. Above all else, hearing the on Beethoven's own instruments emphasizes the extraordinary gap between his creative impulses and the limitations of his time, and fosters renewed appreciation for the unbounded genius of his bold vision.
A further challenge to modern performance lies in Czerny's suggestion that the scores themselves are only an incomplete indication of Beethoven's realization of his works, as he never had the time or patience to practice, so the result of playing his compositions depended upon "accident or his mood [plus he] made much more frequent use of pedals than is indicated in his works." (Yet, Ries wrote that Beethoven "seldom introduced notes or ornaments not set down in the composition.") Newman points out that even the autograph scores present vast difficulties to interpreters, since Beethoven used signs for articulation - the primary means by which a pianist creates expression from an instrument having no means to vary timbre but only control over duration and intensity - such as irregular slurs and beams are used inconsistently and even illogically, and several different staccato and accent signs can look confusingly similar in Beethoven's slapdash penmanship.
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How did Beethoven play his own ? There seems to be no direct evidence, and, indeed, the work was never performed in public during Beethoven's lifetime - hardly surprising, as an early critic had found it "incomprehensibly abrupt and dark - much of it is enormously difficult without there being some exceptional beauty to compensate for it." What little we can glean from contemporaneous written descriptions is confusingly abstract and often contradictory. Thus, Beethoven's pupil Carl Czerny stated: "His bearing while performing was ideally restful, noble and beautiful, without the slightest grimace." Others tended to admire his legato effects and exquisitely even scalar runs. Yet, Czerny also stated: "His playing, like his compositions, was far ahead of his time - The pianofortes of the period could not endure his gigantic style of performance." Beethoven's first biographer, Anton Schindler, said: "His playing was free of all constraint with respect to the beat, for the spirit of his music required freedom." Ernst Pauer, editor of an early edition of Beethoven's piano works, added: "He was not particular in polishing and refining his performances." Ferdinand Ries, who was a piano student of Beethoven from 1801-4, seems to take a middle course, recalling that during this phase of Beethoven's career: "Generally he played his compositions very impetuously but for the most part stayed strictly in time, only infrequently pushing the tempo a little. Occasionally he would retard during a crescendo which created a very beautiful and most remarkable effect." Schindler clarifies that this seeming anomaly arose from stressing the rhythm strictly while treating the melody more expressively (a foretaste of the style later to be perfected by Chopin). The result: "His playing thus acquired a highly personal character, very different from the even, flat performances that never rise to tonal eloquence." Harold Schonberg suggests that as a composer Beethoven had little concern for keyboard mechanics; rather, he replaced taste with expression by playing with unprecedented power, personality and emotional appeal. Schonberg further notes that Beethoven's teachers were not professional pianists and so he was largely self-taught; as a result his piano works were not pianistic in the sense of fitting well on the keyboard, and to Beethoven the idea was always far more important than the practical consideration of its execution.
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