Where Angels Fear to Tread

Jonathan Bellman

In several different blog posts I have chronicled the
Mendelssohn/Moscheles reconstruction project, in which a collaboration with my
friend Michael Cooper went from incomplete rediscovered but incomplete score to
reconstruction to live premiere.  (This one links all the others.)  Previous to that my only involvement in such a reconstruction had been as the guy who (first, I think) played my friend Jeffrey Kallberg’s reconstruction of the early Chopin E-Flat Minor Prelude (not the one that eventually became part of Op. 28), and offering an opinion on the identity of one note thereof.  Now, Prof. Kallberg has drawn my attention to an ongoing project involving an incomplete Fourth Piano Sonata by Robert Schumann, and of course there is the Unheard Beethoven site, which has MIDI realizations of a variety of Beethoven fragments,
sketches, incomplete works, etc. 

What is the attraction of such projects?  I can assure that it is not the stupid
“undiscovered masterpiece” cliché, trotted out so often when a new fragment is discovered. The recent Mozart violin fragment is one such case, though
to the BBC’s credit such a claim was not made in this linked article (though
other articles on the subject did not show the same restraint).  Undiscovered masterworks are extremely rare; even Prof. Jay Rosenblatt’s discovery and reconstruction of Liszt’s “other” E-Flat piano concerto in the 1980s brought to light a piece that Liszt himself
had decided not
to revise and thus discarded.  No, it is really something closer to
the completist’s impulse, the almost obsessive desire to harvest everything from a lost sound world, not just the pieces that the composer, his publishers, and serendipity have managed to pass down to us. In such cases, what is compelling is why—perhaps—the composer decided not to complete the work.  Was it that no one was paying, or was
it that the work really did not pass muster?  The germ might have been good idea, as in the case of the Chopin prelude, but the composer may later have had one he liked better.  Was it an occasional piece, something composed for a particular event but for which the composer foresaw no longer future?  That would be the Mendelssohn/Moscheles, at least as far as Mendelssohn was concerned.  Or, as in many other cases, the composer’s circumstances may just have led him elsewhere, or prematurely offstage, so much remained undone.  For the student of musical language and compositional practice, the
stone that the builders rejected may not have become the cornerstone, exactly, but it can be highly instructive.  The internet now makes such things available to everyone.

I have not yet spend any time with the Schumann site; all I can say is that the name Frederick Moyer (who collaborates on this project with Paul E. Green, Jr.) is familiar to me because he recently played a concert at Mt. San Antonio Gardens, the facility where my father was being treated and where my mother now lives. From his website, I gather he’s doing musical life that other way, the way where the artist is responsible for all
his own bookings, is involved with a variety of interesting projects as a kind
of metamultitasker, and does not rely on a day job. Bravo! and Corraggio! to Moyer and Green both, and I look forward to this work on what Schumann eventually did not manage to finish.  More and more work on the aesthetic of the sketch is beginning to be done, and (as I say) the internet now gives us the tools to make available much music that never fully made it out of the Realm Of Becoming.  

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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2 Responses to Where Angels Fear to Tread

  1. David Cavlovic says:

    This is precisely why I cannot stand the supposed Beethoven Symphony No. 10. Anybody with a cursory knowledge of Beethoven’s composition methods knows that intial sketch can differ greater than night and day from final outcome. Who knows if Beethoven would have even used the thematic ideas cobbled into Symphony No. 10?!

  2. Fred Moyer says:

    Thanks Jonathan for the kind words. Yes, I enjoy playing at Mt. San Antonio Gardens every year. (Will be there again on Jan. 26, 2010.) I hope you enjoy the Schumann — 7 minutes of really beautiful and totally unknown Schumann.

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