Sunday, October 03, 2010

Sunday Classics: We're ready now to hear those "fraternal twin" Beethoven symphonies, Nos. 5 and 6

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Above: Leonard Bernstein conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony in the instantly recognizable first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony (Amnesty International Concert, Oct. 17, 1976). Below: Arturo Toscanini conducts the NBC Symphony (March 22, 1952).


by Ken

The music is all set to go for this post, and I think this week I'm just not going to say very much. We've already established the chronological connection between Beethoven's Fifth and Sixth Symphonies (whose slow movements we heard in, respectively, Friday night's and last night's previews), which were created in almost a single continuous burst of inspiration, and had their first performances at that amazing four-hour-plus concert on December 22, 1808, at which not just the two symphonies but the Fourth Piano Concerto and Choral Fantasy for piano and orchestra (both of which we heard quite a lot of in a post on Beethoven's piano concertos) plus three movements from the C major Mass and the concert aria "Ah, perfido" also had their premieres -- and the composer also offered a solo piano improvisation, presumably worrying that the audience might not feel it was getting its money's worth.

We've also hinted at the thematic connection between these near-twin symphonies (fraternal twins, of course), which is basically that there doesn't seem to be one. Of course Beethoven had a horror of repeating himself, but when it comes to consecutive creations there seems also to have been an utterly understandable impulse to go somewhere wildly different.
* * *
THE FIRST MOVEMENTS

So the Fifth Symphony announces immediately, in what may be the most recognizable four-note motif in music --
that it will be about generating large designs from simple cells and about high-voltage rhythm and energy. And the Sixth, the Pastoral, plunges us more gently but equally insistently into the musical day in the countryside the composer is imagining for us.

Why don't we hear those first movements?

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67:
i. Allegro con brio

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
i. Awakening of cheerful feeings on arrival in the country: Allegro ma non troppo

Munich Philharmonic, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded c1973
WHAT CAME BEFORE, AND AFTER

Just to drive home the point about how adamantly Beethoven refused to repeat himself, I thought it might be fun to hear the first movements of the symphonies that preceded and followed our pair. Note that he used slow introductions for both the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies, a device much loved by Haydn and also used effectively by Mozart, which he himself had in the First and Second Symphonies, but note too how different those slow introductions are, in terms of the kinds of expectations they play at setting up, and where they lead. For Beethoven this surely this wasn't a matter of repeating himself but of further exploring an idea he felt contained more possibilities.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, Op. 60:
i. Adagio; Allegro vivace

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92:
i. Poco sostenuto; Vivace
Munich Philharmonic, Rudolf Kempe, cond. EMI, recorded c1973
* * *
THE SECOND MOVEMENTS


The second movement of the Beethoven Fifth. (The Bernstein performance is completed here.)


We've already heard the second movements of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and in them I think we hear something like the symphonies' beating heart, or underlying soul, or something like that.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67:
ii. Andante con moto

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
ii. Scene by the brook: Andante molto mosso
Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded May-July 1999
AGAIN, WHAT CAME BEFORE AND AFTER

The slow movements of the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies are indelible creations. The Allegretto -- not exactly an expected tempo marking for a "slow" movement -- of the Seventh (which we heard in a post on Beethoven and Bruckner slow movements) has of course entered the musical vernacular.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, Op. 60:
ii. Adagio

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92:
ii. Allegretto

Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded May-July 1999
* * *
THE REST OF THE FIFTH AND SIXTH SYMPHONIES

One thing the two symphonies have in common is that everything that follows their slow movements is conceived as a single megamovement -- a scherzo and finale in the case of the Fifth, and the case of the Pastoral comprising not two but three movements, completing Beethoven's only five-movement symphony.

I don't think I need to say anything about the soaring grandeur of the remaining movements of the Fifth, and not much more about the rest of our day in the country with the Sixth. Any sense that the latter is smaller in emotional scale than its predecessor should be wiped away in the thunderstorm of the fourth movement, and perhaps even more so in the heaven-storming climaxes of thanksgiving in the finale.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67:
iii. Scherzo: Allegro
iv. Allegro
London Symphony Orchestra, Josef Krips, cond. Everest, recorded 1959

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
iii Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto
Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Fritz Reiner, cond. RCA/BMG, recorded 1961
[For an alternative take on the final movements of the Pastoral, see the "Musical Update" below.]
* * *
YOU'LL PROBABLY WANT TO HEAR
OUR TWO SYMPHONIES PUT TOGETHER


BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

i. Allegro con brio
ii. Andante con moto
iii. Scherzo: Allegro
iv. Allegro
Concertgebouw Orchestra (Amsterdam), George Szell, cond. Philips, recorded November 1966

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral)

i. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the country: Allegro ma non troppo
ii. Scene by the brook: Andante molto mosso
iii. Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded Jan. 13, 15, and 17, 1958


MUSICAL UPDATE

On the whole I'm pretty pleased with how the music came out for this post, at least as heard on my computer. The one thing I'm not so crazy about is how the second half of the Reiner-Chicago-RCA Pastoral came out, which I'm thinking has to do with a tinny-sounding French CD transfer -- this recording (an old, old friend, and I think the quality of the performance still comes through) was, after all, an RCA Living Stereo job.

Why don't we try this second recorded go at the symphony (not that there was anything wrong with their first, but this one's better) by Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra?
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 (Pastoral):
iii Merry gathering of the peasants: Allegro
iv. Thunderstorm: Allegro
v. Shepherd's song; Happy and grateful feelings after the storm: Allegretto
Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig), Kurt Masur, cond. Philips, recorded December 1992
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