Interpreting Mozart
eBook - ePub

Interpreting Mozart

The Performance of His Piano Pieces and Other Compositions

Eva Badura-Skoda, Paul Badura-Skoda

  1. 492 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Interpreting Mozart

The Performance of His Piano Pieces and Other Compositions

Eva Badura-Skoda, Paul Badura-Skoda

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About This Book

Originally published in German as Interpreting Mozart on the Keyboard in 1957, this definitive work on the performance of Mozart's works has greatly influenced students and scholars of keyboard literature and of Mozart. Now, in a completely updated and revised edition, this book includes the last half century of scholarship on Mozart's music, addressing the elements of performance and problems that may occur in performing Mozart's works on modern instruments.

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Mozart’s World of Sound

It is nearly impossible to reconstruct the actual sound of Mozart’s compositions at the time of their first performance. Even if one were to produce the same acoustical conditions—using original eighteenth-century instruments in a Rococo hall—this would be not enough to achieve a 100 percent historically faithful presentation. Other criteria, too, would have to be the same as in Mozart’s day; for instance, the aesthetic standards of performers and audiences as well as social conditions. As we all know, however, the general lifestyle and the aesthetic attitudes of musicians and their audiences have altered greatly since the eighteenth century, even if we ignore the complete change in the structure of society and of the musical life in larger cities since Mozart’s time.
Still, we usually play music not because we are interested in history, but, firstly from a delight in playing and in sound itself, and, secondly because we have fallen in love with a great masterpiece or we are interested in a particular work. On the other hand, we cannot do full justice to a composition from another period unless we perform and hear it in a way similar to that of its creator. The attempt to reproduce it, as far as possible, in the style and with the resources of the relevant period of its composition has to be based on historical studies. Around 1956, when the first version of our book was printed, a statement saying that Mozart should be played in his personal style and the style appropriate to his time and surroundings was never called into question. Toward the end of the twentieth century, however, some musicians seemed to arrive at a different view. They considered it acceptable to use (and abuse) Mozart’s music for various purposes. Such musicians either had lost their respect for the art of great composers altogether or their respect had greatly lessened; in any event, they seemed satisfied with an interpretation that revealed only a rather limited part of Mozart’s art. Today Mozart’s compositions are often altered in various ways, sometimes arranged into jazz or film music, sometimes used tastelessly as models for rock or trivial background music; there are many ways to diminish or spoil their value and impact as great art.
We shall not deal here with any kind of exploitation of Mozart’s works for modern adaptations of this kind. Instead, we shall try to show how one can approach an understanding of Mozart’s intentions and grasp his personal style when interpreting his masterpieces.

Keyboard Instruments of Mozart’s Time

Today’s frequent use of historical keyboard instruments is a most welcome achievement that many music lovers find eminently satisfying, and the use of the “fortepiano” (as old pianos are nowadays named) from Mozart’s time is greatly appreciated not only by Mozart connoisseurs. Half a century ago, it was a most unusual enterprise when Paul Badura-Skoda decided to play a Mozart recital on a piano made by Anton Walter, the builder of Mozart’s own piano; and it was even more adventurous when, afterwards, he succeeded in persuading the president of the Westminster Recording Company to issue an LP of such a recorded recital. “Nobody will buy that!” was the claim of the company’s spokesman. (He was wrong—the record sold quite well.) At that time, many critics voiced their dissatisfaction with Walter’s fortepiano and took the view that period instruments had no future because they were “so obviously inferior to modern pianos.”
During the Mozart anniversary year 1956, there were perhaps grounds for a certain dissatisfaction with the pianos of Mozart’s time—the lack of experience in making old instruments playable still hindered satisfactory restorations. Very few restorers in museums dared to try making valuable old pianos playable again. It took several years before a new generation of piano builders, specializing as restorers, emerged—persons who had developed the knowledge and had the enthusiasm necessary for careful restoration work. In 1956, the main problems included the lack of special parts, such as proper strings, and the necessary tools. Today, these problems have been solved, and we enjoy the existence of satisfying replicas in many cities and countries. The replicas often are of a quality that can compete easily with that of old master instruments. This fortunate development we owe to the pioneers among pianists, of whom Malcolm Bilson needs to be singled out. He not only learned to play well on period instruments and soon specialized as a fortepianist, giving many concerts on good replicas, but he also became an excellent and rightly famous teacher of many gifted young musicians who are now following his example.
Nevertheless, performing on original fortepianos, which often are the property of a museum, still poses a number of problems. To begin with, really good original keyboard instruments of Mozart’s time that can be used for concerts or serve as models for replicas are not always available. It is only natural that the sound of the few genuine old pianos that can be played and heard today would differ slightly from that of replicas; due to the aging of the wood, their sound may also differ from what it had been in Mozart’s time. This is one reason why there are limits to the extent to which we can carry the demand for an authentic re-creation of the original sound. It is a problem known to violinists as well—excellent modern violins have been built in the last century, but their sound differs slightly from that of a Stradivari or Guarnieri. Although we must avoid the nineteenth century’s mistakes of regarding all later technical and instrumental achievements as the non plus ultra, we must have a critical regard for the instruments and the acoustical conditions of ages past. To look at everything old as beautiful simply because it is old would be just as much a mistake as to apply present-day aesthetic standards uncritically to the art of past ages. In re-creating a work in performance, we often face the need to find a compromise between our historical knowledge, the existing possibilities, and the world of present-day perception.
Around the middle of the eighteenth century, several square pianos were built without any dampers, or without a damper-lifting device or other stops. These pianos were usually cheap instruments and were seldom used by professional pianists like Georg Christoph Wagenseil or Mozart. In southern Germany we may assume that more wing-shaped fortepianos were in use in Mozart’s time than those north German, large, square pianos, for which various sound modifications had been invented. The damper-lifting device (the same as the modern right pedal, which will be discussed in detail below), was for a long time called forte stop and was considered a sound-mutation stop like the lute or bassoon stops. And, indeed, as with those stops, when in action, it creates a modification of sound. Though it was perhaps already the most common stop in Mozart’s time, it was far from being the only one. Besides hand or knee lever(s) to lift dampers and those levers or knobs for sordino or moderato effects (often corresponding to the una corda pedal in modern pianos), it seems that initially at least one other stop, namely a device imitating the harpsichord sound, was often added. Throughout the eighteenth century, documents inform us that apparently many compound harpsichord-pianos were built, and they also show that musicians still liked the sound of the quilled harpsichord and wanted the choice between different sound possibilities. Besides, devices for the imitation of wind instruments, especially flutes and bassoon stops, were also desired, leading to an increase in the number of stops. In 1770, the piano builder Franz Jakob Späth proudly announced that his compound instruments allowed a change of sound more than 50 times, and in 1783, another builder (Milchmeyer) claimed that on his instruments the sound could be changed 250 times. Late Viennese eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century pianos often had various hand and knee levers or pedals to activate devices for altering the sound. After 1800, practically all pianos were built with pedals instead of knee levers, and those pianos that did not get four, five, or six pedals for sound modifications had at least two pedals for lifting the dampers and for a piano stop (sordino, moderato, or una corda). After circa 1830 most playful sound modifications lost their attraction and pianos were built usually with two pedals only.
If we consider the fact that only very few original eighteenth-century instruments have survived—probably far less than 1 percent of those that were made and played in Mozart’s time—it is hard to ascertain exactly when a newly invented stop became fashionable and when musicians and piano builders lost interest in these devices. Nearly all of the few extant original Hammerflügel from the time before and after 1800 have one or more of those stops mentioned in old documents: forte, trumpet, bassoon, lute, sordino (moderator), harp, and drums, or what had been called the Janissary or Turkish music stop. The earliest known document describing a piano with a Turkish music stop dates from 1796. We have no such descriptions from earlier years, but this does not say much. It may have been mere coincidence that no piano with a Turkish music stop from the 1780s has been preserved. There are reasons to assume that the centennial of the Turkish siege of 1683, which created an unusual fashion for references to Turkish topics, gave piano builders the idea to invent the Turkish music stop, necessary for the interpretation of alla Turca—impressions and their imitation in compositions for the piano. Did Mozart perhaps employ and enjoy such a Turkish music stop when playing the ritornellos of his Turkish March from his A major Sonata K. 331, composed during the early 1780s as we now know? If this was indeed the case, it would probably have been exceptional; there are reasons to believe that Mozart was otherwise not fond of such modifications of sound. Unlike Haydn or Beethoven, who sometimes—though rarely—took advantage of the “gimmicks,” Mozart’s means of wit were more subtle.
On the accompanying CD for this book, the sound of this device is demonstrated in a recording of the Turkish March movement of the Sonata K. 331 as the ve...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Contents
  6. Preface to the First Edition
  7. Preface to the Second Edition
  8. List of Abbreviations
  9. List of Illustrations
  10. Key to Music Sources, Editions, Documents, and Most Frequently Mentioned Treatises
  11. Introduction
  12. 1 Mozart’s World of Sound
  13. 2 Dynamics
  14. 3 Problems of Tempo and Rhythm
  15. 4 Articulation
  16. 5 Ornaments
  17. 6 Improvised Embellishments
  18. 7 Cadenzas and Lead-Ins (Eingänge)
  19. 8 “Expression and Gusto”
  20. 9 In Search of the Best Text
  21. 10 Playing with Orchestra
  22. 11 Some Technical Questions in the Piano Works
  23. 12 Remarks on the Interpretation of Selected Piano Works
  24. Appendix 1: Mozart’s Reported Tempo for Pamina’s G-minor Aria
  25. Appendix 2: A List of the Best Presently Available Editions of Mozart’s Piano Music
  26. Appendix 3: An Example for basso continuo Realisation (K. 449/I)
  27. Selected Bibliography
  28. Subject Index
  29. Index of Works Cited