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Law, Music, and Other Performing Arts, 139 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1597 (1991)(with Sanford Levinson)


The eminent pianist and writer Charles Rosen has noted that "[t]here is an irritating or piquant wrong note in the [score of the] first movement of Beethoven's first piano concerto, a high F-natural where the melody obviously calls for an F-sharp." What accounts for an "obvious" error by this giant of classical music? The answer, says Rosen, lies in the developmental state of the piano when Beethoven composed the concerto: the piano keyboard stopped at F-natural, which therefore established the limit of what was physically possible for a performer to play. To be sure, Beethoven might have written "aspirationally" and composed what, though impossible under current conditions, could nonetheless be aspired to under some future imagined state. Thus Rosen writes of a piano sonata in which Beethoven "asks for a successive crescendo and diminuendo on a single sustained note," even though "the instrument that can realize this has not yet been invented." But at least this suggests that Beethoven was capable of envisioning the possibility of radical transformation regarding piano design and wanted to signify an intention should those possibilities ever be realized. What, then, does the performer do with the F-natural, where Beethoven appears instead to have acquiesced to the limits of the instrument?

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