Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sunday Classics preview: Beethoven the spell-casting introducer


In the piano reduction we can see just how short the magical introduction to Beethoven's First Symphony really is. The performance is by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by its then-music director, our old friend Christoph von Dohnányi.* (Our immediate interest is just the introduction, but feel free to listen to the whole first movement. It's a neat performance.)
*We've heard Dohnányi conducting, as I recall, Brahms's Double Concerto, Richard Strauss's Salome, Berg's Wozzeck, and his grandfather Ernst von Dohnányi's Variations on a Nursery Song.

by Ken

I'll explain tomorrow how I came to be thinking once again about the slow introductions Beethoven wrote for four of his nine symphonies. But they're some of his most treasurable music. As we've had frequent occasion to note, the great composers of the classical era loved every now and then to seize the opportunity to preface a typical symphonic allegro with a slow introduction.

It's an adorable bit of misdirection, for one thing, playing with the listener's expectations -- even outright teasing, as Beethoven did when he finally ventured a symphony, having already produced a substantial body of music in a wide range of forms. But it's also an opportunity to create an episode of special lyrical beauty in its own right.

I thought it would be fun to listen just to those four amazing introductions, so that's what we're going to do in the click-through.



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