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Absolutely fascinating podcast about the metronome and how Beethoven applied it to his music. I know it's a bit off topic, but I found it so fascinating I wanted to share.

https://overcast.fm/+IAxrDA



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I'm so sorry your discussion thread was overlooked.

This isn't just a podcast; it's a RadioLab podcast, and it's awesome!

I started a discussion on vintage metronomes in the Piano forum, as a piano-related gadget. I feel your discussion is perfectly appropriate for the AB forum.

I'm wondering how many people use a metronome.

Is it common for composers to write metronome marks on their music?

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Beethoven's tempo may be odd on account of a broken metronome:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/was-beethovens-metronome-wrong-9140958/?no-ist

Since I know virtually nothing about Beethoven's music, I especially find this fascinating. I've always assumed a composer of his caliber wrote out everything perfectly, only to discover people often alter how one of his pieces is played due to the very fast tempo.

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Originally Posted by MooseNotes
I've always assumed a composer of his caliber wrote out everything perfectly, ....


Google "Beethoven Manuscript" and look at the images. There's quite a range of penmanship, from sorta OK on down....



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Originally Posted by MooseNotes
Beethoven's tempo may be odd on account of a broken metronome:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/was-beethovens-metronome-wrong-9140958/?no-ist

I don't buy it. Many of Mälzel's metronomes still exist, and, to the best of my knowledge, every one of them either beats at the correct tempo, or doesn't work at all.

In fact Beethoven's metronome markings make a lot of sense. The podcast linked in the OP helps to explain why these markings often seem fast to us.


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I read a book by Grete Wehmeyer called "Prestississimo - die Wiederentdeckung der Langsamkeit in der Musik" (the rediscovery of slowness in music), where she postulates that in fast movements, Beethoven thought of 2 metronome beats as one beat in music, so that much of the classical repertoire would actually be played at twice the speed today. There even was an LP with Beethoven's 1st according to the theory. My favourite example is dotted half=60 for Eroica 1st movement, which imho makes for ridiculous speed that probably no orchestra at Beethoven's time was able to play at all. With my pupils, I like to check metronome markings but at the same time, encourage own tempo concepts, putting more weight on the verbal tempo indications than on the metronome number. For example, Shostakovitch 2nd Sonata, 1st movement* is marked Allegretto M.M.= 144, which I feel is a contradiction.

*as if I ever had had a pupil able to play THAT! :-D

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BTW, Mälzel's biography by Henrike Leonhardt is a great read! Really quite a character...

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Originally Posted by Eric399
I read a book by Grete Wehmeyer called "Prestississimo - die Wiederentdeckung der Langsamkeit in der Musik" (the rediscovery of slowness in music), where she postulates that in fast movements, Beethoven thought of 2 metronome beats as one beat in music, so that much of the classical repertoire would actually be played at twice the speed today.

There is no evidence at all to support that idea. Evidence gleaned from the reported durations of performances suggests that tempi in Beethoven's time were generally slightly faster than those practiced for most of the 20th century, certainly not half the speed indicated by the metronome mark.

Interestingly, specialist performers who use period instruments tend to be happier with faster tempi than those who only play on modern instruments. It's perfectly feasible, and musically satisfying, to play the first movement of the Eroica at a tempo around the one Beethoven indicated (remembering also that, according to contemporary reports, Beethoven did not rigidly hold the same tempo for a whole movement). See for instance this performance by Krivine and La Chambre Philharmonique using period instruments:



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If I'm not mistaken, Beethoven altered his markings and made them faster and faster as he began to lose his hearing. Had Beethoven been able to hear, perhaps he would realize his markings were too fast. I'd imagine if we were to provide speed of how fast a book should be read, but we can't hear, we would provide the speed closer to the speed at which we read, which is far too fast for most people to understand when heard. Take a podcast and play it back at 2X on an iPod. It's possible to understand, but it really hard. I imagine that's Beethoven's problem. He lost track of how fast humans could process music from hear the actual sounds compared to hearing the sounds in their heads.

I say this because Beethoven had contemporaries, none of them expresses music at the crazy fast speeds like that. I don't think Beethoven would have been so eccentric to believe his music should be twice the speed of Hummel or Clementi. If anything Beethoven's music is full of tension, and too much speed destroys tension. I would imagine the tensions are intentional while the over hyped-up speed unintentional.

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Originally Posted by 8 Octaves
If I'm not mistaken, Beethoven altered his markings and made them faster and faster as he began to lose his hearing.[...]

The only two "prestissimo" in Beethoven are in his first sonata (last movement of Op 2#1) and in the 4th quartet (Op 18#4) respectively composed around in 1795 and 1798 when he was 25 and 38... just before he started showing symptoms of hearing loss.

I think the last movement played in this way is how should be played but of course, for normal human beings would mean few hundreds of wrong notes :-p

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jivu8n5KRM

and this is absolutely fantastic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U0eISeT92k

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Those are pretty fantastic! I almost want to say Beethoven was such a show off, but I think he had every right to. I guess when we find it impossible to play so fast, we could always use the excuse that in 1795, Beethoven's keyboard was much lighter and allowed much more speed than a modern piano. Well, it's a good excuse anyway.

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Thanks for that link.
Very interesting to compare to a "modern" orchestra, which seems to have much more resonant instruments. It also has more members.
So, I guess that the orchestra with the period instruments have to work a lot harder for a given volume.
Also less resonant in general, and also less efficient wind instruments needing more air and effort, necessitated the higher tempi of the period?


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Originally Posted by 8 Octaves
I say this because Beethoven had contemporaries, none of them expresses music at the crazy fast speeds like that. I don't think Beethoven would have been so eccentric to believe his music should be twice the speed of Hummel or Clementi.

Beethoven's metronome markings are no faster than those of his contemporaries. Have a look at the metronome markings in Hummel's piano quintet in Eb. Already the first movement whizzes along at half note = 112. Then the minuet: dotted half = 92! Or try the speeds indicated in Clementi's sonata opus 50 N° 3 ("Didone Abbandonata"), edition Moscheles.

In the case of Hummel I think the metronome indications are from the composer himself, whereas in the case of the Clementi sonata the indication are from Moscheles, a pupil of Clementi. In any case the markings indicate typical performance practice of the time.


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I agree with the idea that keyboards were much lighter and could be played faster in the classical/early romantic period. At the university were I took lessons last year, they had a restored piano from that period. The key drop was half of what it is on my grand, and the keys were narrower. Once you got used to the key size, you could fly, and the big chords did not feel so big!

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There are commercial recordings of the Beethoven symphonies and his Hammerklavier, played at his metronome markings.

After you've got used to them, everyone else feels slow....... grin

And yes, early pianos had shallower key travel and lighter key weight. Even the C.Bechstein 6-foot grand (c1900) on which I play my monthly recitals has noticeably shallower key travel than modern pianos. It's the biggest adjustment I have to make when I perform on it, because my digital at home (on which I do all my practicing) has 'modern' key travel and key weight.


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