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Alan E. Barber
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Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas, along with the two books of Johann Sebastian Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, form the summit of the pianist's art. These are works that all pianists must confront and, to a greater or lesser extent, master. The greatest pianists, the true artists, indelibly stamp these works with their own personalities and performances. The rest of us struggle to learn them well enough not to embarrass ourselves in front of others and, even more importantly, to satisfy our own inner drives to make music and to make this glorious music our own. Robert Taub's book, "Playing the Beethoven Sonatas," is a welcome addition to those books that seek to enlighten other pianists--both professional and dedicated amateur--on how best to perform these superb but very difficult compositions.
It may be useful to point out initially what this book is not: It is not a musicological analyses of the Beethoven sonatas. It is not a Beethoven biography, although Taub does not hesitate to use events from the Master's life to illustrate his performance suggestions. It's not a collection of "war stories," or inspiring anecdotes for struggling pianists or harried piano teachers. It's not Taub's memoirs. And it is not a substitute for Charles Rosen's masterpiece, Beethoven`s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. Indeed, as another reviewer has noted, Taub is best seen as complementary to Rosen. As I've noted in other reviews, I consider Rosen to be one of America's true public intellectuals; his vast erudition and wit grace every page he writes. But these same qualities sometimes obscure the point he makes; they often overwhelm the dedicated amateur pianist who's seeking a quick solution to a phrasing or fingering problem. Taub, on the other hand, writes not only with precision and clarity; he writes for the working pianist. While it is incorrect to call this work a textbook, Taub's careful, precise, measure-by-measure suggestions as to touch, pedaling, dynamics, tempi, fingerings, and tone come close to being just that. What separates this work from the mere textbook is the very personal nature of Taub's suggestions. It is obvious he has lived with the Beethoven sonatas for most of his life, struggling over decades to discover and lay bare their inner meaning. In this work, he makes the reader privy to that struggle.
And what a struggle it is! Beethoven is notorious in his disdain for the technical difficulties his sonatas present to amateur and professional alike. I have three different editions of the Beethoven sonatas from which I perform: an urtext edition, the Artur Schnabel edition, and the Bulow edition published by Schirmer. In many places, these editions can only agree to disagree, even as to the fundamentals. The value of Taub's book is that, for a fraction of the price of conservatory training, the aspiring pianist (and here I include myself) may find out how one of the greatest living Beethoven interpreters goes about his work. Where is the pianist who would not find such help invaluable?
Other reviewers have commented on the structure of this book; there's no need to repeat that information here. Taub is scrupulous in his reverence for the printed text, insofar as he can determine what the authoritative text is. Among the most useful features of this work is Taub's careful edition-by-edition analysis of problematic passages in Beethoven's sonatas. The author usually provides a satisfactory resolution of the textual problem he highlights, in the process imparting valuable information not only as to correct performance practices, but also giving advice as to how the reader might resolve other textual conflicts she might encounter.
In the last analysis, it is Taub's reverence for the text, his scrupulous attention to the tiniest detail, that makes this book so valuable. By this, I mean the difference between telling a pianist to play a passage with feeling, and showing the pianist how she may best articulate and communicate the deep feelings that Beethoven's music inevitably engenders. An example: the opening chord of the Pathetique Sonata, Op. 13 in Cm, is marked "fp." How to play it? Taub tells exactly how to do so. His solution involves touch, pedaling, sensitivity to dynamics, and careful listening; he tells you exactly how to apply these tools to achieve the desired result. And his explanations are clear and precise, easily understood by anyone with score in hand and a piano at the ready. Here it is obvious that Taub has not only had quality instruction, he himself is a master pedagogue.
Which leads me to my last observations: First, this book isn't bedtime or casual reading. You need to have a good, reliable edition of the Beethoven sonatas at hand, or at least the sonata(s) on which you are working. It's helpful if the edition is numbered by measure; otherwise, take the time to number each measure in your score. You will save yourself a lot of frustration. Second, your work with this book will be more rewarding if you have access to a piano that is capable of replicating the full panoply of effects Beethoven's sonatas demand--in other words, it works best with a good grand piano. Consoles or (shudder!) spinets or (double shudder!!) electronic keyboards just won't cut it. If you're talented enough to play Beethoven sonatas, make your experience more rewarding and play them on a quality piano.
Amazon's rating system only goes to five stars. This book deserves unlimited stars--the diligent pianist will find a lifetime of help in this book. Robert Taub is to be commended for producing such a fine volume, and for his unselfishness in sharing his formidable talent and considerable investment of time and energy with all of those desiring to climb the summit of the pianist's art. Bravissimo!
2 von 2 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
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This review was initially posted in July, 2002, on the hardcover edition of this title. I am reprinting it here on the paperback edition.
The Introduction to Tovey's Edition of the Beethoven Sonatas begins: "The Pianoforte Sonatas of Beethoven must always be among the choicest possessions of all who love music and especially of those who make music their main object and study." Robert Taub is a performer and scholar -- he serves as artist-in-residence at Princeton University who has performed frequently and recorded the cycle of Beethoven's 32 sonatas. He has written an excellent if difficult book offering the insights of a performer into Beethoven's great music.
Taub's book will inevitably be compared with Charles Rosen's recent study "Beethoven's Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion." The books share many insights but are written from different perspectives. Rosen's work is broader and more historical in scope. Taub's book is the work of a concert pianist and it reflects, in sometimes a personal way, on how he learned the sonatas, how he interprets each of these remarkably individual works, and how he performs them. There is a great deal of detail on the technique of piano playing as applied to each sonata. We learn how Taub chooses his tempo, how he pedals, how he voices and emphasizes the notes in a chord, the decisions he makes in phrasing and in holding his fingers. We learn when and why he slows down and emphasizes a passage and when and why he strives to play a passage brilliantly. It is a work by a pianist which seems to me to be primarily for other pianists. although much that he says will be of interest to music listeners as well.
In learning and performing a complex work of music such as a Beethoven sonata, Taub writes, a performer makes an implied moral contract with the composer. The contract requires the performer to delve into the music and to internalize it in order to understand what the composer wished to express. The performer effectively promises the composer to bring the music to life so that the audience may understand and be moved by the work -- so that the hearer may respond to and carry the music with him or her. For Taub the moral contract between performer and composer requires careful study of the score and -- particularly in the case of Beethoven -- a study of various editions of a particular work and of Beethoven's sketches, autographs, musical markings, and letters that cast light on how he conceived the work. The performer works with the composers intentions, for the work in its entirety as well as in part, to try to bring something of the power of the music to life. The music itself is inexhaustable and cannot be encompassed in any single performance or interpretation.
Instead of the traditional three-fold division of Beethoven's music, Taub offers a five-fold division of the sonatas. (Rosen offers a five-fold division as well but, interestingly it differs from Taub's) Taub's division of the sonatas is as follows: a). early classical, including the sonatas from opus 2 through opus 22 as well as the two sonatas of opus 49 (13 works); b). seven "experimental" sonatas, including opus 26 through the three works of opus 31; c) the three "post-Heilgenstadt" sonatas, opus 54, 54, 57; d) the three "compressed" sonatas, opus 78, 79, and 81a; and e) the final "transcendent" sonatas, opus 90, 101. 106, 109, 110, 111.
Following a discussion of general musical principles applicable to all the sonatas, Taub describes how he arranged them for performance of the cycle. This is probably the single most interesting part of the book. Taub decided against playing the sonatas simply by following the opus numbers but tried to arrange them thematically. I learned a great deal about Beethoven's sonatas simply from Taub's discussion of how he ordered them and from his discussion of how he chose the works he did for each individual program.
Taub's discussions of each individual sonata, in his nine programs, constitute the heart of the book. The discussions show, indeed, how Taub has thought of and internalized this music in trying to share it with his public. The discussion is fascinating as well in teaching how a performer works and learns. For those who attempt to play this music, as I do, there is a great deal to be learned from Taub's love for this music, his patience and his attention to musical detail. As Rosen did in his book, Taub spends a great deal of time in discussing Beethoven's opus 54 sonata (which lies between the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas) and which is little performed. But I feel that Taub's heart is mostly with the final "transcendental" sonatas -- opus 90, (which Taub I think properly groups with the last 5 even though this is not usually done) opus 101, opus 106 (the Hammerklavier), 109.110 and 111. There are some interesting details in the book -- we learn that Taub spent 8 years working on the Hammerklavier before venturing a public performance -- and that Benny Goodman once told Taub after a private performance of the Waldstein sonata that a performer who really wanted to play a work such as the Waldstein had to "make it his own". Wise advice and the reference to Benny Goodman makes it special.
Taub has written a detailed, useful, pianistic study of some of the greatest music ever composed.