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Performance to feature controversial concerto

Senior lecturer David Deveau
Senior lecturer David Deveau

Pianist and MIT senior lecturer David Deveau will present "Three Viennas," a program that highlights three distinct periods in Vienna's illustrious musical history, on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.

Deveau has chosen two 12-tone works from the Second Viennese School--Webern's "Variations" and Schoenberg's "Piano Piece, Op. 33a"--and two concerti that are staples of the piano repertoire. The first is Brahms' own arrangement of his "Piano Concerto in D minor" for one piano with four hands--Deveau will perform with Jonathan Lee, a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science. Deveau's other selection, Beethoven's "Fourth Piano Concerto, Op. 58," is a reduction of the orchestral version, and its origins are the subject of a musicological controversy.

Musicologist Hans-Werner Kuethen, a member of the scientific staff of the Beethoven Archives in Bonn, claims to have discovered this chamber version of Beethoven's fourth piano concerto in 1995. According to Kuethen, this version dates from the late spring of 1807, not long after the first performance of the work's original version at an invitational concerto given at the Vienna palace of Beethoven's patron, Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian Lobkowitz.

"Very likely at the behest of the prince...the full orchestral score was to be supplanted by a reduction to two violins, two violas and cello," says Kuethen. "Beethoven himself contributed to the fulfillment of this request by undertaking alterations in the solo piano part."

Musicologist and Beethoven scholar Barry Cooper of the University of Manchester in England disagrees with Kuethen's claim of discovery. According to Cooper, "What survives is an arrangement for string quintet of the orchestral parts of the concerto...Also surviving is a full orchestral score of the concerto, with some sketchy annotations in Beethoven's hand for the piano part, showing a much more elaborate version than that published."

Added Cooper, "What Kuethen did was claim that the string quintet parts went with this elaborated piano part, but there is no evidence that they did. All the evidence he produced is flawed. Thus his 'chamber version' of the concerto is a wholly spurious surmise, and not a 'discovery' at all."

Deveau, who is the recipient of the coveted Solo Recitalist Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, has concertized extensively throughout North America and is no stranger to this Beethoven work. He has played the original concerto many times, including in performances with both the San Francisco and Minnesota orchestras. According to Deveau, the challenges posed by this 'new' version are different from those of the original.

"The piano writing is more filigreed and ornate," he said. "There is a reverse problem of balance--here the piano can dominate the strings, whereas in the orchestral version, the solo piano part may be occasionally overpowered.

"Whether it's by Beethoven, by his copyist or a combination of the two, this is a bona fide curiosity," Deveau said. "It's worth hearing."

David Deveau performs "Three Viennas" as part of the MIT Faculty Series. Performing the Beethoven concerto with him are graduate students Alexey Shabalin and Amanda Wang on violin, sophomore Andrew McPherson and Jennifer Grucza (S.B. 1998) on viola and graduate student Stanley Hong on cello. For more information, call 452-2394.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 12, 2003.

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