(Apr 2, 2019)
Beethoven in the modern way…
If there is one symphony that is more famous than any other, this may be it. I’m linking to only the 4th movement. Movement’s are a bit like episodes, or different books in a serious that make a story. There are four movements in all, and this one actually starts at the end of the 3rd. You have to hear the whole symphony to understand.
I believe all of us – not just a few of us – get bored after a minute or two of anything new unless we instantly feel a connection that grabs our attention. At first, listening to a symphony may not seem like that, because symphonies are usually somewhere between 30 minutes long and an hour. Some are even longer. How does anyone listen to a symphony for the first time in a world where everything is packaged in short bursts?
The answer is probably that each important thing is about 3 minutes long. In this last movement the main section is about 3 minutes long. By that time you either know you are not interested, or you are. Then it repeats. If you liked it the first time, you probably want to hear it again. Why not? What follows is not new. It is the same idea, developed (actually called the development section), and that’s always when things get highly interesting, more dramatic, more intense. It’s like listening to what you now know a third time, but it’s different enough to catch your interest. That also lasts around 3 minutes. Then the first 3 minute section repeats again with small changes, which recaps the whole thing. And this is called the recapitulation. Finally there is an ending, called the “coda”, and of course you have to have an ending.
Try to start out first with the last movement. The first movement, if you get to it, is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. Then after this I’ll give a link to the whole symphony. Usually people start out with one movement, then try another, and finally, if they like the feeling, the story feels more complete listening to “the whole story”.
As a contrast to the video above, what is below is a very different sound. Now the instruments are as close as humanly possible to what Beethoven wrote for.
These are the instruments Beethoven wrote for…
John Eliot Gardiner
He is a modern conductor who has worked his entire life to champion the music of Beethoven’s time (and earlier and a bit later) in the way it would have been heard in Beethoven’s time, a sound that had totally been forgotten. That sound was lost.
Did players play as well back then as the players in this amazing orchestra?
Today’s virtuosos players on all instruments perform with a technical perfection that was not known a couple centuries ago, and that includes modern players who specialize on these old instruments. It is questionable whether modern artists play more musically on their own, but when assembled under the greatest musical minds of our time so that we hear modern recordings or get to hear them live, we hear something that is frighteningly good.
This recording is deceptive, and perhaps a bit a bit unfair, because these older instruments are not as powerful as modern instruments. Live they are not as loud. They do not have the same overpowering intensity – although the flip side is that they are quieter.
BUT: when recorded, that difference disappears, and suddenly there is often a rawness and perhaps an element of danger that you will never hear from a modern orchestra. The reason? Because these older instruments are more difficult to play. For instance, hitting the right pitches on these old horns is about 10 times more difficult. They had a rougher sound, and in the right places it is edgier, harsher, more primitive sounding. When notes are missed, it sounds downright embarrassing, but when it all works, the effect is unbelievably exciting.
For me it suits Beethoven, who was untamed, unapologetic, unyielding, and a man whose emotions were in every way bigger than life. This is by far the best performance I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard many.
I often wonder why Beethoven, right now, is not even more famous and more popular than he is, because in this modern era, when people insist on being heard and valued for being themselves, for “doing their own thing”, Beethoven is the very embodiment of that individualism. I often think of him as the “first rock star”.