Digging into the score: Nicholas Kitchen on Beethoven’s myriad markings

Is it possible, nearly two centuries after Beethovenʼs death, that secrets remain to be discovered about his life and music? Scholars trying to determine everything from his exact birthdate to the subject of Für Elise would answer with a resounding yes. Still, the idea that his manuscripts contain a treasure trove of instructions overlooked all this time is enough to give even the most wishful thinker pause.

Which is why Nicholas Kitchen, first violinist of the Borromeo String Quartet, is treading lightly with his readings of the manuscripts, which have the potential to redefine the way Beethovenʼs music is performed. If Kitchen is correct, Beethoven used an idiosyncratic set of 22 expressive markings that were largely dropped or ignored in printed editions of his scores. The marks are minuscule on the page, but their implications are profound, offering new layers of complexity and revitalized dramatic arcs. At the Beare’s Premiere Music Festival in Hong Kong in January, audiences will have an opportunity to hear how the markings energize the String Quartet no. 7 in F major.

“I know there will be differences of opinion about this,” Kitchen says. “But after going through score after score after score, Iʼm convinced these markings represent something that has to be dealt with and considered very carefully. They really do seem to be variations on a fabulous and complex imagination of sound.”

“I think Mr Kitchen may be on to something extremely important,” says Jeremy Yudkin, Co-director of the Center for Beethoven Research at Boston University. “The evidence he has compiled and the detail of his observations are overwhelming. I readily admit that I was skeptical at first – as was everyone else I spoke to. But having read his extremely thorough analysis of some of Beethovenʼs complete works in manuscript, I have the distinct feeling that this is one of those remarkable breakthroughs in music that come only once every few decades.”

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Frank Kuznik, Bachtrack
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