top of page


Aktualisiert: 22. Feb. 2022

Traditions in the musical education in Vienna

How the German language has influenced the musical language and which criterias are significant in our pianistic education in Vienna.

o.Univ.-Prof. Manfred Wagner-Artzt

Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Wien



About music

and language


In German we have a lot of words which are accentuated on the first syllabis as, "Friede, Liebe, Leben", but also verbs like "reden, laufen", or adjectives as "glücklich, friedvoll, einsam", etc.

So it is not surprising, that especially in the Viennese Classic we often find an articulation which derives obvously from the language.

e.g. let’s have a look to the beginning of Beethoven's sonata op.110. We can see that the first two notes are bound together with a bow from c to a flat.

When we listen to recordings unfortunately we rarely will hear this motive played that way. Many pianists are playing the a flat as an upbeat.

Here you can listen to two versions. The second one is played by Paul Badura-Skoda, the first one by another famous pianist.

Even in the volume curves it can be seen, that Badura-Skoda plays the second chord much softer than it is played in the first recording.

It may sometimes help to invent a text as e.g.: „Lieb – ste, lass uns fort – gehen“

This would not be possible in French: The same phrase in French sounds: Chérie, laisse nous quit­ter

We realize that it is a complete different kind of prosody, which does not fit at all with the written music.

Let’s stay at Beethoven. We have a wonderful example, where Beethoven himself has added a word: The beginning of the sonata op.81a „Les Adieux“

The word „Le – be – wohl“ what means „farewell“ shows us exactly, how these first three elements should be played:

This junction of text and music of course is not an invention of the Viennese Classic, it derives from the music of the Renaissance and the Baroque. Bach used this also in many instrumental works. Here an example:

In the E Major Fugue of the 2nd part of the Welltempered Piano he uses two choral melodies for the main theme and for the counter subject.

The main theme comes from the Gregorian Choral „Pange lingua“ which exists in many different variations throughout the centuries. Here the version of Thomas von Aquin, composed in the 13th century:

The second theme is from a choral which is mentioned for the first time in 1675. This theme and variations of it Bach has used about 15 times in his compository creations.

When we speak this text we know immediately how we have to articulate.

In Bach’s Fugue it looks like this:

Now to some other examples in which the knowledge of the connection between word and music is of elemantary importance, as at the beginning of the sonata in F-major K 332 by Mozart.

Mozart wrote very detailed bows. Why? Certainly not therefore that we shall ignore them.

Again we can help us for understanding by inventing a text e.g.:

And in the second themes group we can e.g. invent "Was für ein schönes Bild"

For the beginning of the 3rd movement of HAYDNs sonata in

b minor my teacher Richard Hauser told me : „Think of: ‚Was wird denn da der Hauser sagen‘ “ (What will Hauser say?)

Even for Brahms this connection of words and music was very important, beginning from his first piano sonata on to his late pieces as the Intermezzi op.117 we always will find hints of a rhetorical speach.

Let’s have a look to the second movement of this first sonata in C major op.1. In all 3 sonatas he uses an old tune in the slow movement, but in this sonata he even wrote the (original) text be­neath, although that the original tune is a little bit different.

So we can see that even in instrumental pieces the musical speach is very close to the spoken lan­guage and therefore the right articulation is very important for the composers of the Viennese Classic and as well for many of their successors

Here are some more examples concerning articulation:

The adagio-theme of Mozart’s Fantasy in d minor K 397 looks like:

We don’t see any bows in the first bar. Nevertheless most of pianists are playing a legato. But we have to know, that this piece has been written for a funeral service and these falling eights symbolise mourning, the sadness which lies on once shoulders and make every step arduous. Therefore these notes should be played seperately. Again you can listen to two famous pianists. The first one is a Mozart specialist: Maria Joao Pires, the second, playing everything legato is played by another very famous artist.

A similar misunderstanding we can find in Mozart’s sonata in C major K 545

Most of pianists are playing the theme legato, but we have a very detailed setting of bows which shows us, that these first notes should not be bound together:


About phrasing


As difficult as it is to find the right articulation one would think, that it should be much easier to find the right phrasing. But strangely enough, concerning the musical PHRASING there can also be heard many mistakes which unfortunately still are very common today.

In the second movement of BEETHOVEN’s sonata in c minor op.13, the „Pathétique“ we rarely can hear, what the composer has written. And this is really a pity because he has marked these signs everytime when this main tune appears. So it must have been very important for him.

There is another aspect which has something to do with the spoken language and this is the musi­cal dialogue:

We can see this very clearly in Beethoven’s 17th sonata in d minor op31/2 where it is said that Beethoven himself has told his pupil Schindler to read Schakespeare’s drama „The Tempest“ for better understanding this sonata.

If we listen to the first movement, beginning at bar 21 we can hear this kind of dialogue, which is not just a dialogue but a musical expression of a quarrel. Two persons, the first giving a statement in forte, the second answering in piano (4 bars). The discussion becomes more and more fiery, the second person is contradicting immediately (2 bar phrases) now already in forte. Finally the dia­logue escalates, contradiction takes place in one bar, both shouting to each other in fortissimo:

This is a good example how analyses can lead us to an interpretation.

The second movement of the same sonata starts also with a dialogue, but this time peaceful and quiet, melting together towards the end of the phrase:


Let’s have a look now on other means of expression. Where analysing helps us for better under­standing. I am thinking e.g. of the second movement of Haydn’s sonata in e minor:

We can realize that Haydn uses baroque ornamentations (based on the art of improvisations) and it is necessary to find out which notes are relevant for the construction. Only too often these parts are played like an etude by Czerny. But there is a wonderful immanent melodical line which we should bring out. The results can be various, one of these could sound like the following:

Also fascinating are unexpected building of phrases:

Joseph Haydn loved to joke and to surprise us. Here is an example of a very early sonata where he first writes an in classical music unusual phrase of 3 bars, than he returns to 2 bars, repeats once­more two bars and when we think that it will go on now this way he surprises us again with an­other phrase of 3 bars. He could have done it 4 times in 2 bars, but this would not be our brilliant genious Haydn.

Another example shows us that if we are aware of what happens in a phrase, we are able to better understand the intentions of a composer.

In the so called "little" sonata in A major D 664 by Franz Schubert the second movement starts with a very unusual language. The first thing which is bothering is, that this phrase has only 7 bars instead of expected 8 ones. But even more exciting is the kind of expression: While the first 6 bars are repeating always the same rhythm and motives, somehow creatimg the atmosphere of a lullaby, suddenly the 7th bar interrupts this atmosphere with a frightening changement of the rhythm. The calm line of the beginning breaks into pieces and shows us, as so often in pieces of Schubert, that the beginning pretends a quietness, which exists only at the surface. This 7th bar is an inner level full of despair and sadness. The sudden stop at the end of this phrase countreacts the beginning and causes that we have to continue with the second phrase in a completely uncertain, doubtful way.

Let’s stay at Schubert and take a look to the second movement of his c minor sonata D 958

The fact that the two similar parts are notated with completely different dynamics let people for a long time think, that this notations must be accidentially, that Schubert did not take care and the­refore he has made so many „mistakes“. Many musicians synchronized these two parts, not under­standing that Schubert, who besides was a meticulous composer, as we know last but not least be­cause of his correspondence with editors, wanted to express a shaking changement of emotions. In the first part, we can hear furiosity, somehow aggression, a feeling full of despair, the second versi­on is pure resignation and weakness.

Especially in cases like these we need to have excellant editions as some editors „flattened“ this dynamic marks because they did not understand what Schubert wanted to express.


About the developement

of motives


Now I want to show you how motives develope in a piece. One of the great masters is Beethoven, who often fixed in the first bars of a sonata the main motives which are building the basic motivical elements not only of the movement but of the whole sonata. Therefore we will analyse the sonata in c minor op.13 named by the composer himself „Grande Sonate Pathétique“ .

In the very first bar we can find three very important motivic elements:

  • the chord including not only thirds but also a quart ( g – c) which becomes one of the main intervals throughout the whole sonata (marked BLUE),

  • the diatonic line of three notes c – d – e flat (marked RED)

  • and the suspension e flat – d: a semitone interval (marked GREEN).

We will see that Beethoven has used these three patterns in different successions and in many va­riations, but they all can be put down to the first bar of the sonata.

One may ask: What does this knowledge help for? It helps us to understand that this opus is not to be seen divided into three movements but that we can detect a piece which is composed as a unit, that our interpretation has to go through all three movements. The first causes the second and the second the third movement.

Three motives:


1st movement


2nd movement


3rd movement


That this way of analysing does not work only with pieces of the Viennese Classic this may be pro­ved by two other examples.

The first one is the Fantaisie-Impromptu op.66 by Chopin, a piece which is rather famous for its technical requirements but which also gives us an impression of the high value of compository skills of Chopin.

The first 8 notes in the right hand consist of an ornament surrounding g sharp and a broken chord g sharp – c sharp – e.

Later in this piece we can find this ornamental passage augmented as a melodic line, first in the right hand, at the end of part one in both hands. Also the motive of the broken chord appears at these same places:

And in the Coda he uses oncemore augmentation as a recapitulation of the second theme.

And with the last example we can realize, that even Schönberg used the same way of transformati­on of motives, as we can see amongst others in the first of his „6 Little Pieces“ op.19. More or less the whole piece is based on the motive of the first 4 notes in the left hand.

Just the syntactical means are different, as the timeline is changing. E.g. two different parts of the motives can happen at the same time (also in form of a chord as in bar 1 left hand), or they can be splitted off into two voices (bar 3 left hand), the positions can change between a wide range as the element of a second can go from f3 to f sharp 2. Inversions can happen as in bar 16 compared with bar 10: e2 – c sharp2 – f2is much closer to d2 – a1 – c sharp 1 than it seems at the first moment: If we take the inversion (f2 – c sharp 2 – e2)and transpose it a third down and change the position of the octaves we come to d2 – a1 – c sharp 1 because in this time it is of no importance if we have a big third or a small one as there is no difference between a big second and a small one. Acciden­tials also don’t change the motivic structure. The second interval can alsosurround the third inter­val as we can see in bar 5 left hand, etc.

I hope that I have been able to explain with this very small extract what in our musical education is of great importance and what makes perhaps the difference to other „schools“ which - at my opi­nion - is to be found in the way of our access to a composition.

Of course, the emotional expression has to stand above all and these can be wide ranged emotions with all ups and downs as we know it from real life, but these analyses helps us to a better under-standing of the composers intentions and helps us to argue, why we have come to a special kind of interpretation.


o.Univ.-Prof. Manfred Wagner-Artzt

April 2021

Aktuelle Beiträge

Alle ansehen


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page