On playing op.2 no.1 Part two

The development in the first movement is short, and has some interesting points. One of them being the trills at 0.43 on the mp3-stream below.

They are very hard to play on a modern piano with a heavier touch than Beethoven’s piano. And in a way, they tend to determine the tempo a bit, since you can’t just slow down right there (it’s actually an especially bad place to slow down) because there are those trills.

You could shorten the trills but I really don’t like the character it gives. So, to try to get those trills in a tempo that is still acceptable is a challenge.


Another place is the syncopations at 0.30, I think they can be brought out a lot and almost violently, I think I’m too “nice” in this take actually. This would probably be the top note of the rocket as a motive played off beat, no? One has to watch out not to let the accents spill over to other notes, which is not completely easy.


At 0.54, I try to have a percentage of a constant pedal…I think it could give, again, the effect of Beethoven’s piano with less exact dampers, giving the sound a little “glow” instead of being too dry.


When the first theme comes back, there is no question that this time there SHOULD be a real accent on the top note, it’s in the score. But I think it’s good to wait until this moment to really have it come out. I also think the arpeggio should start on the beat, but with a kind of “schwung” up, so that one is not stuck on the low note (thumb). It certainly helps to make sure to follow the movement with wrist, followed by elbow in a round upwards movement.


Actually, sometimes there can be a “clash” technically between movements needed to get a
good sound on a modern piano, and the time those movements might take, and make the music slower and heavier. There are constant judgement calls to be made.


What doesn’t come for free in this movement and even less in the slow movement, is the legato: to make the slurs heard, or avoid the chip-chop playing when the harmony, character and intervals need vertical playing. The second theme is a good example. I try to “melt” my hand slightly, to sink into the keys with a light hand. You need to be lighter in your hand as the figure is going down:

As the hand is built, the thumb-part is heavier and one needs to offset that with lifting the hand ever so slightly with the help of the wrist on the way down.

If you play that too “fingery”, there will be bumps and it will sound too much like chopping cucumber.

7 thoughts on “On playing op.2 no.1 Part two

  1. Chopping cucumber, *lol*

    Um, again a very stupid question – you refer to “modern piano” all the time but there are rather big differences between modern and modern pianos as well, right? What if you work out a nice solution for the piano you have, and then have to deal with an instrument that is very different in character? Do you have any “plan B” then? 😉

    Or maybe the difference is not that big. It seems to be very tricky, though, that Beethoven wrote this for one kind of instrument, and you have to work with another … then you are very much left with your own interpretation and cannot think of what he probably “meant”?

    As for the syncopations you mention, first I thought you were wrong when you wrote that you perhaps was a bit too nice. I thought “hey, exaggerating is not a good thing” but now I’ve listened to it a couple of times and yes, you are right. Especially at the last syncopation, they are a bit … um, chin down when it should be more chin up, so to speak. But I still think you can overdo this as well. And I still have no real clue of what I’m talking about …

  2. Not stupid question at all. The difference between modern pianos is much smaller though, at Beethoven’s time the difference between piano makers could be huge. But to be able to get used to a new piano quickly before concerts is a question which has to do with piano techique. We talk a little about it here:

    To play early Beethoven sonatas and especially Bach, no doubt you can feel like you are playing a transcription. And that’s fine, but one has to take it into account reading the score, especially the fortes and fortissimos.

    Yes, the syncopations should be more “up”! I actually have a great example of up-accent, I’ll put that up tomorrow in a part three.

  3. Very interesting in the video about warm-up exercises! I have to try the one you describe there; it looks great to me. Certainly a good way to “feel” the piano as well …

    Of course I started to think more about warm-ups … you are about to perform in a long and demanding concert. You enter the hall and … you are slightly out of breath. Catastrophy. You cannot be out of breath when you start to play. (Except for the one that comes with the unevitable adrenaline kick …) And at the same time you cannot be cold and stiff either. What about yoga before the concert? 😀 Or is just warm-ups for the hands sufficient?

  4. Dear Per,

    About the trills. I’ve wondered if shortening them prevents the awful sound of the G (top not of trill) against Ab in the bass in measure 86. If one DOES shorten them – it’s also a direct thumb to the nose of the Viennese again. Something that likely, the young Beethoven was prone to do at this point. Beethoven doesn’t write the first two notes of the trill as Haydn and Mozart before him were prone to do. He writes the final two notes of the trill and assumes that the previous has been worked out. Kind of like he doesn’t care which way one plays it – but may have actually, himself, given some ‘umph’ to the primary note just to see what people would say.

    And, to promote this theory – take a look at the repeated C’s (8 of them) in measures 93-94 – where they are not granted the secondary note until afterwards in measure 95 and beyond. And, then in the treble – Beethoven makes special note to say that the turn is to be pianissimo. This would be in contrast to the accented trill which may have been forte.

    1. I choose to do them from the top note. There are no 100% certain rules when it comes to these things, but in general the consensus by writers (Leopold Mozart, CPE Bach) seem to be that if the main note (the lower note of the trill) is not a dissonant note itself, the “spice” should come from starting the trill from the dissonant note. But, that rule can be changed according to what the character the passage has. In this case, the character is quite agitato, so I would suggest starting the trill on the upper note.

      Hope that’s to some help!

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