Friday, February 20, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major. Op. 55 (1803) - Ludwig Van Beethoven. 'Eroica.' It was influenced by Napoleon's achievements. Among history's many examples, Eroica stands high. This distinction took birth when this symphony interrupted the evolution of symphonic development and appeared without a precedent or a prototype. This symphony marked the end of classicism and turned the pages of Romanticism. It was moulded in a fiery new style. Its impact and influence would be heard for a generation to come. The symphony symbolises Napoleon, heroism, death, apotheosis and revolution. At first, Beethoven thought extremely highly of Napoleon and compared him to the greatest Roman consuls. When Napoleon declared himself emperor, Beethoven decided that Napoleon was nothing but an ordinary mortal and tore the dedication page to the symphony and dedicated it to Prince Lobkowitz later. The public that was used to the Haydn and Mozart opening of the symphonies was in a for a brute shock when the first two opening chords shattered the expectations of the bourgeoisie and brought the curtain down on the Classical Age. This was about twice the size of normal Haydn or Mozart symphonies. In his D major Symphony, Beethoven had begun to move beyond the traditional concept of the classical symphony. This symphony brought about change. The change it brought involves more than the issues of harmony, counterpoint or an addition of a french horn to the ensemble. Post Eroica, appreciation of a symphony involves not only attention to compositional technique but includes the added dimension of meaning and interpretation. The symphony was started in 1803 and completed in early 1804 but the first performance was given at Theater An Der Wien with Beethoven conducting on 7th April 1805.The symphony is scored for strings, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets(in B Flat Major), 2 bassoons, 3 french horns(E Flat Major and C Major), two trumpets and timpani.After the earth shattering E Flat major chords, the opening movement, Allegro Con Brio, gives out a number of characteristic themes. As per Leonard Bernstein, "this was a battle cry.. it was a clarion call to a new understanding of music." At the time of its premiere, a third of the audience appreciated the revolutionary opening, a third did not understand it and the remainder were shell shocked and would have preferred the whole affair to have not taken place at all. The main theme is given out at the very beginning by the cellos in a quiet manner. The violins then enter with repeated high notes resolving to the second subject brought about by the clarinets and oboes and after few measures we come across the syncopations that play an important part in this great picture of strife. The linking of the development to the recapitulation is a special moment. The violins are still preparing the way by a tender episode for the winds, repeated by the strings and the entry of the french horn that interrupt the turmoil but after a short breather a rapid crescendo leads again to the clashing syncopations. A similar treatment is adopted in the second part with a glorious theme on the oboe and the coda is one of the most remarkable piece of orchestral writing ever accomplished. In this movement , Beethoven indicates that the exposition is to be repeated. This repeat is generally omitted in performances or rather neglected. Leonard Bernstein with the New York Philharmonic has honoured it among a very few.
Beethoven replaced the slow movement by a funeral march. The sombre and tragic mood of this movement reflects a universal emotion with its sad melody in C Minor and its heartfelt tones of melancholy. It was marked as 'Marcia Funebre' - Adagio Assai. The movement is in rondo form. Its principal section is a solemn dirge in C Minor and is contrasted with a brighter episode in C Major and the massive fugato in F Minor. The outer sections are intense and heavily funereal but the central part is more mobile and brings a balance and contrast. Throughout this movement, the instrumental colours emphasise the solemnity. This movement is occasionally performed on memorial occasions. Serge Koussevitzky performed it to commemorate the death of President Roosevelt. Bruno Walter did it for Arturo Toscanini. This remains as the first broad, spacious and towering adagio in the Romantic symphonies that is dwarfed only by the heavenly Adagio Molto of the Choral Symphony.The Scherzo- Allegro Vivace is highly individualistic. It begins with a pianissimo staccato that has something mysterious in its character on the lower notes of the violins. The melody then rises into a higher octave in a short group of connected descending notes. In the trio, Beethoven uses a special sound efect, the unusual seventh in the horns with an additional horn coming into play. It breaks forth with a sudden fortissimo with a reminder of the syncopations of the Allegro climaxing with sinsiter drumbeats of the coda. The finale, Allegro Molto, begins with a dominant seventh chord in the form of a cadenza is a large scale series of variations on an impressive theme in the bass. In the third variation, a melody in the first oboe and clarinet is added to this theme and thereafter always appears with it. Beethoven was particularly fascinated by both these tunes as he had already used them in his 'Creatures of Prometheus' as well as in his piano variations opus 35. The movement now proceeds on to a fugue that ends with a grand climax bringing the symphony to its blazing conclusion. The definitive performance of this symphony is by Leonard Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic and New York Philharmonic. Bernstein is in his element and is one of the first in the recording annals to take the repeat in the first movement. I even have his treatise on "The writing of a Grand Symphony" where he plays the themes of the Eroica on the piano as he explains the evolution of this great work. Other noteworthy performances are by Herbert Von Karajan with the Berliner Philharmoniker (the oboists and the french horns are superb) and Otto Klemperer (his Adagio is superb) with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Wilhelm Furtwangler, Georg Solti and Zubin Mehta have disappointed with their listless approach. I was expecting a lot with Furtwangler but the Vienna recording did not have spine. I have still to hear his version with the Berliners in 1952. Even Toscanini has rushed through this symphony and failed to impress. It is Bernstein that has given us the best Eroica to date. I am attaching his performance with the Wiener Philharmoniker which is a step ahead of his New York reading. http://youtu.be/cHUY5U5_mFM Next to Maestro Leonard Bernstein is this performance by a Japanese Koho Uno with the Osaka Philharmonic. It is shattering indeed! http://youtu.be/dNLSVaqL1JQ
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
It was written during his stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802. It was near the time that he began to realise that he was becoming deaf. It is one of the last works of Beethoven's 'early period.' The symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A Major, two bassoons, two french horns in D and E, two trumpets in D Major, timpani and strings. The composer also made a transcription for piano trio which bears the same opus number 36 in 1805.
The symphony consists of four movements: adagio molto - allegro con brio; larghetto; scherzo-allegro (after the symphony's premiere, it was noted that the traditional minuet was absent as Beethoven replaced the minuet with the scherzo); allegro molto. At average performing time, the symphony's duration is 37 minutes.
Adagio Molto begins in D Major and briefly modulates to A major. The exposition takes the A major theme with a transition to B flat major. The development uses this material with a codetta going through several modulations. The A major theme returns in the recapitulation and takes us to the coda and conclusion of the movement. Larghetto is in A Major and is one of Beethoven's beautiful symphonic slow movements. There are clear indications of the influence of folk music and pastoral music. Scherzo- Allegro evolves around a melodious oboe and bassoon quartet with typical sounding Austrian side-slapping dance. Allegro Molto is comprised of very rapid string passages. It is of great depth with musical and harmonic complexity. A critic described this movement as " a dragon ran through by a spear, not wanting to die and drained of blood, wagging its tail."
Noteworthy performances of this symphony are by Herbert Von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker (1963), Otto Klemperer with the Philharmonia Orchestra (1957) and Sir Thomas Beecham with the London Philharmonic (1958).