Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Replacements

While ripping some Beethoven discs to my iPod, I picked out a couple of pieces to listen to: the Andante in F, WoO 57 and the arrangement for piano (four hands) Beethoven made of the Gro├če Fuge, Op. 133 (the arrangement is Op. 134). Both of these were originally movements in other works: the Waldstein piano sonata, Op. 53 and the B-flat string quartet, Op. 130 respectively.

The Andante and Fugue were removed from the original pieces and replaced with newly-composed alternatives. In the case of the sonata, history has firmly sided with the replacement - the short, austere movement that functions as an introduction to the finale. With the string quartet, it's not so clear cut. While the replacement is firmly regarded as the finale to the quartet, the Fugue has a life of its own. Beethoven published it separately (he never published the Andante) and it's always included in Beethoven string quartet cycles. Its stunning magnificence is also probably part of the reason for its survival.

One of the most interesting aspects of these revisions is how using the original or revised movements can impact the character of the piece as a whole even when not a note in the rest of the work has changed.

With the Waldstein, use of the original, 10-minute lyrical slow movement instead of the terse, agitated introductory movement changes the character of the sonata in obvious ways: the center of gravity of the piece shifts, the dyamics are different, and there's less of a "breakthrough" sense to the finale. And it's longer.

In the quartet, the difference is more drastic. The Fugue casts its shadow over the whole quartet when it's in place as the finale. The journey through the preceeding movements seems directed towards the Fugue. With the new finale, it's much more a companion to the other movements: the piece becomes less backend heavy and the overall mood is altered.

The Lindays in their most recent recordings of the Beethoven cycle offer not only both finales: they also record the Cavatina twice. Their approach to the Cavatina is dependent on which finale it leads into. I like to think that if it made economic sense, they'd have recorded the whole quartet twice using each of the finales.

The Op. 130 finale is also fascinating by the sheer fact of it being an issue in the first place. I can't agree with Deryck Cooke who asserts that Beethoven only replaced the finale after pressure from his publisher who felt the Fugue finale was too much. Who on earth could have bullied Beethoven? It's more likely that Beethoven did agree on some level that there was a problem. Arriving at a new solution was pretty much the last thing he did and I'm glad to have the choice.

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