4. On the Selection of the Interpretations

Since it is very time consuming to make measure by measure markings by hand given all of the unavoidable correction phases—not to mention the sheer length of the movements—it was clear from the outset that we could not use an extremely large amount of recordings. Taking practicability into account on the one hand, and methodological considerations of how to compile the discographies on the other (more on this below), we decided on between 45 and 50 recordings per movement. Faced with a specific unusual result, we decided to increase the number of recordings of the study of the absolute length of the performances of the Appassionata by 25 recordings to a total of 75. This presented no problems since there are no repeats in the movement that a performer could choose to include or not. We simply needed to measure the times from the first to the last measures; or rather penultimate measures—since the last measure often dissipates into the sound-mists (Klangnebel)—and already we had valid results.

When compiling the discographies we selected recordings: 1. by renowned pianists, 2. from every decade of recording history, 3. where there were multiple recordings by a single artist of the course of several decades. As a result, this means that we examined all or almost all accessible recordings from the 1920s through the 1940s. ( 17) For the time thereafter we attempted to collect a relatively balanced distribution across the decades. In order to avoid tampering too much with the statistical analysis, we excluded repeat recordings by a single interpreter within a single decade; either from the outset or in some cases the results were removed from the statistical calculations. In spite of our best efforts, there remains an element of chance regarding both the decisions of which pianists should be considered of significant renown and what recordings are currently available.

Figure 2: Discography Appassionata
(* = measured performance durations only)

The source material available for the Appassionata is fantastic (see Figure 2). There are a large number of recordings made by renowned pianists, many of which from the 1920s–1940s. Many of these pianists recorded the sonata multiple times over the course of several decades. Finally, the piece was of special importance to the Soviet musical ideology, not least because it was supposedly Lenin’s favorite piece, and there are many recordings by Russian and/or Soviet pianists.

Figure 3: Discography Sonata op. 2/3

The source material available for the other two sonatas is not quite as ideal. The number of recordings of the Sonata op. 2/3 (see Figure 3) before the 1950s is much smaller whereby both of the recordings from the 1940s are by a single pianist (the young Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli). In addition there are fewer repeat recordings and fewer Russian/Soviet recordings.

Figure 4: Discography Hammerklavier Sonata

There are only two recordings of the Hammerklavier Sonata (see Figure 4) from the 1930s and 1940s. ( 18) Recordings of Russian/Soviet pianists are as infrequent as those of op. 2/3. The most remarkable thing is though, that there are far fewer recordings made by a single pianist over the years or decades, fewer not only than the Appassionata but also than op. 2/3. A cursory glance at catalogues of recordings is misleading. Many of the second or third recordings found there are radio broadcast or concert recordings from exactly the same year in which the pianist recorded the sonata in the studio. This is the case, for example with Gieseking, Backhaus, Serkin, Richter, Sokolov and Gilels. The second sets recordings of the complete sonatas by Backhaus and Arrau include only the recording of the sonata from their first complete sets (in the case of Backhaus a mono recording in an otherwise stereo cycle). Both Backhaus and Arrau made only one recording of the Hammerklavier Sonata.

This is of course significant beyond the scope of the discography of our study. It is significant for the reception of the work as a whole, as it demonstrates how small the timeframe was in which some pianists engaged with the piece in public (Richter, Gilels, Sokolov), and how unwilling or unable some pianists were to present the piece in a recordable condition—and maybe even with a new interpretation—after several years (Backhaus, Arrau). ( 19)

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17. A reliable source for this time is The World's Encyclopædia of Recorded Music, ed. Francis F. Clough and G. J. Cuming (   vol. 1: 1950–51,    vol. 2: 1951–52,    vol. 3: 1953–55), London 1966, Westport Connecticut (R)1970. It lists recordings of the pre-war era as well as recordings from the Soviet Union. Otherwise the constantly growing internet-site Famous Artists' Discographies on Net:    http://fischer.hosting.paran.com/music/Ring/disco-virtuosos.htm (last seen on January 3rd 2013) is recommended.

18. Except for a further recorded radio broadcast by Walter Gieseking from 1949. – P.S. October 30th, 2014: And except for three further recordings from the 1930s that, in spite of thorough research, had escaped our notice: Wilhelm Kempff 1936, Richard Bühlig ca. 1938, and Louis Kentner 1939. In fact, the recordings of Kempff and Kentner are listed in The World’s Encyclopædia of Recorded Music (as fn.   17), but since the entry does not indicate a date, we expected them to be postwar recordings. Thus, we are much obliged Dr. Ulrich Bartels from the University of Hildesheim, for giving us this valuable hint and we would like to seize the opportunity to draw attention to his highly interesting study: Ulrich Bartels, “Zur Interpretation von Beethovens Hammerklaviersonate op. 106. Eine diskographisch-analytische Studie,” in: Musiktheorie 14 (1999), pp. 149–169. – Even if it is virtually impossible at the present time to measure the tempi of these recordings bar by bar with a following comprehensive statistical analysis, it is possible to answer at least one important question with due regard to the results of our study presented here: That is the question of the performance durations, or rather the realized average tempi. In Kempff’s and Bühlig’s recordings the performance duration of the movement without the repeat of the exposition is 8:34 min. respectively, whereas in the case of Kentner it is 10:14 min. Hence, there is no reason to doubt the validity of the statement at the end of   Chapter 6b – on the contrary, these new results confirm our previous conclusions: Schnabel’s and Gieseking’s fast tempi are not representative of the 1930/40s.

19. Remarkably, according to Cesar Searchinger even Artur Schnabel played the Hammerklavier “only rarely in public” before 1926, which is why he organized a concert in London that year for “self examination,” and on which he made his plan to perform all of the sonatas dependant. Cesar Searchinger,    Artur Schnabel. A Biography, London 1957, pp. 180 ff.