Carl Reinecke's Performance of Mozart's Larghetto and the Nineteenth-Century Practice of Quantitative Accentuation

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171 Carl Reinecke’s Performance of Mozart’s Larghetto and the Nineteenth-Century Practice of Quantitative Accentuation Robert Hill A performance-practice convention among classically trained musicians holds   that metric accentuation in tonal and post-tonal Western music is qualitat   ive rather than quantitative in nature. Accentuation of strong beats is clarified primarily by stress accents—dynamic inflection and articulation—although where applicable it can be aided by additional expressive devices such as arpeggiation or ornamentation . Stylistic exceptions to this principle that take the form of lengthening accented beats, such as French Baroque inégalité or the “shuffle” inequality of jazz performance, are deemed to apply foremost to rapid or flowing note values at the bottom of the metric hierarchy.1 Metrical units occurring in pairs are intended to be equal or symmetrical in length, regulated by a clear, relatively rapid pulse.2 Although our bias toward qualitative accentuation over quantitative accentuation is now deeply ingrained in our habits of performing and listening, it is a performance-practice convention that, historically speaking, has probably been firmly in place only for the past eighty to one hundred years or so. Thus, this convention may not represent a universal constant of what musicians today understand as “good” musicianship. I use the term quantitative accentuation to denote the asymmetry between the lengths of complementary metric units—the two quarter-note beats within a half-bar, for example , or the two half-note beats within a whole bar. In the realm of tempo inflection , asymmetric expression occupies a middle position between rhythmic inequality at the low end of the metric hierarchy (sixteenth and eighth notes) and tempo modification at higher levels of the phrase structure. Differences between accented and unaccented metric units can be very marked, but most often they are rather subtle. Because of its subtlety, quantitative accentuation is easily masked by other performance gestures, making it challenging to isolate as a performance-practice criterion. In this chapter I present a method for analyzing quantitative accentuation in expressive hill 172 piano-roll recordings from the early twentieth century and then consider the implications of my findings. Wax cylinders, shellac disks, and paper piano rolls from the earliest period of acoustic recording constitute a vast corpus of acoustic documents. These sources, drawn from the late-nineteenth century through World War I, strongly suggest that the best musicians of the late nineteenth century held to a standard of musicianship that embraced, among other things, a more flexible approach to tempo than modern audiences are accustomed to or than modern musicians may feel comfortable with. A new open-mindedness in recent scholarly studies suggests that today, a hundred years later, we are more receptive to the customs of late-Romantic performance practice3 than was usually the case during the twentieth century.4 In view of the misgivings that have surrounded late-Romantic performance practice in the past, it is tantalizing to think that among the trove of early acoustic recordings are some that might reliably shed light on even earlier stylistic practices. Recordings from the beginning of the twentieth century, made by musicians born ca. 1820–1850, provide a unique perspective on the performance conventions of the mid-nineteenth century. Musicianship is, among other things, a complex interaction of mental and physical habits usually acquired early in life through highly repetitive behavior. Ingrained performance habits are rather difficult for musicians to change in later life (as my own performing experience, as well as instructional work with elderly students, attest), and I believe that it is quite the exception for a mature musician to break aesthetically with his or her training and adopt a new style. If we wish to assemble a body of recordings that most probably reflect practices current in the midnineteenth century, we should look for the oldest possible musicians in the earliest generation of recordings, and then select from this group those musicians with reputations as conservatives who shunned late-Romantic musical influences. In the present study I focus on one such recording, a piano roll made by the oldest keyboard player—and quite possibly the oldest musician—to leave an acoustic record: the German conductor, composer, and pianist Carl Reinecke (1824–1910). The recording in question is a Welte piano roll of Reinecke’s own transcription of the middle movement , Larghetto, from Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D-Major (“Coronation”), K 537.5 Now known mainly for his compositions, Reinecke was an influential musician and teacher in his day. Conductor of the...