Falling in Love with Beethoven. And Falling into the Pond … Beethoven Variations

Beethoven -1804 -Joseph Mähler I fell in love with Beethoven at the age of ten. I can remember saying to one of the inspirational academic music teachers at my school, ‘Who is your favourite composer? Mine’s Beethoven.’ Hers was Bach. It was all because of a set of Six Variations on the Theme ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ given to me to learn by my piano teacher at that time, Gordon McKeown. It’s such a good piece for a young person new to Beethoven; harder than a Sonatina, easier than a Sonata, with lots of variety as the theme is put through its paces. Flowing RH semiquavers, flowing LH semiquavers, leaping broken chords, a sad minor episode, teasing triplets, and a virtuoso final variation. Crossed hands! Octaves! What’s not to like?!

We were learning about perfect cadences in our music class at that time – and I told Ms Perkins that I couldn’t find a final cadence in the last variation. ‘The whole of the final  passage is a cadence,’ she said, and showed me how the Dominant and Tonic chords were broken up in the LH rather than played as block chords. This opened my eyes and ears to music in a new way – and forged a link between theory exercises and Real Music.

Here is Wilhelm Kempff –

And then there was the Falling into the Pond Incident. Years later, my next teacher, Roy Shepherd, told me to learn Beethoven’s Thirty-Two Variations on a Theme in C Minor. I duly turned up to my lesson, and launched into the Theme.

‘Fell in! Fell in -like a duck into the Pond! ‘ announced Roy, grinning maliciously. And he pointed to bar 5. I had omitted the final RH F#, introduced as an accidental at the beginning of the bar. Oh dear. I wonder how many other pupils Roy had heard who had also fallen into that particular trap …

Beethoven_WoO_80_1

This work is a substantial piece; a wonderfully ingenious treatment of an uncompromising eight bars of harmonic severity. Some variations fall into groups – the first three variations, for example, explore arpeggios – and later there are two where energetic demisemiquavers accompany a stern melody in octaves. Further on there  is the gentle sunshine of  five variations in the major key, but the minor tonality returns for a series of virtuosic displays. Although each variation has its own individual character, the set of thirty-two should sound like a unit. The final variation is extended into an exciting coda-finale.

An excellent recital piece, well worth adding to one’s repertoire. Just don’t Fall into the Pond.

Here is Horowitz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd1Bk_vmbYM

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