3. On the Selection of the Pieces

The fact that we have chosen to focus on the works of Ludwig van Beethoven for our tempo studies has to do on the one hand with the personal preferences and interests of the authors. On the other hand however, this also has to do with a series of practical considerations. The question of tempo in Beethoven’s music has always played a prominent role (see also   Chapter 1). First of all, there are a number of pieces with metronome markings given by the composer, which to this day provide a seemingly inexhaustible source of material for discussion. The secondary literature on the subject alone is virtually impossible to overlook. Secondly, we repeatedly find strongly divergent tempo decisions made by interpreters of Beethoven’s works. Our tempo measurements will also demonstrate a particularly extreme example of this. Third, since Richard Wagner’s text    Über das Dirigieren (1869) it has been repeatedly asserted that in the case of Beethoven, tempo must be addressed especially flexibly, more so than with Mozart for example—also a much revisited topic of discussion. ( 15) And fourth, there are a number of instructive editions of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas prepared by renowned interpreters between the 1870s and the 1920s—Hans von Bülow 1873, Eugen d’Albert 1902, Frederic Lamond 1923 and Artur Schnabel 1924–1927—which express the editors’ flexible approaches to tempi using differentiated metronome markings, and which provide a concrete point of departure from which to approach historical tempo study of Beethoven’s work. In addition, since Ignaz Moscheles (1838/39) and Carl Czerny (1842) there appeared a number of further editions and annotated editions which, although they don’t give any specific indications on tempo modification within individual movements, do give concrete metronome markings for every movement of the 32 Sonatas.

The decision for Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas—and not for Symphonies, String Quartets or Violin Sonatas—was made on the one hand based on the amount of historical source material provided by the various editions, which does not exist for any other genre in Beethoven’s output. On the other hand, to our knowledge there has yet to have been any extensive tempo measurement study of Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas—unlike the Symphonies for example. ( 16) Finally, we also believed that it would be easier to conduct tempo measurements of piano pieces given the clear points of attack, in contrast to those of string instruments or larger ensembles. This assumption turned out to be erroneous: The markings of the strong beats of the virtuoso passages before the Più Allegro of the first movement of the Appassionata proved to be extremely difficult—particularly for the pre-war recordings but by not means only these. The same was true—and surprisingly so—of the Sonata op. 2/3 in the cantabile passages in which the notes in the right and left hands are not attacked simultaneously, resulting in a situation in which decisions about which note defines the beat have to be made on a case by case basis.

We chose Piano Sonatas op. 2/3, op. 57 (Appassionata) and op. 106 (Hammerklavier Sonata) because with these specific Sonatas we have one ‘early’, one ‘middle period’ and one ‘late’ Beethoven work, each with an extended, fast first movement in sonata allegro form, all having approximately the same length. For each of these movements, on account of its length and also on account of its specific make up, the question of tempo modification seemed relevant. Regarding the Hammerklavier Sonata we were also particularly interested in how interpreters addressed the often discussed and controversial extremely fast metronome markings of the autograph score.

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15. Wagner,    ‘Über das Dirigieren’ (  as fn. 7).

16. Bowen, ‘Tempo, Duration, and Flexibility’ (  as fn. 11); Auhagen, ‘Furtwänglers Tempogestaltung’ (  as fn. 12); Nicholas Cook, ‘The Conductor and the Theorist. Schenker and the First Movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony’, in:    The Practice of Performance. Studies in Musical Interpretation, ed. John Rink, Cambridge 2005, pp. 105–125; Lars E. Laubhold,    ‘Annäherung ans “Unmerkliche”. Zur Methodik der Analyse musikalischer Zeitgestaltung am Beispiel von Beethovens 5. Sinfonie’, in:    Musicologica Austriatica 29 (2010), pp. 71–88.