9. Multiple Recordings

Rather than focusing solely on questions of comparison of all available recordings, we also looked more closely at individual interpreters and individual interpretations. In so doing we also compared multiple recordings of a single work by a single pianist.

From the extensive amount of available materials, we will focus here solely on cases where three recordings of a single work were made by a single pianist. As an object of study they seemed of greater interest than double recordings. What remains constant and what varies as regards tempo when an artist re-records a work at a distance of years or even decades not twice but three times? Since the Appassionata offers the most available material for addressing this question, it will serve as the focus for this line of inquiry. There were three recordings available by the following pianists: Alfred Brendel, Emil Gilels, Wilhelm Kempff, Svjatoslav Richter and Rudolf Serkin.

Figure 22: Tempo Curves Appassionata Emil Gilels 1951, 1961 and 1975

The development is most clearly evident on the recordings of Emil Gilels (see Figure 22; for total duration, tempo amplitude and tempo variation in comparison see also   Fig. 6,   Fig. 12 and   Fig. 14). Looking at the three recordings, from the years 1951, 1961 and 1975, there is a progressive slowing down from recording to recording, particularly from the second recording to the third. The recording from 1951 lasts 9:03 min., 1961 – 9:22 and 1975 – 10:50. And he plays increasingly stricter in tempo. The tempo amplitude gets smaller and smaller. If we consider the tempo amplitude without the Più Allegro (which we will do from here on), it sinks from 2.01 to 1.80 to 1.68. The average tempo variations from measure to measure also fall: from 8.47 to 7.69 to 6.72%. A detailed look at the development of the curves demonstrates that the tempo reduction of the 1961 recording takes place mostly in the build up passage of the coda—presumably in order to give the Più Allegro more impact. The tempo reduction of 1975 takes place mostly at the beginning, at the theme of the second theme group, at the chordal continuation of the first theme group in the recapitulation (at measure 155), at the Più Allegro and at all sections with smaller note values (all three transition passages, both concluding groups, the development of the first theme group against sixteenth note quintuplets (at measure 79), the build up section at the end of the development, including ‘liquidation’ of the ‘destiny motive’ and the build up passage of the coda).

Gilels’s development mirrors an exemplary of a getting calmer and wiser with age. Even though there are a number of other notable examples of slowing down in repeat recordings—Walter Gieseking’s second recording of the Appassionata from 1951 compared to the first from 1939 (8:05 / 8:45) or Richter’s (more on this below), or recordings of op. 2/3 by Gilels (1952 – 6:46 / 1981 – 7:31) and Richter (1950 – 7:12 / 1975 – 7:39) as well as Claudio Arrau (1938 – 7:43 / 1986 – 8:45) and Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1941 –7:37 / 1949 – 7:29 / 1975 – 8:05)—still, this development is by no means the rule, and certainly not a rule when considering also tempo amplitude and tempo variation.

Figure 23: Tempo Curves Appassionata Svjatoslav Richter 1959, 1960 and 1992

The closest development to Gilels’s is Richter’s (see Figure 23), whose Appassionata also gets progressively slower from recording to recording. Even the second recording from 1960 is already, only one year later, notably slower than the first (10:31 instead of 10:00). The tempo amplitude has increased however (2.53 instead of 2.25), while the average tempo variations remain constant (7.61%). The third recording from 1992 is then considerably slower (11:28) and with it the tempo amplitude (1.9) and tempo variations (7.12%) significantly reduced. If we again look at the curve progressions in detail, we find that the reduction in tempo in 1960 takes place primarily at the beginning, the beginning of the development, the development of the second theme group and the Più Allegro. The tempo reduction in 1992 takes place directly in all passages with smaller note values (the three transition passages, both concluding groups, the development of the first theme group against sixteenth note quintuplets at measure 79, the virtuosic build up at the end of the development section and even more so in that of the coda, the Più Allegro and also the beginning of the recapitulation over continuous eighth note triplets). On the other hand, the beginning and beginning of the recapitulation are not quite as slow as they are on the recording from 1960.

Where the transition in the exposition of the recording from 1992 is not much faster than the first theme group, it is not at all faster in the recapitulation. It would seem that Richter now heeded his own earlier scornful remarks. As mentioned in   Chapter 1, in a 1970 interview on the Appassionata in the Sovetskaja muzyka, he accused those who did not maintain the tempo in the transition of idleness, lack of discipline and a “washcloth mentality.” ( 82) This without one word on the fact that his own earlier recordings were guilty of the same, leaving open the question as to whether or not he had changed his mind, or whether he was even aware of this discrepancy with his own actions. We have discussed this question at length in our own contribution to the subject of tempo in Beethoven’s Appassionata. ( 83) In any case, on his 1992 recording, Richter plays by and large in a manner that he had demanded of others in 1970.

If we compare Gilels’s and Richter’s recordings, we find even in the details a reciprocal influence apart from any ‘contest’ for the slowest Appassionata. Just as Gilels takes the slow tempo and warning about playing the transition too quickly from Richter (1975), Richter follows Gilels (1992) in slowing down the tempo of the concluding group and in all of the virtuosic build up passages. For all the competitiveness, in the end, both pianists were in agreement about the most significant principles regarding tempo.

Figure 24: Tempo Curves Appassionata Wilhelm Kempff 1932, 1951 and 1964

Wilhelm Kempff’s three Appassionata recordings, which differ from one another far less than the various recordings by Gilels and Richter, tell quite a different story (see Figure 24). Kempff’s first recording from 1932 is the slowest (1932 – 9:48 / 1951 – 9:26 / 1964 – 9:37) but has the highest tempo amplitude (1.65 / 1.51 / 1.45) and the greatest tempo variations (8.23 / 5.96 / 6.29%). He plays the Più Allegro the fastest here but at the same time takes the most dramatic or form-shaping ritardandi, which he leaves out on both of the later recordings: in each case before the second theme group in the exposition and recapitulation (at measures 34 and 173), at the Neapolitan 6th in measures 42 and 181, before the development section, before the development of the first theme group against the sixteenth note quintuplets (at measure 79) and before the concluding group in the recapitulation (measure 189). (The dramatic interruption before the transition in the exposition is exceeded by an even stronger interruption in the recapitulation on the 1951 recording.) With the exception of two caesuras indicated by Beethoven himself, on the 1964 recording Kempff leaves out all of the stronger caesuras altogether. In addition, in comparison with the two earlier recordings, he reduces the tempo in passages in which Gilels and Richter would also later reduce the tempo: in the concluding group, the development quintuplets at measure 79 and after the beginning of the recapitulation (measures 142–147).

Figure 25: Tempo Curves Appassionata Rudolf Serkin 1936, 1947 and 1963

In Rudolf Serkin’s case (see Figure 25), the first recording (1936) is also the slowest (9:09). In contrast to the aforementioned pianists however, the first recording has the smallest tempo amplitude (1.31) and least tempo variations (4.36%). The 1947 recording is considerably faster (8:21). The tempo amplitude has hardly changed (1.32) and the tempo variations only minimally increased (4.78%), so that tempo reductions are reduced to an absolute minimum—see pars pro toto the Neapolitan 6th in measure 42, which goes almost completely unnoticed in tempo. The 1963 recording returns to the slower, pre-war tempo (9:05) but is somewhat freer in its approach to tempo, both regarding tempo amplitude (1.41) and tempo variations (5.85%). Concerning tempo amplitude, Serkin is still at the very bottom of the spectrum as compared to the other pianists (see   Figure 12). What is absolutely clear though, is that Serkin’s tempo reductions here—both those written in the score and otherwise—are more extreme than on his previous two recordings.

Figure 26: Tempo Curves Appassionata Alfred Brendel 1962, 1970 and 1995

Alfred Brendel’s recordings (see Figure 26) differ in their average tempi from one another even less than those of Wilhelm Kempff, and the third recording is by a small margin the slowest (1962 – 9:28 / 1970 – 9:34 / 1995 – 9:43). Where the first and third recordings hardly diverge in tempo amplitude and tempo variations, the second has the highest values in both categories, meaning simply it is the most free with regards to tempo (tempo amplitudes: 1.57 / 1.81 / 1.58; tempo variations: 6.15 / 7.07 / 6.29%). In most cases, the 1970 recording has the most extreme tempo peaks and valleys, the most extreme accelerations and decelerations—the figure shows this clearly so we needn’t go into this any further. Even if one should get the feeling that Brendel’s third recording returns to the tempo conception of the first, there are still a few passages where the tempo of smaller note values is reduced: the first concluding group, the third transition with all of the preceding chord passages and the Più Allegro.

Our multiple recordings give no evidence of a common conception. With the two Soviet pianists the differences between the recordings are more pronounced, with the Austro-German pianists less so. Gilels’s and Richter’s gradual tempo reduction is dialectically tied to the tempo history of the Appassionata in the 20th Century: As conditioned by this history as it conditioned it. The increasing constancy of tempo on the recordings by Gilels, Richter and partially by Kempff is representative of a repeatedly postulated historical tendency of the 20th Century ( 84), which our tempo measurements however could not comprehensively confirm. And with Serkin and Brendel we had two counter examples. The question remains whether or not Gilels’s, Richter’s, Kempff’s and Brendel’s equally formative tempo reductions in sections with smaller note values are an expression of an anti-virtuoso aesthetic or evidence of the dwindling physical capacities of the aging pianists. It remains equally unclear whether or not the differences between Brendel’s second recording—in the year of Beethoven’s 200th birthday in 1970—and first and third recordings of the Appassionata, have to do with a desire to try something different one time, or if here—even if not in the same manner as Gulda or Gould—we also see the influence of the late 1960s. In contrast, it should be apparent that after Rudolf Serkin’s measured first recording of 1936, his following two recordings attempt, each in its own way, to revitalize his Appassionata interpretation: by way of tempo in 1947 and tempo flexibility in 1963.

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82. ‘ ‘Appassionata’. Mysli masterov’ (  as fn. 10).

83. von Loesch and Brinkmann, ‘Das Tempo in Beethovens Appassionata’ (  as fn. 1).

84. Compare Philip, Early Recordings and Musical Style (  as fn. 70); Bowen, ‘Tempo, Duration, and Flexibility’ (  as fn. 11).