On the Performance of Beethovens Symphonies and Other Essays (Dover Books on Music)

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Felix Weingartner : On The Performance Of Beethoven's Symphonies And Other Essays

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More than a million musicians are already trusting us! Description add remove Description This authoritative compilation of essays by conductor Felix Weingartner features the title essay, which discusses the performing difficulties and interpretation questions involved in Beethoven's 9 symphonies. Also included are his 'On Conducting' and 'The Symphony Since Beethoven,' both attesting to the belief that art is at its best when an 'exceedingly delicate balance is attained between the feeling and the intellect.

Brand reference number: It was a high-risk strategy. Not only did Beethoven present and promote the concert himself but he packed the programme with music guaranteed to illuminate any shortcomings in his new piece. And, directly before his new piece, Beethoven gave his audience a taste of creativity in spontaneous action by improvising at the piano. Two hundred and thirteen years later, now listening with knowing ears to music thoroughly absorbed by our porous cultural radar, trying to reawaken the sting of the new is not easy.

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This sonic blast from the future perhaps unsettled that Viennese audience of like unsuspecting music lovers of today confronted for the first time by a Helmut Lachenmann score. An Adagio prologue leapfrogs into a main-body Allegro con brio first movement, while the melodic contours of the slow movement are like a commentary upon every Mozart slow movement you ever heard.

Essentials

The form might be classically Classical but he is clearly harbouring new ambitions and feeling beyond what he already knew. The process of writing was all about figuring out, at the turn of a new century, what a symphony might be. Typically, as would become clear over the next two decades, Beethoven was not interested in structures that merely box-ticked the archetypes; the workings of symphonic form were instead placed under careful investigation. And, after numerous false starts — eureka! The theme Beethoven had been attempting to mould into a first movement had far greater potential as the basis of his finale.

With that marker now secure, taking aim at the rest of the symphony became manageable. And taking aim meant unifying his material. Reverse-engineering what was now the finale, Beethoven prepared his ground, and his listeners, by dropping elements of its harmonic contours into earlier sections of the symphony. But the figure of a rising semitone, heard for the first time in bar one and then scattered around like a compositional catchphrase, properly cemented the symphony together.

Beethoven's Symphony No 1: which recording is best?

Structural unity was everything; and, as Beethoven rethought orchestral weight and balance — new prominence given to woodwind and brass, the score scattered with his soon-to-be trademark sforzandos — the symphonic game was afoot. His primer on the First Symphony laid down a basic interpretative rule of thumb: dislocating the time was verboten and tempo relationships must always be kept in proportion.


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To allow the new tempo to bed in, Weingartner suggested a steady, subliminal accelerando through the opening bars of the Allegro con brio ; and, up to a point, his October recording with the Vienna Philharmonic demonstrates the soundness of his advice. His essay recommends that the tempo be kept steady during the repeat of the exposition but, presumably because of time restrictions on 78rpm recordings, Weingartner cuts the repeat. Other undermining problems — inaudible timpani and kamikaze horns — push this historically important recording way down the pecking order. True enough, no conductor today would stress the slurs that Beethoven writes into the string parts in the Andante but, occasional period features like that aside, Toscanini remains perpetually contemporary.

And, ja Herr Weingartner, Toscanini does nudge slightly forwards in the exposition of the first movement but more subtly than you, his tempo suspended expertly — just right with a hint of recklessness. His finale is surprisingly Haydnesque; but where Weingartner neatly tucks in moments of harmonic rupture, Toscanini wants you to feel the storms. The emotive push-pull of the Adagio molto , to my ears, feels overcooked and the Allegro con brio drags.

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