Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/752

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740
PIANOFORTE-PLAYING.

In his contemporaries, on the other hand, these technical figures are more or less annexes or supplements, which having no close relation to the principal theme, are wanting in that psychological reason for existence which makes them so strong, effective, and indispensable, in Beethoven's works. For this reason it is so difficult to find studies or exercises which bear on Beethoven's Sonatas, so as to assist the student immediately and directly in improving his performance of these unrivalled masterpieces. Beethoven recognises the beauty and importance of technical efficiency and brilliancy, but he considers them merely as accessories and powerful contributors to the harmony and unity of the whole. His genius required richer means of expression than those hitherto invented. We find in his pianoforte works a greater polyphony, stronger contrasts, a bolder rhythmical expression, a broader design and execution; indeed we meet with an entirely new instrument: yet in no single instance does he overstep its legitimate limits. At the same time the improvements which his compositions suggested to the manufacturers belong to the greatest and most important changes in the history of the piano. With his fancy penetrated by all the qualities (timbres) of tone which distinguish the reed, brass, and stringed instruments, and his imagination pregnant with grand and noble orchestral effects, he seeks to impart some of these effects to the piano, and succeeds without sacrificing the speciality—nay the idiosyncrasy—of the keyed instrument. It is more particularly in the slow movements of Beethoven's Sonatas that we recognise this desire to assimilate the piano to the sound of the orchestra. The absolute mastery which he had obtained in early years over all the various departments of technical execution is shown in his 21 sets of Variations—interesting collections of little pieces which may be called a pattern-card of every conceivable figure from Sebastian Bach to Beethoven, all full of originality, and in some instances (32 in C minor; 6, op. 34; 33, op. 120) anticipating many an effect for the invention of which later pianists have obtained credit. Beethoven's contemporaries (Tomaschek, Cramer, Ries, Czerny) agree that he was able both to rouse his audience to the highest pitch of excitement and enthusiasm, and to fill them with the greatest pleasure; they say that his performance was not so much 'playing' as 'painting with tones,' while others express it as recalling the effect of 'reciting'; all which are attempts to state the fact that in his playing, the means—the passages, the execution, the technical appliances—disappeared before the transcendent effect and meaning of the music. Beethoven, with a soul full of the purest and noblest ideas, and glowing with an enthusiasm which soared from the petty cares and miseries of this world up to the highest regions, was not particular in polishing and refining his performance, as were Hummel, Woelfl, Kalkbrenner, and others: indeed such 'special' artists he satirically calls 'gymnasts,' and expresses his apprehension 'that the increasing mechanism of pianoforte-playing would in the end destroy all truth of expression in music.' His apprehension was to some extent realised. After him the breach between the musical art in general, and technical efficiency and brilliancy in particular, became wider and wider. But before the fields of real music were inundated by those floods of arpeggios and cataracts of scales, two composers arose, who enriched the piano with entirely new effects, and offered to its performers much material for study. These were Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826) and Franz Schubert (1797–1828). Weber's compositions are a proof of his extraordinary powers as a performer; and the tenderness, romantic charm, and chivalrous force and energy, but above all the enthusiasm they possess, met with universal sympathy; not only Mendelssohn and Schumann, but Chopin, Liszt, Henselt, and Heller, all felt the influence of Weber. The new features of his pianoforte effects are the emancipation of the left hand (see among others the Introduction to 'L'Invitation a la Valse,' Slow movement of 2nd Sonata) and the happy method of throwing as it were the whole weight of the tone into the melody, by breaking the chords and at once taking the fingers off whilst the melody is held (see beginning of Concertstück). Although Schubert was not a public performer, his Sonatas and smaller pieces (Impromptus, Moments musicals, etc.) testify to unusual skill in playing. His works demand a natural, affectionate, crisp and clear execution; they require a full yet exceedingly elastic and supple touch; although Schubert inclines in some of his pieces towards the Vienna school, in most of them he follows in the steps of Beethoven.

It was about 1830 that public taste inclined more and more in the direction of technical brilliancy, and the lighter, more pleasing style of composition. The cyclical forms of composition became by degrees more rare; concerts without the assistance of an orchestra began to be more frequent; even chamber-music, such as trios, quartets, and quintets, with string or wind instruments, were excluded, and the pianist reigned supreme. In one respect this change was satisfactory: to rivet the attention of an audience for an hour and a half to a pianoforte performance alone, the executant had to be very clever, to produce constant fresh variety and new charm; effect had to follow effect; indeed the ingenuity of the performer was constantly tasked to discover new devices for feeding the insatiableappetite of his hearers. It is to this state of things indeed that we owe the present extraordinary development of pianoforte-playing. Technical efficiency has a thoroughly legitimate and necessary, nay an indispensable, existence; it gives effect and power to the composition; it is in reality the garb in which the musical work is presented; but if the importance of this existence be exaggerated, the performance ceases to be the reproduction of an intellectual work, and becomes merely an amusement or excitement for the senses. Formerly rapid