Was Florestan a desaparecido (a disappeared person)? This essay compares the prison of Beethoven’s Fidelio – a fiction set in Spain, written in France, and composed and performed in Austria – to the real prisons of his time, viewed from today’s legal imaginary. It further analyses the opera’s moral universe through its female characters, Leonore and Marzelline, and its masculine villain Pizarro. The power of the patriarchal state over prisoners and women is articulated with that of music, as the opera allows the audience to freely enjoy the aesthetic experience of good and evil.
Responding to the overarching theme of ‘Beethoven and musical practices’, this article presents two performative projects, which are contextualized both in a broader theoretical field as well as within a practice-based research agenda that aims at developing ‘experimental performance practices’. Situated within the field of artistic research in music, such practices combine a rigorous critical stance with imaginative creative work, suggesting a careful reconsideration of our common musical practices, challenging dominant perspectives and fostering innovative approaches to performance. More than looking at musical works as perfectly defined ‘monuments’ to be directly reproduced and apprehended, experimental performance practices enable the navigation of all available sources, recordings and reflections in order to re-articulate both their internal constituency as well as their external connections, exposing musical objects as multiplicities.
The Drei Equale for four trombones by Ludwig van Beethoven might have passed into history as insignificant occasional pieces, if they hadn’t been chosen to be performed at Beethoven’s funeral, saving them from obscurity. This paper considers the historical association of the trombone with the voice of God and imageries of the afterlife and Beethoven’s sublime style and its relation to a choral tradition (as suggested by Nicholas Mathew), and includes a formal analysis of the Drei Equale. I suggest a fresh approach to understanding and performing these pieces.
In modern performance Beethoven’s dynamics are often interpreted too literally. This has implications for the characterization, the flexibility of dynamics, and the rhythm, and it can result in an excess number of subito dynamic changes and an overly strict metrical execution. For instance, on (all of) Beethoven’s pianos, high notes need to be treated delicately, while on the modern piano they can and often will be played louder, in a (later) romantic spirit. The correct performance of classical slurs, meticulously described in classical as well as early romantic treatises, relies heavily on dynamics as well as rubato. This is an essential element of the rhetorical style. Modern performance treats slurs primarily as a technical indication (legato), and in doing so often replaces rhetorical classical ‘speaking’ by romantic singing.
The works by Ries, Starke, Thurner and Steup that I perform with Steven Devine on the forthcoming Beyond Beethoven CD (Resonus Classics, February 2021) represent a small selection of the explosion in compositions for piano and horn duo following Beethoven’s famous Sonata op. 17.
In Fall 2020 the University of Kansas Symphony Orchestra celebrated Beethoven’s 250th anniversary by presenting two ‘unheard’ symphonies by the composer, each comprising four movements in the classical format, with one movement selected from each of the first eight symphonies. This article discusses the surprising cohesiveness of the two ‘new’ works and shows that they both recreate early-nineteenth-century sensibilities and challenge several concepts that are commonly associated with the symphonic canon, such as the ideas of unity and authenticity. Our symphonic experiment offers an alternative to encyclopaedic presentations of museum ‘masterpieces’ and illuminates their reliance on Romantic and modernist aesthetics.