Blog post 1: Beethoven sonatas, all of them.

Interview Duo Rueda/Leertouwer on their Beethoven Project.

Don del Mar, 29th November 2014.

 

We would like to share an interview between Don del Mar (DdM) of Dominus Maris Music Productions and Duo Rueda/Leertouwer consisting of the Austrian/Colombian fortepianist Eleonora Rueda (ER)  and Dutch 'cellist Detmar Leertouwer (DL).

  Eleonora Rueda

Eleonora Rueda

DdM: Please tell us about how you first met.
ER: We met in the Spring of 2013 at a contemporary music event at the Los Andes University in Bogotá where........
DL: Well, actually it started in Basel about twenty years ago. That is funny to tell, in retrospect.

  Detmar Leertouwer

Detmar Leertouwer

ER: Yes, you are right..... My little son of then 2 years old was so clever to push the 'cello case with inside the 'cello of Detmar. That is to say, Detmar was so clever to put his case right up in the middle of the cafetaria in the Music Academy Basel in Switzerland and then came my little boy Sebastian, still in an age of 'watching with his hands' and saw this big white thing standing there and BAAAANG. Case on the floor, 'cello damaged, especially the neck of an original instrument of ... how old was it?...
DL: Yeah..., at that moment about 200 years old. A Dutch 'cello from about 1794 in original state, as well as the neck! The neck was broken.
ER: Yes, absolutely terrible. So that was the first encounter. Of course the insurance paid everything, but the 'cello did not have its original value anymore. Its original value in many ways. And then I met Detmar again at this contemporary music concert of composers of the los Andes University in Bogotá. He performed a rather interesting piece ... what was the name again?...
DL: Actias Luna for 'cello and live electronics by Isabel González (DdM: Actias Luna).
ER: So that was a very big surprise! I had heard actually one time that he apparently had taught at the Corpas University in Bogotá, but also that he had gone back to Holland in 2011.
DL: So of course we exchanged e-mail addresses and then a little bit later Eleonora asked me if I would be interested to read some Beethoven. And she told me about her fortepiano, which she wanted to bring from Vienna to Bogotá.
ER: After a lot of transportation problems my instrument finally arrived in May, but too late to play in the early music festival in Villa de Leyva, where we were invited to perform Beethoven during the Holy Week of 2014.
DdM: So when I understand well, this "reading some Beethoven" turned into a project of preparing actually 5 sonatas?
ER: Yes, that was the idea of Detmar in the sense of "when we read two movements, why don't we play all 5 sonatas?". But it is indeed a very interesting journey from the earliest compositions of Beethoven - the first two sonatas are opus 5 - by the famous third sonata in A-major until the opus 102 sonatas, which are beautiful examples of the so called late style of Ludwig van.
DL: Yes, and since it is a kind of quest for us - we have to look for many interpretation answers - we thought that it would be cool to share this journey with the music students of the Central University Bogotá, where I taught, in a way which I called 'open rehearsals'. I meant with this to open our rehearsal room for anyone interested to listen and to participate in an active way. A kind of open discussion or half master class, with us also trying out suggestions of the students. Of course the quite different fortepiano versus the modern piano would have been an important issue of the discussion. Unfortunately there was no interest from my university for my proposal. That is why we are happy that through this blog interview and the blog entry of Eleonora about the fortepiano we are still able to share some of our experiences of practicing and rehearsing those 5 grand sonatas.
DdM: So tell me about the fortepiano and why or how it makes a difference compared to the modern piano!

  Fortepiano in Teatro Colón, Bogotá.

Fortepiano in Teatro Colón, Bogotá.

ER: For now I have to speak in general terms since I am going to provide more details and technical information ina separate blog entry. First of all the fortepiano sound is much closer to the harpsichord or clavichord sound. That is to say softer in volume, softer in tone character, more transparent, more brilliant in sound than the modern day grand piano. The earlier types, let's say until the 1830's, have a very clear division in three registers. The bass register sounds more poignant with an almost metallic clearness. The middle register is beautiful for singing melodies and the higher register is light and brilliant. The whole development over one and half century from about 1750 to 1900 was to gain more volume and equality over the whole tone range. This went on cost of different and more individual colours in the sound and expression. 
DL: And the same applies more or less to the development of the string and wind instruments. More sound, more volume, but less colours, less shading.
ER: Speaking of which.......the early type piano has also more sound shading possibilities with the pedals, unknown to the modern piano. But I will be more specific in my blog entry about the fortepiano.
DdM: As you pointed out already, a similar thing applies to the string instruments or your 'cello?

  The young Ludwig van Beethoven.

The young Ludwig van Beethoven.

DL: Yes, you are totally right. Nowadays a 'cellist usually plays with steel strings since they permit the player to perform with an equal strong and polished sound, but I personally miss hearing the true soul of the instrument. In the days of, let's say, Beethoven string players used gut strings, made of sheep gut. They have a softer quality, less shouting than steel. Maybe they are  slightly less loud, but they are much broader in sound. Because of the gut strings the tension of the instrument is less than with today's steel strings. Like what Eleonora mentioned about the pianoforte with more volume, which means more tension, the string instruments also lost some of its colour palet with the increase of tension by strings and by changes in construction. Apart from different string material the overall set up of the instrument is lighter and therefor more resonant. In the concert with all 5 sonatas I will use an earlier type 'cello for the first two sonatas of 1796, together with a lighter bow. For the remaining three sonatas I will use my regular 'cello, but with gut strings. The string tension will also be lower because of the lower pitch of the pianoforte. 430 Herz instead of 442 Herz like on a modern piano. To mention a visual aspect, until the end of the 19th century the 'cello was generally played without a spike or endpin. It was held between the legs. This actually also makes the sound a bit darker, what I love for a bass instrument, and slightly less voluminous, which fits better to the rather soft fortepiano. Funny enough it is the 'cello which can overpower the pianoforte in sharp contrast to today's balance between modern piano and 'cello. Musically speaking these instrumental details have an influence on the performance in many ways. For example, because of the faster decay of the piano sound there is more a quality of speech in the phrasing in the way of Harnoncourt's 'Musikalische Klangrede'. Another example is, given the fact that the piano is less loud, the 'cello can try to perform much longer slurs, as is written, than players usually do. The 'cello will not be overpowered by the piano. A third example is that, since the bass register is so crystal clear, the combination of the persistent 'knocking motive' in the left hand together with the eloquent singing melody in the 'cello in the first movement of the first sonata makes a beautiful effect, which is not possible with a modern piano.
DdM: On the first of December you are going to give the premiere performance of the 5 sonatas in Colombia.
ER: Yes, a premiere in the sense that probably it is the first time in Colombia that all 5 'cello sonatas are being performed in one evening, and definitely the first time in Colombia with period instruments. We had a 'try out' in the beautiful foyer of the Teatro Colón last week.

  Foyer of the Teatro Colón.

Foyer of the Teatro Colón.

  Berlin in the times of van Beethoven. The royal palace.

Berlin in the times of van Beethoven. The royal palace.

  Berlin by Casper David Friedrich.

Berlin by Casper David Friedrich.

That foyer is the absolutely perfect intimate setting for this project. A kind of palace hall, like in those days. A king or duke would be proud to show his newest toy, a new pianoforte - just like today every year a new iPhone with more gadgets is introduced - and a famous 'invité' like Beethoven, who will show off on the latest purchase of the King. That was the setting for the premiere of the first two sonatas in 1796 at the Prussian royal court at Sanssouci near Berlin or in Charlottenburg in Berlin. Beethoven of course then dedicates his sonatas to the King. The foyer of the Teatro Colón is ideal for this type of performance.
DL: We are very happy that the Director of the Teatro Colón in Bogotá Manuel José Álvarez Gaviria offered us the possibility to play two sonatas in the beautiful foyer of his theatre. Furthermore we are very thankful to Mario Morales Neira and Álvaro Salazar Rodríguez from the Fraternidad Rosa Cruz Colombia to immediately offer us a warmstage for the real premiere in Colombia of all the 5 sonatas on 1st December.
DdM: Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts with us.
I wish you a wonderful concert on Monday 1st December!

  Duo Rueda/Leertouwer performs sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in Teatro Colón, Bogotá.

Duo Rueda/Leertouwer performs sonatas by Ludwig van Beethoven in Teatro Colón, Bogotá.

Update since June 2015:
The Duo in the Andes University, Bogotá, on April 14th 2015.

 
EXTRA: Purchase the  Recording van Beethoven Variations with Detmar Leertouwer and Yuko Abe-Haueis released in September 2015.
 

Read the second blog entry:
Blog post 2 about Bach, Vasks, Sculthorpe & more.

Coming in due course:
Blog post 3 upon 'Fantasia for 'Cello Alone' by Richard Gwilt