Jeremy Eichler of the Boston Globe previews the Borromeo String Quartet, NEC’s faculty quartet-in-residence, in their six-part series in which the Quartet will play from the wider range of expressive markings Beethoven included in his handwritten manuscripts, in new editions prepared by violinist Nicholas Kitchen.
Eichler sat down with Kitchen to discuss his research into Beethoven's expressive markings:
In total, according to his tally, the manuscripts consistently utilize 22 different dynamic marks, which in conventional published editions have been standardized down to nine marks. He also found similar variability in articulation markings, indicating how a player should attack an individual note. In that case, four different ways of indicating staccato — a short stroke — had been reduced in printed scores to a single standardized mark. Kitchen also found precedents for some of these distinctions in the manuscripts of other composers, from C.P.E. Bach to Haydn. It therefore seemed possible that Beethoven had built on systems used by previous composers and taken them, as was his way, to unprecedented heights of complexity and meaning.
“Even though we are thrilled to share with people what actually does seem to be a new and exciting layer of information,” [Kitchen] said, “if all of these marks were taken away and all you had were the notes themselves, a Beethoven cycle would still be a life-changing musical experience. The fundamental structure of what Beethoven offers is a vessel that is so flexible and so rich in its resonance with what human beings feel and aspire to — that every time we listen to it, the music becomes something new. All of us can only live so long, but what could be a greater privilege than to let Beethoven lead us into this discovery, really, of ourselves — with this gift that he gave all of us through this music?”