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Ludwig Van Hertz

One of my favorite recent internet footballs, those funny/cute videos our friends lob back and forth on The Book of Face and The Twits Twat and nominal Others, was the one with the first two chords of Beethoven’s Eroica, from (what I can only assume is almost) all extant recordings. I’m sure you’ve seen it:

Leaving aside the awesomeness of all those international tuning differences a-rhythmically synced up into some kind of David Lang-like exercise in quarter tones, I can’t quite get past the fact that, correcting for a wide variety of reverb, about a dozen of these performances simply ignore the staccati on those two chords.

Staccati? Staccatos? Tomato? Y’know. Those little black dots. Ignored. In some cases, replaced with some kind of lengthening articulation, like a tenuto (I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Furtw√§ngler).

E-flat major, in cranky Viennese flavor.

These. See these?

Yeeeah, no. You can’t just decide to not play those chords short, simply because you think too many others have already. I’m all in favor of conductor interpretation (no, really, I am), and I’m happy to give leeway on this point; in fact my conductor friends over at The Loose Filter Project describe the coolness of this video as partly deriving from experiencing “how differently two E-flat major chords can be balanced, shaped, punctuated, etc”). And indeed my own limited experience happily includes many instances where a conductor has discovered music I never dreamed possible from within my notes, by stretching, pulling, and otherwise negotiating what’s already in the written score. But the salient characteristic of those two Eroica measures is the staccato. I mean, it’s not like that’s some revolutionary way of scoring an E-flat major triad. (Although, now that you mention it, the quadruple stop in the violins is pretty cool.)

Now of course I’m wondering how many more of these boners are out there on recordings. I’m reminded of yet another post at Loose Filter (I like them), where different snippets of Mahler 1 are compared with a recent one led by Gustavo Dudamel. Where Dudamel is apparently the first one in 80 years to discover that the woodwind dynamics in that sample section are marked a notch higher than the strings. And so should be, y’know, louder.

At the bare minimum, you play what’s on the page, right? One can assume that Mr. Beethoven actually thought about this, perhaps more than you did, and decided those chords should be short? This is the price you pay for immortality; everyone wants a piece of the action. I do note that in all the recordings by one Mr. Bernstein (a composer), those E-flats are crisp and petite. Also in Toscanini’s. But that may be because he had radio time contraints.

Relatedly, tonight I will be reciting The Road Not Taken at BPC. But in my reading: taking the road less traveled by has really made little difference.

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