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In days of yore, I've posted my own feelings about cadenzas and improvisation here

And, BTW, that Atlantic article was not bad as kind of a quick overview of the history of cadenzas. I do however have a different view of the reason why Beethoven published cadenzas for his first four piano concertos later in his life. And that is that composers, by and large, began to trust performers LESS AND LESS (at least in certain aspects of performance!) as music history proceeded from the beginning of the nineteenth century through to the end of the twentieth century. Thus you have composers like Bartok, who were so afraid that the performers would deviate from his indicated markings that he not only provided metronome speeds but also total timings for the entire piece - just to make sure the players didn't go astray!

So, getting back to cadenzas, yes, Mozart no doubt rolled his own on the spot. And in some cases, we have examples of the cadenzas for Mozart's concertos from the next generation of musicians (like Beethoven's for the D-minor Concerto, as the Atlantic author mentions). I also remember, early on in my studies, being delighted to find that on my recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, with Jose Iturbi playing and conducting the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (one of those Angel recordings with the wooden spine), the cadenzas used were by Hummel - who was the composer of a little Rondo I was studying at the time!

What I'm less impressed by is this kind of exaggerated reverence for improvisation in classical music these days - such as what Robert Levin supposedly does. If the improvisation results in a good cadenza, comparable in quality to those published by the composers themselves, then fine - I'm all for it. But what I think is really happening is the folks like Levin have a general plan in mind for their cadenzas and make little improvisatory tweaks to it at each performance. To me, this would not be the same as improvising a cadenza anew at each performance. In fact, it might be interesting to follow someone like Levin around on a tour, where he's playing the same concerto in different locales, and find out just how much difference there is in the cadenzas he plays on successive nights. My bet is that there wouldn't be that much - but of course that's only speculation FWIW.

I also like to hear unusual cadenzas, especially by other famous composers - I really like my Panenka/Smetacek recording of the Beethoven Third Concerto (on Supraphon) which features cadenzas by Smetana (!), and I read that there's a Rubinstein recordings of the Beethoven Fourth in which he used cadenzas by Saint-Saens. More recently, I gave kudos to Lisa [Batiashvili] for using cadenzas by Busoni, instead of the more familiar ones by Joachim or Kreisler, in her recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.

OTOH, I'm no fan of Britten's cadenza for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 (written for Richter - as noted in the Atlantic article), and I completely despise the Schnittke cadenza used in the Kremer recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And as for Gould's cadenza for the Beethoven First Concerto, it's just too filled with "What a clever boy I am!" sentiment for its own good!

One other interesting thing about the three cadenzas that Beethoven left for the first movement of his First Concerto is that there's a short one (used by Gilels and some others - but not too many!), the longer one (which almost everybody plays), and a third one, also long (which practically nobody plays, although I think Arrau used it in his recording with Haitink IIRC). This third cadenza is a big grand cadenza (like the second) but to me, it has always had one flaw: in the middle of it, there's a VERY unconvincing key change to the section which treats the closing theme. I'm sure this is why so few people play it. And yet. . . if one were to make one simple chromatic alteration followed by a new, additional seventh chord (underneath the trill), one could get into the new key in a MUCH more convincing fashion. I'd love to hear someone play this cadenza and have the courage to "improve" what Beethoven left us here! ;-)


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  • In days of yore, I've posted my own feelings about cadenzas and improvisation here - Chris from Lafayette 14:47:43 03/16/17 (0)

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