Embodying Entanglement: The Case of Beethoven and His French Piano

Fri, Apr 29, 2022
2:00 pm EDT - 3:30 pm EDT

Tom Beghin’s Beethoven’s French Piano: A Tale of Ambition and Frustration (The University of Chicago Press, 2022) recaptures Beethoven’s initial enthusiasm in 1803 for his newly acquired Erard Frères piano, while investigating why quite early on already he agreed to technical revisions of this perfectly fine piece of French engineering.  Meant to “viennicize” the instrument (i.e., to make it more “playable” for a Viennese pianist-composer), these revisions instead led Beethoven in 1810 to declare his French piano “now utterly useless.”

This talk will use the example of Beethoven’s Erard to expand on aspects of materiality and performance.  Materiality assumes ownership.  Using human-thing entanglement theory to draw attention to the complexity of Beethoven’s relation with his Erard (a relationship mirrored by Beghin’s access to a copy of the instrument), a case will be made for incorporating these entanglements in our understanding of works such as Beethoven’s Sonatas op. 53 (“Waldstein”), op. 54, and op. 57 (“Appassionata”).  This approach has implications for HIP and the practice of sound recording.  Like those on modern instruments, commercial recordings on historical instruments promote a sense of essentialism both on the part of the object and its player, failing to take into account—let alone make audible—the more nuanced and ultimately more exciting realities of technological novelty, human adjustment, and material aging.


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Tom Beghin combines a career as performer with that of researcher and teacher. His published work spans different media, from commercially released CDs and film to academic essays and books. His most recent project on Beethoven’s 1803 Erard piano resulted in the book Beethoven’s French Piano: A Tale of Ambition and Frustration (Chicago, 2022) and a double CD (EPR, 2020, winner of a 2020 Caecilia Prize from the Belgian Music Press). The year 2017 saw the birth of Inside the Hearing Machine, an amalgam of publications on Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and deafness. His monograph The Virtual Haydn: Paradox of a Twenty-First-Century Keyboardist (Chicago, 2015) followed his recording of the complete solo Haydn keyboard works (Naxos 2009/2011). He co-edited Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric (Chicago, 2007, winner of the AMS Ruth Solie Award).

Alumnus of the HIP-doctoral program at Cornell University, Prof. Beghin taught at UCLA and McGill University. Since 2015, Prof. Beghin has been Senior Researcher and Principal Investigator at the Orpheus Institute for Advanced Studies & Research in Music, in Ghent, Belgium, while also serving on the Associated Faculty of the Arts of the University of Leuven. His research cluster, Declassifying the Classics, focuses on the intersections of technology, rhetoric, and performance.