It’s time for another legend to grace the Classical in Conversation stage. No piano syllabus would be complete without Ludwig van Beethoven!
This German composer and pianist is widely regarded as one of the most admired composers in the history of the western classical music tradition, and for good reason!
An Era Defining Sound
Beethoven defines the sound of the period that bridges the gap between the Classical and Romantic eras. His career starts off in the classical style of Mozart and Haydn, before becoming much more experimental and expressive towards the later part of his life. Because of this, his composition career can often be split into three main sections: early, middle and late Beethoven!
He was born in Bonn (his house now being the Beethoven House Museum!), but at the age of 21 moved to Vienna, where we can be pretty certain that he met Mozart – we like to think that the two would have been friends! He was taught by another famous composer, Mr. Joseph Haydn, in the city. He gained a strong reputation for being an incredible virtuoso pianist!
So, as we touched upon earlier, no piano syllabus would be complete without works by this man, and we wanted players of all stages to be able to experience the Beethoven joy, which is why we’ve included a piece in Grade 2, Grade 4 and Grade 8! So let’s take you on a short tour of those pieces, shall we?
Fun fact: Beethoven has left such a legacy that his music features two times on the Voyager Golden Record, a record containing the images, sounds, languages and music of planet Earth. So, who knows, maybe there are some extra-terrestrials out there who have heard Beethoven’s tunes too!
RSL and Beethoven
In Grade 2 you’ll find what is widely regarded as one of the most popular and famous piano pieces of all time, “Für Elise” - almost everyone has heard this classic piece before. Interestingly, this piece wasn’t found or published until 40 years after Beethoven’s death! Experts are sure that it was originally composed in around 1810, just dipping into the beginning of the late period of his life. Sadly, we have no idea who Elise is!
The original piece is written in a 3/8 time signature, but for the Grade 2 player we have converted this into 3/4. This piece is incredibly fluid and forward moving, and so it is essential to get this across in your performance. It requires a real synchronisation between the two hands, making sure one flows seamlessly into the other. Keeping a steady pulse will certainly help with this too.
Next up, in the Grade 4 syllabus, is “Bagatelle in C major”, another piece written in 3/8, and this time we’ve embraced the original time signature. This work is split into two distinct sections, “Lustig” which should be merry and cheerful, and “Traurig” which should sound far more moody and sad.
As well as the different moods of these sections, they pose very different technical challenges too! “Lustig” has a very homophonic texture with many chords that need to be placed carefully and accurately for that clean, cohesive finish we’re after. Maintaining legato on top of this will be the icing on this cake!
The “Traurig” is completely contrasting. The hands are far more independent of each other and it has a very crisp and clear melody line soaring through it. This section of the piece also has far more dynamic expression which you can go to town with!
And lastly, but by no means least, we’ve got the first movement from “Sonata No. 9, Op.14, No.11”, the “Allegro”. The first of a three-movement sonata, this is one of Beethoven’s earlier creations and we absolutely love it. If it’s drama, passion and fiery character that you’re after then this piece will certainly be up your street! But you must watch out, for there are a LOT of textural changes throughout this piece – there are many places where the music has four distinct lines running together (it’s no wonder that Beethoven made this into a string quartet later on, there really is enough for 4 people to do!).
But with some intense practise (and maybe a wing and a prayer), this beautiful piece is packed with character and flair. As always, dynamic control will bring it to life just as Beethoven would have wanted!
That’s all for today folks, but if you’ve enjoyed this blog then don’t forget to check out some more. We’ve got Beethoven’s contemporary, Mr Mozart, western classical king Johann Sebastian Bach, and why not check out one of the most successful female composers of the Romantic era, Clara Schumann.