Nicholas Kitchen on Interpreting Beethoven’s Secret Code

Nicholas Kitchen

NEC violin faculty and founding member of the Borromeo String Quartet Nicholas Kitchen was featured in The Atlantic for his work decoding Ludwig van Beethoven's original manuscripts. Beethoven often added notations to his original manuscripts—for example, varying line lengths and dot sizes and spelling the word piano with multiple lines on the stems of the P's. Kitchen has worked for years to interpret how Beethoven used his original notations to communicate nuances crucial to the expression of the composition.

"Just by reading the manuscript, you are instantly exposed to an archaeology of ideas," Kitchen said in The Atlantic. "You're tracing what was crossed out—an option tried and not used, one tried and refused, then brought back—all these processes that are instantly visible."

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Kitchen teaches his findings to NEC students in the Integrative Curriculum course Creativity and Manuscripts. By dissecting and interpreting the marks and scrawls in Beethoven's original scores, students gain access to a language many practicing musicians may not be privy to. Kitchen said this approach impacts students differently than any other course he's taught during his 30-year career at NEC. "My hope is to offer them a different perspective for studying music, outside of what they're used to or what they've chosen to major in," he explained.