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I have been playing the piano for a while now, I'm going to ask a question which bugs me.

When Beethoven composed his piano sonatas, did he imagine that they would sound like they do now in recent recordings? The pianofortes in his day were not as technologically advanced as the pianos in our time.

So, the question is... should his ( or rather, any composer of the classical - early romantic period ) pedal markings in his/their scores be followed to the letter, or should one exercise some discretion?

I personally use a little discretion, especially when playing the slow tempo part of the pieces. As most pianists know, the resonance of early day pianofortes is nothing compared to the resonance modern pianos are able to produce.

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2 Answers 2

It depends why are you playing it. If you're playing it for an exam, then you probably need to demonstrate your ability to follow the music 'to the letter'.

If you're playing for your own enjoyment. I would be tempted to encourage you to be yourself and play it however you think sounds best. Not all pianos sound alike anyway, not even modern ones.

If you're playing it for a performance at a concert / theatre etc, then maybe ask the conductor / director / producer what they think.

You could also try making recordings of yourself so you can hear the difference. Sometimes you don't hear certain peculiarities whilst playing, minor bad habits are often subconsciously dismissed. (For example, "well of course I was late playing that note, I had to move my fingers quite some distance to reach it")

As for did Beethoven imagine that his works would sound like they do in the future? The obvious answer is "No, how could he?". However, when a composer (or any artist) translates a concept/idea from the mind into a tangible form, the result is often a compromise. The concept/idea as it was perceived in one's imagination is often a grander, richer, fuller, perfect. So whilst Beethoven may be impressed/pleased with how his compositions have translated to modern instruments, he would probably have imagined the composition sounding even better still.

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To expand on Lee's excellent answer, I imagine Herr v.B. would be delighted to hear any musically sensitive, imaginative, and sympathetic rendition of his music, by whatever means the interpreter deems necessary. It's about the story, not the handwriting. I have heard people play my own compositions beautifully, and it disturbs me not one bit that the version I have in my head during composition is very different to the one I hear during performance. And I know no composers personally who haven't said the same at some time or other.

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