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Thursday, April 10, 2008

cookie monster

Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 21 in C major, Op. 53, “Waldstein” contains an augmented 6th chord, the point of this assignment. Specifically during the second movement of the sonata is my focal point, a short yet prolonged section of music. It takes quite a performer to sit and play such a short-looking piece so slowly, realizing it in a full 4-5 minute time span. Nevertheless, Beethoven wrote it as an introduction for the third movement of the sonata, a rondo, and included a few nifty chords in that process.

The opening statement is quiet in timbre and thin in texture but the second beat catches the audience’s attention with a tri-tone in the RH, from A to D#. On the edge of the seats, the audience demands resolution, which Beethoven gives in the form of an E major chord. However, the same idea of leading tone happens in the following measure with an ascending C# to A# passage in the RH that waits again, resolving to a B major chord. This time, Beethoven has prepared the audience’s expectations and leads measure 5 to a B diminished chord, to an Italian augmented 6th chord, resolving to C major, or the V of F major (the key of the movement). The phrase ends with vi, ii6, V7, I; a rather normal progression considering the first few bars.

As a performer, this type of information is absolutely pertinent and can create a truly superb performance. I’ve never quite understood how this information could help an individual but once a performer gets past playing the correct notes there has to be another level of performance. This is it. By understanding that the F in measure 22 is the highest note of the piece, make that note special. Realize and emphasize the “leading tones” of the notes immediately preceding measures 2, 4, and 6. Seeing how chords and lead lines fit together and create coherent structures is a functional way of 1) passing time and 2) creating exciting performances. Just like my blurb on how to become better at involving the audience we should also see where we as performers can enhance our own perception of the music and try to apply that understanding into the music we play. Just a thought.

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