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A Beethoven Enigma

Performance Practice and the Piano Sonata, Opus 111


Joanna Goldstein

Music is an immediate and transient art which relies upon performance for its transformation from notational symbols into the sonatas we hear. However, because music notation is an inexact language, performers' interpretations of the musical score present a variety of expressive meanings in a work which can illuminate different melodic, harmonic, and formal relationships.
A Beethoven Enigma explores the process of performance analysis which reveals a work in its ever-changing form, and discusses three recorded performances of one of the more enigmatic works of the piano repertoire, Beethoven's Sonata in C minor, Opus 111. The contrasting interpretative insights of Brendel, Michelangeli, and Ashkenazy clarify many formal ambiguities, offer solutions to pianistic difficulties, and illustrate how this method for critical listening may serve as a model for the study of other works as they reveal themselves in performance.