Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Classics: Beethoven's "slender Grecian maiden between two Norse gods" -- the Fourth Symphony


Carlos Kleiber conducts the Concertgebouw Orchestra in the first movement of the Beethoven Fourth Symphony, here "analyzed with the assistance of Robert Greenberg's Wordscore Guides."

"The Fourth Symphony, to me, expresses a divine lightness of spirit. . . . Coming between the drama of the Third and the 
Fifth Symphonies, the Fourth is a study in serenity. What emerges in this sunlit work
is a marvelous affirmation; I regard the Fourth as Beethoven's way of saying 'Yes' to 
— conductor Josef Krips

"The Fourth is in some ways the most enigmatic of the Beethoven symphonies; it defies all our efforts to categorize it in a single epithet or two. . . . The symphony, in fact, abounds in unexpected strokes, not only swift alternations of mood but, within each mood, unpredictable happenings of all kinds . . . . "
— critic Ernest Newman

by Ken

I mentioned in last night's preview that it was listening to a 1959 Pablo Casals-conducted performance that got me to thinking once again about the four Beethoven symphonies that have spell-casting slow introductions, which prompted me to do something I'd wanted to do for ages: hack out those four introductions to listen to them all together. I don't know about you, but I had all kinds of fun with the result.

The symphony Casals was performing was the Beethoven Fourth (from the second of Music & Arts's two giant Casals: Festivals at Prades boxes), and it's the Fourth Symphony I wanted to talk about this week. The description of it as a "slender Grecian maiden between two Norse gods" is, famously, Robert Schumann's. How well it actually describes the piece is subject to discussion, but it unquestionably reflects the special feeling that a whole lot of music-lovers, including many musicians, have felt for this extraordinary piece, which was created between the momuments of Beethoven's Eroica and Fifth Symphonies.

I seem to recall that Josef Krips (1902-1974) was one of the conductors who expressed a special fondness for this symphony, and we're not only going to hear him conduct the opening movement, we're going to scatter through our hearing of the symphony some brief words he wrote aboout it (including the quote above) for the booklet of his Everest Beethoven symphony cycle.

To counterbalance the idea that the Fourth Symphony is all simplicity, sweetness, and light, we're also going to hear from the great English critic Ernest Newman (1868-1959), from the booklet for the original issue of Otto Klemperer's EMI Beethoven symphony cycle.



Labels: ,


At 12:14 PM, Anonymous Carol Doty said...

I'm listening to it now. Thanks for reminding us of the greatness of Beethoven's music.

At 12:42 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

You're welcome, Carol!


At 9:22 PM, Blogger Michael said...

What a great piece. I can't even begin to comprehend the skill it takes to compose something like that.
Keep them coming, please.

At 8:29 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Thanks, Michael. It's a honey of a piece, isn't it? Perhaps it's not surprising that it inspires such deep affection when people discover its distinctive fascinations.



Post a Comment

<< Home