Ludwig van Beethoven

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Beethoven Symphony No. 5 and Piano Concerto No. 4.


The work of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) has been called the culmination of the Classical era or the wellspring of the Romantic era in European music. Historians today see him as the heir of Haydn and Mozart, carrying their musical discoveries to a new level of complexity and integration. But the generations of composers that followed Beethoven saw him more as the headstrong radical, breaking the shackles of classicism and showing new possibilities for music.

Carol Rosenberger, Piano
Gerard Schwarz, Conductor
London Symphony Orchestra

webassets/FatBeethoven.jpg

Tracks:
1    Fifth Beethoven Symphony Movement I Allegro con brio
   

2    Fifth Beethoven Symphony Movement II Andante con moto
3    Fifth Beethoven Symphony Movement
III Allegro

4    Fifth Beethoven Symphony Movement IV Allegro

5    Fourth Beethoven Piano Concerto Movement I Allegro Moderato 

6    Fourth Beethoven Piano Concerto Movement II Andante con moto

7    Fourth Beethoven Piano Concerto Movement Rondo: Vivace
8    Listener’s Guide: Beethoven the Revolutionary
9    Listener’s Guide: 5th Symphony Movement I

10   Listener’s Guide: 5th Symphony Movement II  
11   Listener’s Guide: 5th Symphony Movement
III  

12   Listener’s Guide:  5th Symphony Movement IV

13   Listener’s Guide: Beethoven’s Piano Works  

14   Listener’s Guide:  4th Piano Concerto Movement I

15  Listener’s Guide: 4th Piano Concerto Movement II

16  Listener’s Guide:  4th Piano Concerto Movement III 

17  Listener’s Guide: Beethoven’s later work and influence

  

 

Beethoven’s Place in the Classical Tradition


 The work of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) has been called the culmination of the Classical era or the wellspring of the Romantic era in European music. Historians today see him as the heir of Haydn and Mozart, carrying their musical discoveries to a new level of complexity and integration. But the generations of composers that followed Beethoven saw him more as the headstrong radical, breaking the shackles of classicism and showing new possibilities for music. And for that reason, no composer in the nineteenth century could aspire to the creation of a symphony without taking into account the example of Beethoven.

 

Beethoven’s Career

 Born in Bonn in 1770, Beethoven showed unmistakable signs of musical talent at an early age – so much so, in fact, that his father conceived the idea of marketing his son’s skills in the way Leopold Mozart had marketed his talented child prodigies. When Beethoven made his first public appearance in 1778, his father slyly cut two years from his age.

 By his middle teens, Beethoven’s talents clearly showed signs of outgrowing his rather provincial hometown. Both as a pianist and as a budding composer, he was rapidly becoming the leading musician there.

 In 1787, at the age of sixteen, he went to Vienna to study with Mozart, but was called home when his mother became fatally ill. He was unable to return to Vienna until 1792, after Mozart himself had died. But by this time he had made arrangements to study with Haydn, and he set off with the intention to “receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands”.

 During the 1790s, Beethoven first made a reputation in Vienna as a pianist, gradually adding to that some renown as a composer, particularly of music featuring his own instrument – piano concertos, piano trios, and solo sonatas.

By the end of the decade he felt ready to take on the string quartet and the symphony – two forms that had been dominated by Haydn, still active as the most revered composer in Vienna. With his six string quartets, Opus 18, and his Symphony No. 1, Opus 21, Beethoven embarked on the path that he was to follow for the rest of his life.

 Beethoven’s musical output is commonly divided into early, middle, and late periods. The knowledge that he was losing his hearing is often considered to be one of the essential factors in the change to the new style of the middle period. One of his biographers, Maynard Solomon, has called this period the “heroic decade”, commonly regarded as beginning with the composition of the Eroica Symphony in 1803.

 The most famous works of this period (including the Fifth Symphony) have an “heroic” energy and a drive previously unknown to European music. But at this same time Beethoven had developed a wonderful lyrical side, of which the Sixth Symphony, the Violin Concerto, and the Piano Concerto No. 4 are prime specimens.

 The change from middle to late periods is harder to pin down; authorities date it anywhere from about 1813 to about 1819. Biographically, it is connected to the total deterioration of Beethoven’s hearing and his general withdrawal from social life, except for a few close confidantes. It is marked by works of enormous power and range, including the Ninth Symphony and Hammerklavier Sonata. In it equally identified by works in which all the classical elements have been compressed into the most compact and even esoteric forms. 

 Much of this music was misunderstood in Beethoven’s day and disregarded for decades as the incomprehensible outpourings of a composer who had lost his bearings along with his hearing. Now they are viewed as some of the most imaginative achievements of the musical art, works that is in some respects foreshadowed the whole progress of music for the next century.

 

Musical Vienna

 As the capital of the great Austrian Empire, Vienna was a cosmopolitan center at the crossroads of musical influences from Italy to Germany. During Beethoven’s lifetime, Vienna welcomed traveling virtuosi and composers from Paris and London, not to mention a constant influx of gifted Bohemian and Hungarian musicians who came to the imperial capital to try their fortunes.

 The institution of the modern concert series was just getting underway at this time. There was nothing like today’s symphony orchestra with a series of weekly concerts. A very large part of the music heard in Beethoven’s Vienna was either performed in the church as part of the religious service or in the households of wealthy music-loving aristocrats.

 Haydn’s Creation was first heard in such a semi-private performance, as was Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony. It was also increasingly common for an entrepreneur, who might be the composer himself, to rent a hall, hire an orchestra, and advertise a concert in which he might appear as composer, conductor, and soloist. The success of such a venture usually depended on the popularity of the artist giving the event.

 Increasingly, the middle classes expressed interest in music, partly out of a desire to ape the aristocracy, but also with much genuine love for the art. Although only a few wealthy merchants might promote music on the grand scale of the aristocracy, increasing numbers of people sought to buy tickets to the public concerts, which increased in both number and variety.

 But concerts were quite different from those of today. For one thing, Viennese audiences seemed eager to sit through events lasting three and even four hours. Concerts devoted entirely to a single type or kind of music were virtually unknown. Variety was the order of the day.

 A program often began with the first movement of a symphony, functioning as an overture, followed by arias, instrumental solos, and improvisations if the soloist were capable of such demonstrations. It might end with a concerto, a choral work, and the remaining movements of the symphony.

 Audiences at public concerts would include both aristocrats and the middle classes. There might be a list of the sorts of works to be performed (“an entirely new symphony”, say, or “a concerto on the pianoforte”), but specific works, keys, or opus numbers were almost never mentioned, and there was no such thing as program notes to guide the listeners in attending to unfamiliar pieces.

 

Symphony No. 5

 Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony premiered on December 22, 1808, at the Theater-an-der-Wien. The program that night consisted entirely of Beethoven’s works, mostly in first performances. That one night saw the public premiers of the Sixth “Pastorale” Symphony, the Fifth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto with the composer himself as soloist), and the Chorale Fantasy. He also offered the concert aria Ah, perfido!, and two movements from the Mass in C.

 The evening began at 6:30, and with an intermission, did not end until 10:30! Four hours of a brand new music is a challenge to the attention span of the most dedicated music lover. One listener commented later that he had “experienced the truth that one can have too much of a good thin – and still more of a loud”.

 Most of the critical reviews dwelt on the one real catastrophe of the evening, when the orchestra fell apart in the middle of the Choral Fantasy and the whole piece had to be started over. The most influential reaction to the Fifth Symphony did not come until a year and a half later, when a review of another performance was printed in the prestigious musical journal Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung.

 The reviewer was the famous writer and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann. His enthusiastic appraisal of the Fifth Symphony as a landmark in the history of music was largely responsible for a new critical perception to Beethoven. To Hoffmann, “Music unlocks for man an unfamiliar world having nothing in common with the external material world which surrounds him. It is a world where he forgets all feelings which he could define for another in order to surrender himself to the inexpressible.” Hoffmann saw Beethoven as a colossal new figure in music. His ecstatic prose description of the new symphony foreshadowed reams of romantic interpretation for the rest of the century and even beyond: “Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows, which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing – a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst out breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live and are captivated beholders of the spirits.”

 The overwhelming energy and expressive richness of the Fifth Symphony left early audiences stupefied or exhilarated. Inevitably, with so popular a work, the question is asked: What does it mean? Beethoven’s own answer to one of the many curious persons who asked him, was, “Thus Fate knocks at the door.” Here, Beethoven was no doubt seizing a ready bon mot to satisfy a casual acquaintance. But the notion of “fate” and of “victory” that has been superimposed on the score is inherent in the music itself. Beethoven’s sense of the struggle and his vision of the final victory grew over a period of years as he kept returning to his sketchbooks to bring his ideas closer and closer to fruition.

 After noting the first sketches about 1804, Beethoven turned to the Piano Concerto No. 4. When he returned to the C-Minor Symphony, he worked out its details at the same time that he was writing the Sixth Symphony. These two symphonies, composed together, most in 1807, inhabit totally different musical universes – the Fifth, with its demonic energy, tense harmonies, and powerful dramatic climaxes on the one hand, and the Sixth, with its sunny air of relaxation and joy, on the other.

 

Piano Concerto No. 4

 During the years following the composition of his Third Symphony, the Eroica (which marks the beginning of Beethoven’s “middle period”), ideas for new compositions crowded the composer’s sketchbooks. One important piece after another was completed in rapid succession. We think of Beethoven’s music at this time in its “heroic” mode but often overlook the other significant aspect of his musical character, a pronounced lyricism as found in the Fourth Piano Concerto. It came just before the “heroic” Razumovsky quartets, Opus 59, and was soon followed by the equally songful Violin Concerto.

 The concerto received its first performance in a private concert held in March 1807 at the home of Prince Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s strongest supporters. The one reviewer who seems to have had access to the concerts was a writer for the Journal des Luxus under der Moden (Journal of Luxury and Fashion), who was clearly not able to comprehend Beethoven’s music: “Richness of ideas, bold originality and fullness of power, which are the particular merits of Beethoven’s muse, were very much in evidence to everyone at these concerts; yet many found fault with lack of a noble simplicity and the all too fruitful accumulation of ideas which on account of their number were not always adequately worked out and blended, thereby creating the effect more often of rough diamonds.”

 The first public performance took place in the same concert that included the premiere of the Fifth Symphony. Beethoven himself was the soloist. Rehearsals had been difficult. Beethoven’s increasing deafness made his active participation in the performance continually more difficult. This performance was the last time that Beethoven ever appeared before the public as a piano soloist.

 

The Musical Language of Beethoven’s Day

 Beethoven arrived on the scene when the musical language had reached a peak of flexibility in its development. Baroque music (composed in the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth) had tended to concentrate on the detailed elaboration of a single musical gesture in each movement, or major section, of a piece. Once underway, the musical idea might be intensified but was almost never drastically changed, rarely coming to a full stop during the course of its development. The resulting music resembled an oration by a powerful public speaker, who would choose his subject and dominate the discourse.

 By the mid-eighteenth century, composers had begun playing with ways in which a section of a large work might display more elements of contrast. They did this by conceiving the musical fabric more as a conversation between equal participants than as a one-sided speech.

 In the mature classical style inherited by Beethoven, each musical phrase could be an independent idea, to which the following phrase might offer confirmation or opposition. The instruments taking part in a musical conversation might support of oppose on another, continue a given line of discussion, or introduce an entirely new subject.

 The melodic and rhythmic aspects of the musical conversation took shape over the length of an entire movement through the support of a large-scale harmonic plan, in which the basic tonality, or key in which a movement was written, has a feeling of “home”, to be left and then found again. At the beginning of a movement, the composer creates musical ideas strongly affirming the home key, or tonic. As the conversation progresses, notes that are not part of this home key force a move to a foreign but related key. He establishment of a ”foreign” key sets up a subtle feeling of incompleteness, which continues until the composer returns to and strongly affirms the tonic key, thus providing a satisfactory close to the movement.

The combination of articulated phrases and large harmonic shapes give the classical composer a superbly flexible language with which to create endlessly varied compositions on a few simple ground plans.

 

The Symphony – a Brief Overview

 In its earliest incarnation, the symphony, called by its Italian name sinfonia, was nothing more than an introduction to an evening’s music-making, at first in the theater, later in the concert hall. In the early eighteenth century, operatic performances customarily started with a sinfonia in three movements (fast, slow, and fast dance).

 During the first decades of the eighteenth century, the operatic sinfonia became longer and more elaborate. Composers emphasized the effects they could achieve with richer textures and a broader palette instrumental colors, while experimenting with the most effective ways of coordinating the principal themes and the tonal structure of the work. By the early 1730s, these works began to be played in concerts, separate from theatrical performances. Gradually, the symphony became a purely abstract orchestral genre.

 

The Concerto – a Brief Overview

 One of the most significant creations of the Baroque music era was the solo concerto, with one (or a few) solo instrument(s) appearing in musical opposition to the full orchestra. This form was also one of the longest-lasting, partly because the brilliance of the solo part appealed strongly to the new middle-class audiences that were thronging to concert performances by leading virtuosi, at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In the Classical Era, the soloist was still a “first among equals”. But by the Romantic Era, the orchestra had become more dominant and the soloist often became a kind of David opposing the Goliath of the orchestra.

 The essential feature of the Baroque concerto was the ritornello, a more or less self-contained musical passage that stated the expressive premise of a movement at the outset. It usually reappeared several times during the course of the movement in different keys, like foundation pillars between new thematic ideas. Even when the principal of sonata form completely dominated the symphony, the first movement of concertos began with an elaborate orchestral ritornello, followed by a still more elaborate ritornello statement for the soloist.

 Concerto slow movements were often shaped rather like opera arias, with the instrumental soloist playing the part that in an opera would be given to a singer, attracting all eyes and ears in the projection of elaborate, soulful, expressively lyrical lines.

 

The Classical Orchestra

 By Beethoven’s day, the symphony orchestra had developed very much its present-day composition and organization. The string family, comprising violins (in two sections), violas, cellos, and double basses, had for nearly two centuries formed the core of the ensemble, since it was capable of the widest range of tone and special effects.

 Next in order of acceptance within the orchestra came the woodwinds: flutes, oboes, clarinets, and bassoons, almost always in pairs. Of these the clarinet was a relative newcomer, having arrived in the symphony orchestra only by the 17802. Beethoven introduced the smaller form of the flute, the piccolo, for the first time in a symphony during the last movement of his Fifth Symphony.

 The brass family took longest to be domesticated into the orchestra, since brass instruments had traditionally enjoyed other connotations: hunting for the horns, military fanfares for the trumpets, and the solemnity of liturgical music for the trombones. Although these brass instruments were beginning to be used purely for the color that they added to the orchestral ensemble, composers still occasionally made implicit reference to their traditional uses. Trombones had long been used in church and in the opera house, but Beethoven was again the first to use them in a symphony, in the last movement of his Fifth Symphony.

,  Percussion instruments are the newcomers of the symphony orchestra. The timpani, or kettledrums, arrived along with the trumpets, since the combination of drums and trumpets had done service in military fanfares and marches for centuries. It was not until after the composition of the Fifth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto that other percussion instruments commonly took part.