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Thread: Clarification on a passage from a novel

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    Smile Clarification on a passage from a novel

    Hi. I'm new. I was not sure which forum was best and I chose this.

    I'm reading Rebecca West's novel "The Fountain Overflows". By the way, I expect classical music lovers will find it especially interesting since the main character is a little girl who plays the piano in a family where most people are musical, and the narrator (the then little girl) often discusses music.

    I do understand something about music—I used to play the (transverse) flute years ago and before that the recorder with a dedicated teacher in primary school who actually taught us things instead of focusing on making us get the music right someway or other—but this passage I did not understand, especially because it's about piano playing.

    "Later I tried the third number of Beethoven's Sonata in D major (op. 10), and when I got to the twenty-second bar of the first movement, she cried, 'Rose, you are a musical half-wit. You have forgotten what I told you, you must supply the high F sharp there though it is not written. Beethoven did not write it because it was not in the compass of the piano as he knew it, but he heard it, he heard it inside his head, and you cannot have understood one note of what you have been playing if you do not know that that is what he heard.' Later, when I got to the second subject, she cried, 'You are playing like an idiot. You are playing that appoggiatura not as a short one, thank God you are not such an imbecile as that, but you are not playing it as a long one either. It must have the strict value of a quaver, otherwise the half-bar does not repeat the pattern of the four descending notes.' Later on she moaned, when I got to the bounding octaves, 'Do you mean to say you cannot understand that though the weak beats are doubled by the left hand they must be kept weak, and the strong beats must be kept strong, although the whole thing is piano. I might as well have been teaching a chimpanzee.' I was disquieted by what seemed to be the unnatural mildness of these comments. Had Mamma been her usual self I would surely have heard that Beethoven would not have recognised what I had made of his work, that I had committed faults which nobody would commit if they had one drop of music in them, and that she blamed herself for having ever encouraged me to play."
    ("The Fountain Overflows", Rebecca West)

    Here's what I don't understand with my limited knowledge of music:

    1) "you must supply the high F sharp there though it is not written. Beethoven did not write it because it was not in the compass of the piano as he knew it." Is this something to do with the way that pianos were actually built? I don't understand.

    2) "Do you mean to say you cannot understand that though the weak beats are doubled by the left hand they must be kept weak, and the strong beats must be kept strong, although the whole thing is piano." I can try to imagine what this means but I've never played the piano.

    Simon Wheeeee

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    2.

    Naturally humans feel certain beat stronger than others.
    In a 4/4 bar the strong beats are 1 and 3, 2 and 4 feel weaker. Try just counting 1 2 3 4 and you can feel it.
    1 2 3 4

    So, in this piece Beethoven has syncopated the left hand part so it plays on beats 2 and 4 which are the weak beats.
    This means the music has a tendency to sound as if beats 2 and 4 are strong, simply due to the extra sound and 'weight' produced by the left hand. The character in the novel is explaining that it must be played to avoid this and keeping the natural beat pattern

    When he says; 'the whole thing is piano', this just means the whole thing is played quietly.
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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    Senior Member Webernite's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by simonwheeeee View Post
    1) "you must supply the high F sharp there though it is not written. Beethoven did not write it because it was not in the compass of the piano as he knew it." Is this something to do with the way that pianos were actually built? I don't understand.
    Sometimes Beethoven wanted to write, for example, a high F sharp, but the pianos of his time (the early 19th century) were too small and didn't go that high. So he would write a lower F sharp in the sheet music, against his wishes. Since then, pianos have become much wider and have more keys, which makes it possible to play the high F sharp he wanted. Astute piano teachers tell their pupils to play what Beethoven wanted rather than what he wrote, e.g. to play the high F sharp rather than the lower one.

    (So yes, it's to do with the way pianos were built in those days.)
    Last edited by Webernite; Dec-18-2012 at 18:29.

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    Thank you both.

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    Senior Member Webernite's Avatar
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    I hope my answer was comprehensible.
    Last edited by Webernite; Dec-18-2012 at 22:01.

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