Beethoven and Pianos: Off the Beaten Path
October 2 – December 31
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What were the ideas and practices that informed the keyboard culture of Beethoven’s day? And how might we go beyond them today, revisiting questions of time and place, politics and aesthetics, performance and ideology?

Beethoven and Pianos: Off the Beaten Path is a series of online events throughout Fall 2020 that celebrates Beethoven’s 250th anniversary by taking two complimentary paths: in one direction, exploring lesser-known pianos (and represented in the CCHK collection) that shaped Beethoven’s aural and kinetic memory and that are the focus of cutting-edge research today; in the other, listening to contemporary responses to this monumental historical figure and his music.

Most events of the series will be available here as the semester progresses until December 31, 2020.

Beethoven’s Erard and Chris Maene’s replica side by side (Photo: Steven Maes)

Co-sponsored by the Society for the Humanities, the Central New York Humanities Corridor from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Cornell Department of Music.

Full Schedule
October 2

Annette Richards launches the series with a conversation with Nicholas Mathew (Associate Professor of Music at UC Berkeley and author of Political Beethoven, 2013) paired with Xak BjerkenAnnette Richards, and Rick Faria, in conversation with music critic and novelist Paul Griffiths about his recently published work of historical fiction, Mr. Beethoven.

October 9

Malcolm Bilson, speaking from his new McNulty-Silbermann (1749), reflects on the fantasie-style afforded by this instrument that reverberates through Beethoven’s “Moonlight” sonata.

October 12 & 23

Tom Beghin (DMA ’96) gives a preview of his much-anticipated first modern reconstruction of Beethoven’s 1803 Erard and his reimagining of the “Waldstein” sonata. In the following week, Tom joins members of the Center and the Cornell Department of Music in a roundtable discussion.

October 30

First-year DMA student Thomas Feng performs a program of contemporary piano music by Mark Carlson, Michael Finnissy, Reiko Füting, and Juri Seo.

Week of November 2

Mike Lee (CCHK Artist-in-Residence/Visiting-Scholar), in collaboration with first-year DMA student Cheryl Tan, explores the newly uncovered function of the Stein piano in Beethoven’s early keyboard idiom. The event features a performance of the Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 7, on the CCHK’s McCobb-Stein as well as an interview with guest Tilman Skowroneck, author of Beethoven the Pianist, 2010.

Week of November 9

DMA student Richard Valitutto performs a potpourri of contemporary piano solos inspired by the words of Camille Pleyel after hearing Beethoven improvise in 1805: “He realizes whatever enters his head and he is extremely daring. Sometimes he does astounding things.” 

Built around and interweaving three movements of Michael Finnissy‘s Beethoven’s Robin Adair—a take-off (send-up?) of Beethoven’s arrangement of the Scotch-Irish folk song (WoO 157, no. 7)—the program also features brief works by the late Cornell alumna Ann Silsbee, and a new work premiere by Valitutto, both in that impetuous genre on which Beethoven made his indelible mark: the bagatelle.

Week of November 16

Mike Lee, in collaboration with Cheryl Tan, explores the concept of hybridity in the “Diabelli” Variations, Op. 120, using two kinds of instruments to enact the bipartite compositional history of the work. The event features a complete performance of Op. 120: variations drafted after Beethoven’s in-depth encounter with his new Broadwood are performed on the CCHK’s Broadwood (1799), while those conceived prior to work on the last three sonatas are performed on the Regier-Graf (1824).

Week of November 30

Xak Bjerken and Miri Yampolsky (Senior Lecturer) premiere a new CCHK-commissioned work from Jesse Jones (DMA ’13, Assistant Professor of Composition, Oberlin Conservatory).

Week of December 7

Mike Lee, in collaboration with Thomas Reeves (PhD candidate in Mathematics) and Cheryl Tan, draws formal and expressive connections between two iconic late Beethoven sonatas and the keyboard music of C. P. E. Bach. The event features performances of the sonatas Op. 101 in A major (Lee) and Op. 111 in C minor (Reeves).

December 17

Piano duo HereNowHear (Andrew Zhou, DMA ’19, and current DMA candidate Ryan MacEvoy McCullough) is featured in a new work entitled RAGE (Vented), commissioned especially for Beethoven and Pianos: Off the Beaten Path. The work features an international roster of young composers (Christopher Castro, Laura Cetilia (DMA student), Jihyun Kim (DMA candidate), Yi-Wei Angus Lee, Aida ShiraziDante de Silva, and LJ White), plus responses by McCullough and Zhou, and stages a 2020 parallel to Anton Diabelli’s Vaterländischer Künstlerverein project with Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost PennyRAGE interrogates the still prevalent notion of Beethoven as sublime hero, as a composer of the transcendent and universal, at the end of a year marked by disease and distance, isolation and injury, lies and loss.