JD: Governor, may I call you Sarah?
SP: You betcha.
JD: I just simply can’t believe in the midst of this intense campaign season, you could find the time to talk with me about the “Hammerklavier” Sonata.
SP: Well, ya know, Beethoven was the dude who said thanks but no thanks to Napoleon. Plus from all the mavericky songs he wrote, maybe this one could be known as the most maverickyest.
JD: I have to confess I’m a bit surprised you are so familiar with this particular work.
SP: Well, Mr. Snooty Juilliard Graduate, I’ll have you know I did my thesis on the Hammerklavier at Hawaiian Pacific University. Of course I had to continue revising it at Northern Idaho Massage Institute. And at Montana College for Bear-Loving Beauty Pageant Alumni. But also too the Hammerklavier’s on my ‘Pod whenever I go wolf hunting … those dactyls get me SUPER pumped.
JD: What was your thesis called?
SP: Originally I wanted to call it “Frickin Kick-Ass Beethoven,” but my advisor was in a bad mood that day because Felicity chose Noel over Ben. So I had to change it to “Trickle-Down Fugonomics: A Reaganian Model of Beethoven’s Counterpoint.” That’s how I got funding from the American Enterprise Institute.
JD: What was the main thrust of your thesis?
SP: Jeremy, I guess my point is, a fugue is more than one voice, just like America. And it has certain values.
JD: Please elaborate …
SP: Well, you know Jeremy, we’re overtaxed. And Beethoven says, well, goshdarnit, just try and govern that fugue subject. Cause he knows that government is really the problem, and the scariest two words in the English language are “Schenkerian Analysis.”
JD: So you don’t think a Schenkerian 3-line governs the unfolding of the Hammerklavier?
SP: Let’s put it this way, Jeremy. And I know your type has a hard time getting past the filter, so let me unfilter you right here and now. Nobody, but no one, can do better than the free enterprise of the notes left to themselves. And Beethoven himself, look right here, says “fugue in 3 voices, with some license.” And also too license is just another word for maverick and and maverick is another word for freedom and freedom is just another word for America and no Austrian analyst tells America what to do.
JD: Word! Explain to me this trickle-down theory.
SP: The “Hammerklavier” is the perfect instance of my example, Jeremy. Ever notice how the piece is full of chains of thirds?
JD: Sure, Sarah. It is well noted in Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style, and many other sources.
SP: Well, ask yourself another question: do they ever go up?
JD: Hmm. Well, I guess not.
SP: Booyah! As my grandma used to say, you can’t bag a moose with a spoon.
JD: Ok, l think I see where you’re going with that. Tell me a bit about the harmonic language of the work.
SP: It’s great to see Beethoven being so pro-B-flat major.
JD: I guess I would have said it’s “in” B-flat major, not “pro-” B-flat major? …
SP: Oh, Jeremy, I wouldn’t expect a naive Upper West Side nacho-eating liberal like yourself to understand that every key is, in fact, a war against every other key. And you know unless we defend B-flat major one day we’ll wake up and there won’t be a B-flat major. Two flats come at a price, eternal vigilance, or I guess what I’m sayin’ is, these flats don’t run.
JD: But Sarah—to play devil’s advocate here—you could make that one of the defining, most beautiful elements of the piece is the presence of sort of “radical” notes, notes that don’t really belong in B-flat major, strange other notes, neither major nor minor …
SP: All that sounds really good on paper, Jeremy, at your Ivy League coffeeshops and so forth, but out here in the real world where I’m sitting there’s plenty of common sense telling me that wrong notes are wrong notes. There was a great piece on Lou Dobbs the other day about this, called “Why Is G-Flat Getting My Tax Dollars?”
JD: I didn’t know he was a Beethoven scholar.
SP: There’s Walmarts and Walmarts of stuff out there you don’t know. I agree with Lou, we can put up with these immigrant notes, but only if they enter the key legally, through the proper channels, and for heck’s sake let’s not get in the business of givin’ ‘em driving licenses. They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
JD: I’m not sure how that applies to Beethoven … ?
SP: Just cause Beethoven can wigglewaggle his way into all sorts of keys doesn’t mean we have to give them amnesty. Next question.
JD: Tell me your thoughts about the slow movement.
SP: [pause] In what respect, Jeremy?
JD: The third movement: how would you describe it?
SP: [pause] I gotta confess, I usually fast forward through that one … It’s kind of a bummer. And since unlike some Americans out there I don’t hate America, I don’t want to dwell on all those negativity.
JD: But some people might make the case that the third movement is kind of the emotional core of the work … ?
SP: Ya know, I feel pretty strongly that a composer is a lot like a musicologist, except that he has actual notes to put down on paper. [Applause]
JD: Sarah, you didn’t really answer my question …
SP: I got some questions for you. For example, why does Beethoven decide to kick fugal butt at the end of this song? What’s the point? I think another interesting question is why in fact is this piece in B-flat major? I mean didn’t he already write the “Archduke” Trio, which is ALSO in B-flat major? Why couldn’t he just write the “Archduke” trio again? I know a lotta folks out there, in Main Street all across this land of ours, they’ll tell you, they’re just more “Archduke” kinda folks then they are “Hammerklavier” folks. And that’s fine. That’s why America is so great. I would never take away their right to bear “Archduke.” And its true the “Archduke” is a lot more Budweiser to those folks the “Hammerklavier” seems like some sort of weird imported wheat beer or somethin’, but my point is, it’s like Beethoven sat down to write the “Archduke” but then as his pen or quill or chalk or whatever hit the paper it took a kind of wrong turn, God bless him …
JD: A wrong turn?
SP: Well, I don’t mean wrong in a bad way, but in a weird way. I think the best way to explain it is it’s like that movie with the guy, you know, who turns into a fly. It’s like there’s the “Archduke” trio and all that good noble normal Beethoven stuff, but then it gets fused with some alien DNA and so, like instead of a normal scherzo you get this little strange runt of a crazy scherzo and then in place of a really long slow movement you get an even longer slow movement and everything just spirals out of control, like some sort of crazy Bach futuristic Beethoven hybrid thingamabob.
JD: That’s actually not totally uninsightful, Sarah. I’m sorry I liberally condescended to you. It’s true everything in the slow movement of the “Hammerklavier” speaks in exaggerated or caricatured ways. When you compare it to the symmetrical arches of the “Archduke” slow movement the “Hammerklavier” has a tendency to get stuck, to wander or obsess, as if Beethoven were commenting on the very nature of musical narrative itself, as if he were questioning the foundations of phraseology … Whereas the “Archduke” seems the very summit of phraseology, a kind of Mount Olympus.
SP: Yeah, whatever.
JD: Sarah, what’s your favorite part of the “Hammerklavier”?
SP: Well that’s really hard to say, but I think I gotta go with the opening of the last movement.
JD: The Largo introduction? Mine too! Maybe we have more in common than we thought!
SP: Yah, I really love how those chords just kind of sit there waiting for something to do … and then something will happen … and then we’ll be waiting again … lotsa suspense and mystery you know … it’s sort of a transition with no clear or obvious goal … how do I put this …
JD: Kind of a bridge to nowhere?
SP: Smart ass.
JD: Sarah, the last movement is one of the most famously difficult things in all the piano repertoire. Do you have any advice for this American pianist about this movement before he performs this work on tour?
SP: You don’t want to hear my advice.
JD: Oh come on let me have it.
SP: I think it’s pretty obvious.
JD: I’m dying to know.
SP: You’re not gonna like it.
JD: Please …
SP: Trill, baby, trill!
JD: [sinks head in hands] The interview is over.