Beethoven's Octave Glissandi

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hi Greg,
I wasn't familiar with the Waldstein until I heard you play it last summer. I was quite taken with the piece and I decided to learn it. I have run into a difficulty in one passage and hope you might have some advice. In measures 464-473, there are a series of octave scales that are played almost at the speed of glissandos (glissandi?). My teacher said that when she played it, her teacher had her actually do a glissando with 1 and 5. There is a simplification listed in my copy that uses both hands for them when the other hand isn't busy with chords. What did you do and what do you recommend? Did you find a way to play each octave individually at the required speed, did you do glissandos, or did you use both hands to play them as scales? What would you suggest that I try? Thanks!
 - Joe L

Dear Joe,

The infamous octave glissandi in Beethoven's Waldstein sonata! Woohoo! My hand is big enough that I was able to learn to play the passage as your teacher did, performing a glissando with my first and fifth fingers.

It took me weeks, a great deal of determination, and a ridiculous amount of pain before I really got the hang of it. I can offer you a few tips, but in the end, it simply takes work.

  • Eventually, you've got to find the right angle at which to position your thumb and fifth finger. This will depend on the size of your hand. I find that as I play each note, the knuckle of my thumb and the inside of my fifth finger have already begun to depress the next note.
  • For all the pain and trouble I went through to learn the passage, I now tell myself that it's the easiest part of the piece. The easier it seems, the more relaxed my hand becomes, and the better it sounds. It may seem counterproductive, but it works for me.
  • The octave glissandi are easier to play when you play the section really fast (it is marked prestissimo, after all!).

Good luck Joe!!

- Greg