Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827); Daniel Barenboim - Beethoven: The Complete Symphonies and Piano Concertos (2000)
Cover Front Album
Artist/Composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827); Daniel Barenboim
Conductor Otto Klemperer
Length 660:43
Format mp3
Genre Classical
Label EMI Classics
Cat. Number 73895
Index 414
Track List
01 Symphony No.1, Op.21 In C Major: I: Adagio molto - Allegro con brio 09:55
02 Symphony No.1, Op.21 In C Major: II: Andante cantabile con moto 08:53
03 Symphony No.1, Op.21 In C Major: III: Menuetto & Trio: Allegro molto e vivace 04:04
04 Symphony No.1, Op.21 In C Major: IV: Adagio - Allegro molto e vivace 06:29
05 Symphony No.6, Op.68 'Pastoral' In F Major: I: Allegro ma non troppo - Awakening Of Happy Feelings On Arriving In The Country 13:05
06 Symphony No.6, Op.68 'Pastoral' In F Major: II: Andante molto mosso - Scene By The Brook 13:22
07 Symphony No.6, Op.68 'Pastoral' In F Major: III: Allegro - In tempo d'allegro - Tempo I - Peasants' Merrymaking 06:33
08 Symphony No.6, Op.68 'Pastoral' In F Major: IV: Allegro - Storm And Tempest 03:43
09 Symphony No.6, Op.68 'Pastoral' In F Major: V: Allegretto - Shepherds' Song. Happy And Thankful Feelings After The Storm 09:13
10 Symphony No.3, Op.55 'Eroica' In E Flat Major: I: Allegro con brio 16:41
11 Symphony No.3, Op.55 'Eroica' In E Flat Major: II: Marcia funebre: Adagio assai 16:54
12 Symphony No.3, Op.55 'Eroica' In E Flat Major: III: Scherzo & Trio: Allegro vivace 06:34
13 Symphony No.3, Op.55 'Eroica' In E Flat Major: IV: Finale: Allegro molto - Poco andante - Presto 13:26
14 Grosse Fuge, Op.133 In B Flat Major 16:30
15 Symphony No.2, Op.36 In D Major: I: Adagio molto - Allegro con brio 13:27
16 Symphony No.2, Op.36 In D Major: II: Larghetto 13:08
17 Symphony No.2, Op.36 In D Major: III: Scherzo & Trio: Allegro 03:59
18 Symphony No.2, Op.36 In D Major: IV: Allegro molto 07:13
19 Symphony No.5, Op.67 In C Minor: I: Allegro con brio 08:58
20 Symphony No.5, Op.67 In C Minor: II: Andante con moto - Piu mosso - Tempo I 11:14
21 Symphony No.5, Op.67 In C Minor: III: Allegro - 06:13
22 Symphony No.5, Op.67 In C Minor: IV: Allegro - Presto 13:19
23 Symphony No.4, Op.60 In B Flat Major: I: Adagio - Allegro vivace 12:27
24 Symphony No.4, Op.60 In B Flat Major: II: Adagio 10:01
25 Symphony No.4, Op.60 In B Flat Major: III: Menuetto: Allegro vivace - Trio: Un poco meno allegro 05:50
26 Symphony No.4, Op.60 In B Flat Major: IV: Allegro ma non troppo 07:38
27 Symphony No.7, Op.92 In A Major: I: Poco sostenuto - Vivace 12:52
28 Symphony No.7, Op.92 In A Major: II: Allegretto 09:32
29 Symphony No.7, Op.92 In A Major: III: Presto - Assai meno presto 08:21
30 Symphony No.7, Op.92 In A Major: IV: Allegro con brio 08:01
31 Symphony No.8, Op.93 In F Major: I: Allegro vivace con brio 09:49
32 Symphony No.8, Op.93 In F Major: II: Allegretto scherzando 04:28
33 Symphony No.8, Op.93 In F Major: III: Tempo di menuetto 05:16
34 Symphony No.8, Op.93 In F Major: IV: Allegro vivace 08:26
35 Leonore No.1, Op.138: Overture 09:55
36 Leonore No.2, Op.72: Overture 14:01
37 Leonore No.3, Op.72a: Overture 14:45
38 Coriolan, Op.62: Overture 07:59
39 Symphony No.9, Op.125 'Choral' In D Minor: I: Allegro non troppo, un poco maestoso 17:03
40 Symphony No.9, Op.125 'Choral' In D Minor: II: Molto vivace - Presto 15:38
41 Symphony No.9, Op.125 'Choral' In D Minor: III: Adagio molto e cantabile - Andante moderato 15:01
42 Symphony No.9, Op.125 'Choral' In D Minor: IV: Presto - Recitativo - Allegro assai - Alla marcia: Allegro assai vivace - Andante maestoso - Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato - Allegro ma non tanto - Prestissimo 24:36
43 Prometheus, Op.43: Overture 05:35
44 Piano Concerto No.1, Op.15 In C Major: I: Allegro con brio (Cadenza: Barenboim) - Daniel Barenboim 16:15
45 Piano Concerto No.1, Op.15 In C Major: II: Largo - Daniel Barenboim 13:13
46 Piano Concerto No.1, Op.15 In C Major: III: Rondo: Allegro scherzando - Daniel Barenboim 09:27
47 Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19 In B Flat Major: I: Allegro con brio (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 14:38
48 Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19 In B Flat Major: II: Adagio (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 09:43
49 Piano Concerto No.2, Op.19 In B Flat Major: III: Rondo: Molto allegro (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 06:03
50 Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 In C Minor: I: Allegro con brio (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 18:53
51 Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 In C Minor: II: Largo (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 10:52
52 Piano Concerto No.3, Op.37 In C Minor: III: Rondo: Allegro (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 09:55
53 Piano Concerto No.4, Op.58 In G Major: I: Allegro moderato (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 20:49
54 Piano Concerto No.4, Op.58 In G Major: II: Andante con moto - (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 05:46
55 Piano Concerto No.4, Op.58 In G Major: III: Rondo: Vivace (Cadenza: Beethoven) - Daniel Barenboim 11:00
56 Fantasia For Piano, Chorus And Orchestra, Op.80 In C Major - Daniel Barenboim 21:08
57 Piano Concerto No.5, Op.73 'Emperor' In E Flat Major: I: Allegro - Daniel Barenboim 22:52
58 Piano Concerto No.5, Op.73 'Emperor' In E Flat Major: II: Adagio un poco mosso - - Daniel Barenboim 08:58
59 Piano Concerto No.5, Op.73 'Emperor' In E Flat Major: III: Rondo: Allegro - Daniel Barenboim 11:04
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Purchase Date 11/17/2004
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LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
The Complete Symphonies and Piano Concertos; Choral Fantasia; Grosse Fuge; Overtures: Leonore 1-3; Coriolan; Prometheus

Aase Nordmo Lövberg (soprano); Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano); Waldemar Kmentt (tenor); Hans Hotter (baritone)

Philharmonia Chorus
John Aldis Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra
New Philharmonia Orchestra

Otto Klemperer

EMI- 73895-2(CD)
Reference Recording - Symphonies, Wand (RCA); Szell (Sony); Barenboim (Teldec); Concertos, Fleisher (Sony)

Every time Otto Klemperer's EMI Beethoven recordings are re-released, the couplings change, the prices go down, and the consumer gets confused. In the late 1980s EMI released the conductor's stereo Beethoven symphonies on six full-priced CDs, with another disc devoted to the same composer's overtures. These were re-released at midprice, with different cover art. In 1994 EMI bundled the seven discs in a budget-priced package. Four years later the cycle was remastered and recoupled on six individual midprice discs for EMI's series The Klemperer Legacy, but with some differences. The conductor's 1961 Beethoven Seventh was now replaced with his 1955 version, recorded in experimental stereo. The Egmont Incidental Music, Fidelio, Consecration of the House, and King Stephen overtures were dropped. The present budget box gives you these six discs (the 1998 remasterings) along with three CDs encompassing Klemperer's Beethoven Piano Concertos and Choral Fantasy with soloist Daniel Barenboim.

By and large, the transfers offer noticeable if not drastic sonic advances over previous incarnations. There's more focus to the lower strings and woodwinds, plus improved definition in note attacks and timpani strokes. Fashions in Beethoven playing have gone through several phases since these recordings first appeared. Indeed, the conductor's dark, foreboding countenance, expressive severity, and implacable pacing will seem utterly anachronistic to fans of Beethoven on period instruments. The music may take shape slowly under Klemperer's guidance, but damned if it doesn't move. Every phrase, each orchestral balance, and all transitional junctures patiently unfold, and pull you in with the force of a hidden, powerful magnet. This approach proves spellbinding for the symphonies and overtures, yet makes for a more ponderous effect in the concertos. What was grand has now turned fussy, and the young Barenboim's self-consciously pointed pianism generally yields to the greater harmonic sophistication, technical finesse, and spiritual penetration of Arrau's similar, yet maturer conceptions. Moreover, Klemperer exerted less control over his orchestra in the late 1960s than his relatively healthier self a decade earlier when the symphonies were made. For the symphonies alone, though, this box set still constitutes a great bargain, and remains a milestone in the history of Beethoven recordings.

--Jed Distler

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21

Composition Date
1800

Composition Description by Michael Jameson

The year 1800 marked a watershed in Beethoven's development. On April 2 in Vienna, he made his debut as a composer of symphonies during a concert he had arranged and financed himself. Beethoven began to work intensively on the symphony in 1799, completing the work the following year. The symphony, though enthusiastically received at its premiere, already carried portents of the composer's coming radicalism. At the time, some observers commented upon the work's prominent use of wind instruments, but few noted the first symphony's masterstroke; it opens with the "wrong" chord -- a dominant seventh of the subdominant key of F major, and not the expected tonic chord of C major. The English musicologist Sir Donald Francis Tovey dubbed this work "a comedy of manners." It is, in some sense, a skit on the deeply engrained style and vocabulary of Classicism itself, though the humor is unquestionably Beethoven's own. The opening movement begins with the celebrated discord mentioned above, which ushers in the slow introduction, questioning and insistent. It leads to the start of the exposition, again interrogatory in character. Fanfares add a martial flavor to the music, which is offset by the more lyrically inclined second subject group. The exposition is repeated, according to Classical convention, and the development which follows is terse and far more acerbic in manner, and does not allow the same contrast between songful and martial elements. Already extremely mature and "studied," this austere development is relieved only when the recapitulation arrives, now with great forcefulness. The imitative dialogues between wind and strings are predictably Classical in style, as is the jubilant coda. The Andante seems more subdued and relaxed, but the manner in which it preserves the latent drama associated with symphonic form is particularly subtle and entertaining. It begins with a fugal motif, derived from the rising tonic triad heard at start of the first movement's exposition, and used so emphatically in its coda. An ingenious piece of orchestration occurs at the close of the Andante's exposition. Triplet figures in the violins and flute and off-beat accompanying chords are supported by regular drum-taps, perhaps pointing forward to the start of the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61, and to the closing bars of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No. 5 ("Emperor"), Op. 73. The third movement's marking raises the question of whether Beethoven could have intended this to be a stately Haydn minuet before he increased the tempo indication. The incisive rhythmic energy suggests something wholly new, and the movement already has the manner of Beethoven's later scherzi -- it is one in all but name. While a more static episode in D flat follows the main material, and the central trio section is more reserved, it is significant, surely, that several Beethoven manuscripts (including that of his "Eroica" Symphony No. 3 in E flat) contain similar third-movement tempo markings. Tovey likened the explosive start of the finale to the release of "a cat from a bag." The whole orchestra plays a unison fortissimo chord of G, the dominant, an effect that recalls the slow introduction of the first movement. The main motif is derived from nothing more complex than a rising scale on the tonic, but throughout the movement, Beethoven's use of scalar figures becomes increasingly obsessive, as the theme is heard in a variety of keys, and is often heard in inversion when various instruments are in dialogue. The development features a daring harmonic treatment of the scale theme, and Beethoven employs much dense counterpoint before the work ends in a positive and triumphant reassertion of C major.

Symphony No. 6 in F major ("Pastoral"), Op. 68

Composition Date
1808

Composition Description by Roger Dettmer

For roughly 175 years, the Music Appreciation Racket has told us that Beethoven composed symphonies in contrasting odd-even pairs after 1803, none more startling than the heaven-storming Fifth and bucolic Sixth. Originally, however, he assigned the designation of "No. 5" to the Pastoral for their shared debut on surely the most historic night in Western music, December 22, 1808. Beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the unheated Theater an der Wien, he premiered both symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, "Choral" Fantasy, "Ah! perfido!" (a concert aria from 1796), and introduced a Viennese audience to excerpts from the C major Mass, an Esterházy commission of 1807 that Prince Nicolaus II disliked when he heard it.

Beethoven began making specific notes for a "Sinfonia pastorale" in 1806, but didn't complete the work until 1808, in the village of Heiligenstadt northwest of Vienna. If this had been an unlikely hatchery in 1807 for the fist-brandishing Fifth Symphony, it perfectly suited -- as he noted in his sketchbook -- "recollections of country life...more the expression of feeling than of painting" in his ensuing woodwind-drenched symphony (although violins get first crack at nine of its 12 significant themes).

"Cheerful impressions wakened by arrival in the country" (Allegro ma non troppo, in F major, 2/4 is the first movement. It is in sonata form, pretty much by the book, with violins introducing all themes. The second-movement "Scene by the brook" (Andante molto moto, in B flat major and 12/8 time, is a Sonata structure again, but more relaxed, with a limpid main theme for violins and a bassoon sub-theme. In the coda, the flute impersonates a nightingale, the oboe a quail, and the clarinet a cuckoo. The third movement, "Merry gathering of country folk" (Allegro, 3/4 time, F major), is an expanded song-and-trio, with a 2/4 section in "tempo d'Allegro" that creates the effect of an ABCABCA structure, leading without pause to the fourth movement, "Thunderstorm; tempest" (Allegro; F minor, 4/4). From the first raindrop to last, this is purely depictive music. It is followed by a 10-bar chorale that segues the final "Shepherd's song; glad and grateful tidings after the storm" (Allegretto; F major, 6/8), a sonata-rondo, whose C-section some have called a development section. The fun includes a sly parody of amateur musicians before the long, progressively tranquil coda that ends with a pianistic gesture: two fortissimo chords.

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ("Eroica"), Op. 55

Composition Date
1803

Composition Description by Roger Dettmer

Beethoven completed this work in 1804; it was introduced privately in Vienna, chez Prince Lobkowitz, to whom it is dedicated. Beethoven also conducted the public premiere on April 7, 1805, in the Theater-an-der-Wien. Despite everything written to the contrary, the Sinfonia eroica was never a "portrait" of Napoleon Bonaparte, although Beethoven did plan to dedicate it to the charismatic Corsican "First Consul of France." He went into a rage, however, when a pupil, Ferdinand Ries, brought news in May 1804 that Napoleon had crowned himself Emperor. According to Ries, Beethoven shouted that the General was only "an ordinary human being, [and] went to the table, took hold of the title page, tore it in two, and threw it on the floor."

A different story posits that Beethoven erased the Napoleonic dedication from a copy made in August 1804 and entitled Sinfonia grande. In fact, Sinfonia eroica did not appear as the work's title until publication in 1806.

What Beethoven never told Ries was that Prince Lobkowitz, before May 1804, had proffered a handsome fee in exchange for the dedication, which Napoleon's subsequent arrogance made possible. Or that Beethoven realized the advantage in bringing with him a Sinfonia Bonaparte when a Parisian trip was proposed later on (but never materialized). It was conductor Arturo Toscanini who put everything into perspective 50-odd years ago: "Some say Napoleon, some say Hitler, some say Mussolini; for me it is Allegro con brio."

The sheer length of the Eroica's first movement was revolutionary -- an opening movement of 691 measures, plus an exposition repeat of 151 measures. No less revolutionary was Beethoven's jarring C sharp at the end of a main theme in E flat major -- indeed it is an E flat arpeggio. Not until the recapitulation does that C sharp become D flat enharmonically. It is in this movement that the long-range harmonic connections explored over the course of the Romantic era have their real start; the movement is heroic mainly in the vastness of its reach.

A "Funeral March" slow movement was hardly revolutionary, but the span of his C minor slow movement, in rondo form, was unprecedented, and so was its range of emotions from outright grief to C major solace. Although "hunt" music in the third-movement Trio may have startled the Eroica's first audience after funerary tragedy on an unprecedented scale, hunting music in Beethoven's time was even more modish than funeral marches. However, he used it for more than mere surprise in the midst of an onrushing and sometimes raucous scherzo (thereby banishing minuets and Ländlers until the symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler). Psychologically he needed sunshine after so much weighty, solemn music.

He was also setting up a racy finale -- a set of variations including a fugue that detractors ever since have called a falling-off of inspiration. This kind of argument ignores, however, not only what preceded the Eroica historically -- Bach's Goldberg Variations for example -- but also Beethoven's own ennoblement of the form. He had already used the legato second theme of his Eroica finale in The Creatures of Prometheus (ballet music of 1800), in an 1802 Contredanse, and as the subject of 15 keyboard variations that same year (Op. 35), subtitled Eroica once the symphony had been published. A never-ending wonder is the viability of this subject after so much use. Beethoven's range of invention in the symphonic finale of 1804 -- from hymnody to humor, from fugue to dance, culminating in a Presto coda -- successfully freed the listener from the gripping, even shocking drama that has stalked his first and second movements.

Fugue for string quartet in B flat major ("Grosse Fuge"), Op. 133

Composition Date
1825

Composition Description by Robert Cummings

Beethoven's Grosse Fuge was originally to have served as the finale to the String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, Op. 130 (1825); in fact, that work was first performed with this monumental creation as its sixth and concluding movement. However, the Grosse Fuge, a complete entity in its own right, proved too difficult for the performers and for some members of the audience. Moreover, it seemed an outsized finale for the relatively modest quartet. Beethoven subsequently produced a new final movement for the quartet, an attractive Rondo more in keeping with the spirit of the entire work.

The Grosse Fuge, eventually published as an independent work, is one of Beethoven's crowning achievements in the medium of chamber music. The work opens with an introduction, or "overtura." Here the mood is dramatic, effectively setting the stage for the whole work. The main theme -- heroic and defiant, powerful and self-confident -- is presented in four different versions. First, it is played fortissimo, in an emphatic, assertive manner, which will reemerge as its definitive guise in the coda. The subsequent accounts of the theme gradually become calmer and quieter.

The first fugal section is a double fugue marked Allegro. Here the main theme competes against another subject, which is also fiery and assertive. Their struggle, which includes substantial development, continues fortissimo. The second section, marked Meno mosso e moderato, is also a double fugue, its lyricism providing effective contrast to its predecessor. Here a new theme emerges from the counterpoint of the main melody. The third section, marked Allegro molto e con brio, features further struggle in which the theme eventually falters and seems to disintegrate. The second subject from the first fugal section emerges and appears to take control. Eventually, the main theme is rejuvenated in a passage marked Meno mosso moderato, and the signs of struggle fade in the two Allegro subsections that follow. The coda features the main theme in its original version, but now expanded and clearly triumphant. The mood turns reflective and mysterious, and suddenly the second subject appears, supported by the main theme. The work ends powerfully and magnificently.

Symphony No. 2

Measured against the hot-wired First Symphony, the heroic Third, and the heaven-storming Fifth -- all of them written between 1799 and 1808 -- Beethoven's Second is a relaxed work in greater part, akin to the Fourth and Sixth symphonies. This has prompted music listeners ever since to wonder how he could have created a work as buoyant as No. 2 at a time when his worsening deafness had been diagnosed as incurable and irreversible.

The work came to term in 1802 from sketches organized the previous year. Likelier than not, it reflects several happy months in the rural retreat of Heiligenstadt, on the recommendation of an otologist. From one window in his isolated cottage he could see eastward to the Danube, and beyond. Outside, he roamed the fields and surrounding woods freely, yet his mood was "morose" according to Ferdinand Ries, the devoted pupil who visited him there.

Beethoven introduced the new symphony at Vienna on April 5, 1803, at a mammoth Akademie in the Theater an der Wien, along with the Third Piano Concerto (completed in 1800), a new oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, and a repeat performance of the First Symphony from 1800. In the third movement of No. 2, the word scherzo appeared symphonically for the first time, although it retained a song and trio form, and was built on the sudden juxtapositions of loud and soft, with changes in their patterns just when he'd seemed to settle on one. The scoring, however, continued to employ traditional pairs of winds and brass, timpani, and strings.

An Adagio molto introduction anticipates the soft-loud contrasts that explode like Chinese firecrackers two movements later, although the sound and shape of it recall Haydn. The exposition begins in measure 35, with a main subject of Mozartian levitation, but thereafter Beethoven asserts his own less courtly and more confrontational personality.

As in the First Symphony, he wrote the first, second, and fourth movements in sonata form. The longest of them is this A major Larghetto in triple meter, if all the repeats are observed. Finding an accommodating tempo can pose problems: largo, after all, means "broad," the slowest tempo in music. Larghetto is a diminutive form -- i.e., not as slow -- but how slow (or not slow) remains the conductor's call.

After Beethoven's surprises in (as well as of) the scherzo, he chortles throughout a finale marked Allegro molto, mostly at his own syncopated jokes. They begin in the first measure and don't let up till the double-bar. Many of his contemporaries were shocked, and several reviled him in print. One Viennese critic, after a repeat performance in 1804, called Symphony No. 2 "a crass monster, a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die and, though bleeding in the finale, furiously thrashes about with its stiffened tail." One should always keep posterity in mind whenever a spiky new piece tempts us to dismiss it without a trial (whereas easy-listening pieces tend to spoil as quickly as unrefrigerated seafood, and most should).

Symphony No. 5 in C minor ("Fate"), Op. 67

Composition Date
1808

Composition Description by Michael Jameson

Beethoven worked on the Fifth Symphony for more than four years, completing it in 1808, and introducing it on December 22 of that year at what must have been one of the most extraordinary concerts in history. The marathon program included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies; the Choral Fantasy, Op. 80; the Fourth Piano Concerto; and parts of the Mass in C. Vienna was in the grip of exceptionally cold weather, the hall was unheated, and the musicians woefully under-prepared. As Schindler noted, "the reception accorded to these works was not as desired, and probably no better than the author himself had expected. The public was not endowed with the necessary degree of comprehension for such extraordinary music, and the performance left a great deal to be desired."

Following early indifference, the public only gradually began to come to terms with the Fifth. One of its earliest proponents, the poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote, "How this magnificent composition carries the listener on and on in a continually ascending climax into the ghostly world of infinity!...the human breast, squeezed by monstrous presentiments and destructive powers, seems to gasp for breath; soon a kindly figure approaches full of radiance, and illuminates the depths of terrifying night." In his Howard's End, E.M. Forster writes of the work, suggesting that it satisfies "all sort and conditions." The characters of Helen and Tibby know the work well, the latter even describing "the transitional passage on the drum" before the finale. That Forster dwelt at such length on the work shows the extent to which it had become absorbed into the Romantic consciousness.

Hermann Kretzschmar wrote of the "stirring dogged and desperate struggle" of the first movement, one of the most concentrated of all Beethoven's symphonic sonata movements. It is derived almost exclusively from the rhythmic cell of the opening, which is even felt in the accompaniment of the second subject group. There follows a variation movement in which cellos introduce the theme, increasingly elaborated and with shorter note values at every reappearance. A second, hymn-like motif is heard as its counterfoil.

The tripartite scherzo follows; the main idea is based on an ominous arpeggio figure, but we hear also the omnipresent "Fate" rhythm, exactly as it experienced in the first movement. The central section, which replaces the customary trio, is a pounding fugato beginning in the cellos and basses, and then running through the rest of the orchestra. Of particular structural interest is the inter-linking bridge passage which connects the last two movements. Over the drum-beat referred to by Forster's Tibby, the music climbs inexorably toward the tremendous assertion of C major triumph at the start of the finale. The epic grandeur of the music, now with martial trombones and piccolo added (the Fifth also calls for contrabassoon), has irresistible drive and sweep, though that eventual victory is still some way off is suggested by the return of the ominous scherzo figure during the extended development.

Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60

Composition Date
1807

Composition Description by Michael Jameson

Robert Schumann described this symphony as "a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants," and started the long-standing tradition which holds that somehow Beethoven's even-numbered symphonies are less profound than the odd-numbered ones. This may seem true at first glance, but there is much that Schumann's analysis leaves unsaid. While the lambent beauty of the Adagio might suggest the kind of Classicism that the Eroica transcended, one should remember that, in many senses, the Fourth, emerging from an intensely foreboding, and even tragic, introduction, is no less heroic than either the Eroica or the Fifth. Dark-hued and intensely chromatic strivings pull the music from B flat minor toward the unison F which heralds the beginning of the sunny Allegro vivace exposition. While Weber criticized the deliberately sparse-sounding introduction, Tovey sensed its immense stature, writing of the "sky-dome vastness" of its harmonic progression. The Adagio, a sonata structure minus development, begins with an insistent rhythm which recurs several times. At the start, the violins sing out the sublimely reflective principal motif, a tenderly lyrical utterance which stands in direct contrast to the opening figure. These two contrasting elements are always at the hub of the movement, the expressive violin theme later becoming the subject of variations. The reprise of the second group then leads to the highly atmospheric coda. What follows is the Scherzo; a bucolic main theme suggests the rustic folk-dance idioms that Beethoven knew well; nevertheless, the movement surpasses the Eroica's Scherzo in power and dynamism. It should be noted that this is the first of Beethoven's symphonic scherzos to feature a repeat of the trio section, which is significant, given the massive nature of the surrounding material. The scherzo is heard one last time, now abridged, before the shattering final coda with its three-bar horn solo. Expanded scherzos also figure in several of Beethoven's later symphonies (the exception is the Eighth), and sketches suggest the technique was originally envisaged for the Fifth. Opening with a series of mercurial sixteenth note fragments from which the first subject group is derived, the final movement is "perpetuum mobile." As the movement unfolds, the oboe's second theme provides contrast with the initial statement, the relentless development section posing serious technical challenges to the lower instruments: bassoon, cellos and basses. In the coda, surely one of Beethoven's most humorous inventions, the theme is passed around at half speed after a "false" ending has been reached, and finally brushed aside dramatically as cellos and basses plummet down the scale before the striking final bars for full orchestra.

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92

Composition Date
1812

Composition Description by Roger Dettmer

Ludwig van Beethoven completed this work in 1812, but withheld the first performance until December 8, 1813, in Vienna. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, plus timpani and string choir.

1812 was an eventful year for the very famous, seriously deafened Beethoven. July was especially noteworthy. At Teplitz he finally met Goethe (1749-1832), but was disappointed to find (he felt) an aging courtier who was no longer a firebrand or kindred democrat; worse yet, a musical dilettante. A week before that only meeting of German giants, Beethoven had written the letter to his mysterious "immortal beloved" that was discovered posthumously in a secret drawer. Then, toward the end of the year, he meddled unbidden in the affairs of his youngest brother, Johann, who was cohabiting contentedly with a housekeeper. Somehow, he found time to compose the last of his ten sonatas for violin and piano and to complete a new pair of symphonies -- the Seventh and Eighth -- both begun in 1809. He introduced the Seventh at a charity concert for wounded soldiers, and repeated it four nights later by popular demand.

Richard Wagner called Symphony No. 7 "the apotheosis of the dance," meaning of course to praise its Dionysian spirit. But this oxymoron stuck like feathers to hot tar, encouraging irrelevant and awkward choreography (by Isadore Duncan and Léonide Massine among others) and licensing the music appreciation racket to misinterpret Beethoven's intent as well as his content. Wholly abstract and utterly symphonic, the Seventh was his definitive break with stylistic conventions practiced by Mozart, Haydn, and a legion of lesser mortals who copied them. He stretched harmonic rules, and gave breadth to symphonic forms that Haydn and Mozart anticipated. If, in his orchestral music, Beethoven was the last Austro-German Classicist, he did point those who followed him to the path of Romanticism.

While the poco sostenuto introduction begins by observing time-honored rules of harmony, within 62 measures it modulates from A major to the alien keys of C and F major, then back again! The transition from solemn 4/4 meter to 6/8 for the balance of an evergreen vivace movement (in sonata form) further exemplifies Beethoven's conceptual stretch.

Coming from the 20-minute funeral march of his earlier Eroica Symphony, Beethoven created an allegretto "slow" movement. He established a funerary mood (without its being specifically elegiac) through the repetition of a 2/4 rhythmic motif in A minor, the most somber key of the tempered scale. A minor serves more than an expressive function, moreover; it readies us for the reappearance of F major in a tumultuous five-part Scherzo marked Presto. Two trios go slower (assai meno presto), in D major -- a long distance harmonically in 1812 from the work's A major tonic. The beginning of a third trio turns into a short coda capped by five fortissimo chords.

A major finally returns in the final movement. Here more than anywhere else in his orchestral music, Beethoven became a race-car driver. As in the "slow" movement, the rhythm is 2/4, but sonata-form replaces ABA. And there's a grand coda longer than the exposition, the development, or the reprise, which, furthermore, begins in B minor! But modulations bring it back to A major in time for a heart-pounding final lap with the accelerator pressed to the floor.

Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

Composition Date
1812

Composition Description by Roger Dettmer

Beethoven completed this work in 1812, and conducted the first performance at Vienna on February 27, 1814. The year 1812 was both eventful and productive for the very deaf but very famous Beethoven. In July, at Teplitz spa, he finally met the great Goethe (1749-1832), but was disappointed to find (in his opinion) an aging courtier who was neither a firebrand nor a fellow democrat, and furthermore a musical dilettante. In turn, Beethoven's power both as a person and as an artist impressed Goethe, but the old poet-playwright was fatigued by his high-pitched intensity and offended by a lack of manners bordering on rudeness.

Withal, Beethoven somehow made time in 1812 to compose a final violin and piano sonata (Op. 96), and to complete a new pair of symphonies. Nos. 7 and 8, begun in 1809 (the year of the Emperor Concerto), were related in much the way his Fifth and Sixth symphonies had been. In 1813 he conducted the Dionysian Seventh to great acclaim, but saved the elfin Eighth for an 1814 concert where it was fatally sandwiched between the Seventh Symphony and Wellington's Victory, or the Battle of Vittoria. This last was adored by the audience in direct proportion to its awfulness, but they only sniffed at the Eighth.

Compared to the Seventh, No. 8 is benign as well as brief. There are four movements, in all of which the old Classical forms are clearly delineated but somehow thrown out of balance by a constant barrage of curiously humorous distortions. Were the work not such an essentially lyrical joy, one might divine hints of the creative crisis to come for its maker. Its metronomic second movement (which is perhaps an actual tweaking of the recently invented metronome) has only 81 bars -- the fewest in Beethoven's symphonic canon. The composer asked that the third movement be played Tempo di minuetto (in fact it is a Ländler), rather than at scherzo speed. The movement's heavy, graceless accents seem to poke fun at the courtly world only recently passed.The first and final movements are both written in sonata form, both marked Allegro vivace -- con brio, too, in the first.

Beethoven reserved for the finale a leviathan-length coda, by then one of his musical signatures -- 236 bars, only 30 fewer than the combined exposition, development, and reprise! The movement wears its complexity so lightly that its true subtlety may all too easily pass unnoticed. Sudden loud interruptions in a very remote key herald still more radical explorations in the development. Here, the main rondo theme is debated in counterpoint, with cross rhythms and unexpected harmonic twists. But the giant coda is only the last joke in a work of cloudless skies and merriment. As John N. Burk summed the work up in his evergreen Life and Works of Beethoven: "[His] humor seems to consist of sudden turns in the course of an even and lyrical flow, breaking in upon formal, almost archaic periods. It is a sudden irregularity, showing its head where all [had been] regular -- an altered rhythm, an explosion of fortissimo, a foreign note or an unrelated tonality...like divine play in that pure region of tonal thinking [where] melody and invention pour forth...and fancy is furiously alive." $Beethoven himself thought it one of his best symphonies, while Robert Schumann praised its "profound humor" and wrote that the second movement particularly filled him with "tranquility and happiness."

Leonore Overture No. 1 in C major, Op. 138

Composition Date
1807

Composition Description by Aaron Rabushka

Beethoven's only opera began life as Leonora and ended up as Fidelio. The composer wrote four overtures to it, of which this is the first. Beethoven himself was disatisfied with it, and removed it from the opera before the first performance. Now it is occasionally heard as an independent concert overture. It begins with a moderately-paced introduction that gives a hint of the dramatic power of the opera and features a scalar motif that reflects the importance of a stairway in the plot. Eventually the momentum gathers and a faster section takes off, during which strings lead most of the way through music of outspoken power and lyricism. Woodwinds occasionally step forward as a group for some sections, although their role (along with that of the brass and timpani) is mostly supportive.

Leonore Overture No. 2 in C major, Op. 72a

Composition Date
1804-1805

Composition Description by Aaron Rabushka

Beethoven's only opera began life as Leonora and ended up as Fidelio. The composer wrote four overtures to it, of which this is the second. It was this overture that was that was played at the opera's first performance, and it is now heard occasionally as an independent concert presentation. No knowledge of the opera is necessary to enjoy this music, though some acquaintance with its plot may enhance listening pleasure.

The introduction is sustained and foreboding, with a scalar motif that reflects the importance of stairs in the opera. Clarinets lead a hopeful and lyrical theme, after which an interesting motivic exchange between a flute and some violins gathers energy for the faster section that follows. Strings begin this quietly and energetically, and it proceeds passionately to its climax in a rushing coda that comprises one of the great expressions of human hope in sound. Its progress is interrupted several times for offstage trumpet calls.

Leonore Overture No. 3 in C major, Op. 72b

Composition Date
1805-1806

Composition Description by Michael Jameson

There are no fewer than four separate overtures for Beethoven's only opera Fidelio. This unusual state of affairs can be attributed to the extremely long and convoluted evolution of the opera, which actually began life as Leonore, the first version of which was staged in 1805, when Napoleon's troops were overrunning Vienna.

The work concerns the Spanish nobleman Florestan, who has been wrongfully imprisoned by his enemy Don Pizarro. Leonore, Florestan's wife, is keen to help, and disguises herself as Fidelio, and wins the trust of the jailer Rocco, who employs her (believing Fidelio to be a man) as his assistant. Also unaware of the subterfuge, and entirely convinced by the disguise, Rocco's daughter Marzelline falls in love with Fidelio, and their match is encouraged by Rocco, though her real suitor Jaquino is understandably confused. In any event, Fidelio wins the confidence of her employer, and is finally allowed to see the imprisoned Florestan. Pizarro arrives at the jail, resolved to kill Fidelio, but he is prevented and all the prisoners are freed.

It is not clear when the first two Leonora overtures were written, but Beethoven quickly suppressed No. 1; it was not published until 1838, long after his death. Leonora No. 2 (1805) is much longer, and like No. 3, it conveys the themes of the opera, and suggests its overall dramaturgy in microcosm. The Leonora Overture No. 3, Op. 72, was composed in 1806, and is much the most successful of the three Leonora overtures. One important distinction between the Leonora overtures and the Fidelio overture of 1814 is that the later work makes no attempt at a précis of the whole opera, but instead it provides the powerful curtain-raiser that Beethoven by now sensed was needed to properly complete the piece. Mendelssohn was the first conductor to program all four overtures together, during a concert at the Leipzig Gewandhaus given in 1840.

Leonora No. 3 opens with a solemn slow introduction, entirely fitting given the lofty themes of personal freedom under review in the opera. The main C major allegro begins softly, in unison on the strings, but develops into a magnificent heraldic hymn to liberty. Further points to note are the two off-stage trumpet fanfares heard in the central development section, the second sounding closer, thus signifying the moment of approaching release. The coda begins with a spectacular rising passage for the violin section, a virtuoso ensemble device that was again designed to make the climax of the overture prefigure the ultimate outcome of the opera as decisively as possible.

Coriolan Overture, Op. 62

Composition Date
1807

Composition Description by Robert Cummings

Shakespeare's Coriolanus was not the direct inspiration for Beethoven's overture of the same name; instead, the work was written to accompany Heinrich Joseph von Collin's all-but-forgotten drama Coriolan, which was revived in Vienna's Burgtheater in 1807. Beethoven's music depicts the story of Coriolanus in an often stormy essay whose evolution mirrors the action in the drama.

In the drama, Coriolanus is a Roman patrician who has been banished from his native city as a result of his lack of concern for the starving people there. After taking up with the Volscians and plotting revenge, the proud and disgraced Coriolanus leads their armies against Rome. Upon reaching the border of his former city, he is approached by emissaries who plead with him to abandon his intentions to invade. Coriolanus, who has long waited for the day on which he will finally avenge his eviction and humiliation, sends them away and prepares for attack. A last effort to save Rome comes when his mother and his wife plead with him to desist. He is at last dissuaded from carrying out his plans, realizing they are now abhorrent to him. In Collin's play, he determines that he must regain his honor, which can only be effected by death at his own hand.

The sonata-allegro-form overture begins darkly, Allegro con brio, the strings thrice playing an intense unison C, each time answered by a single emphatic chord from the orchestra that rises higher with each response. The strings then take up a rhythmic, agitated figure which makes up the main part of the first subject. This music represents Coriolanus' proud character, his defiance and unsettled nature; it longs, half cries out, but manages to sound subdued, as though ruled by some dark inner constraint. A second theme appears, a memorable creation of great lyrical beauty that also possesses an unmistakably heroic element -- a trait nearly ubiquitous in Beethoven's middle-period works. A brief development follows, focusing mainly on the two-note motive that appears at the close of the second subject.

The recapitulation might almost be regarded as a second development, since the thematic material is presented quite differently this time and the key switches from C minor to F minor. The expansive coda makes use of the second theme group at its outset, then turns intense and grim. The music from the opening returns, but dissolves quickly into a dark haze, fading to uneasy silence. Many believe that this ending is a depiction of the actual death of Coriolanus; it may be, however, that it merely reflects his realization that he must die by his own hand to restore his tarnished honor.

Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125

Composition Date
1824

Composition Description

On 7 May 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven experienced what must certainly have been the greatest public triumph of his career. The audience which gathered at the Hoftheater adjacent to the Vienna Kärtnertor heard not only the abridged local premiere of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and Gloria were given) and Op.124 Overture, but also the first performance of the composer's 'Choral' Symphony. The event was a rousing success; indeed, one of the most moving accounts of Beethoven's final years describes how the profoundly deaf composer, unable to hear the colossal response of his admirers, had to be turned around by one of the soloists so that he could see the hundreds of clapping hands!

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 started life as two separate works -- a symphony with a choral finale, and a purely instrumental work in D minor. He labored on these sporadically for almost ten years before finally deciding (in 1822) to combine the two ideas into one symphony, with Friedrich von Schiller's Ode an die freude (Ode to Joy) -- a text he had contemplated setting for a number of years -- as the finale.

The finished work is of visionary scope and proportions, and represents the apogee of technical difficulty in its day. There are passages, notably a horn solo in the slow movement, which would have been almost impossible to play on the transitional valveless brass instruments of Beethoven's time. As Dennis Matthews writes: "As with other late-period works, there are places where the medium quivers under the weight of thought and emotion, where the deaf composer seemed to fight against, or reach beyond, instrumental and vocal limitations."

The Ninth also personifies the musical duality that was to become the nineteenth century -- the conflict between the Classic and Romantic, the old and new. The radically different styles of Brahms and Liszt, for instance, both had their precedents in this work. On one hand, there was the search for a broader vocabulary (especially in terms of harmony and rhythm) within the eighteenth century framework; on the other, true Romanticism, embracing the imperfect, the unattainable, the personal and the extreme -- qualities that violate the very nature of Classicism. When viewed individually, the first three movements still have their roots distinctly in the eighteenth century, while the fourth -- rhapsodic, and imbued with poetic meaning -- seems to explode from that mold, drawing the entire work into the realm of program music, a defining concept of musical Romanticism.

Beethoven's Ninth represents a fitting culmination to the composer's symphonic ouvre -- a body of work that is still unmatched in its scope and seminal ingenuity -- and remains a pillar of the modern symphonic repertoire.

Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus), ballet, Op. 43

Composition Date

1800-1801


Composition Description by John Palmer
Beethoven's ballet score Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus) was created in collaboration with choreographer Salvatore Viganò. Commissioned in 1800, the ballet was the composer's first major work for the stage. Premiered in Vienna's Burgtheater on 28 March 1801, Prometheus was initially a great success, and within a few years it had been peformed dozens of times. Still, it was criticized by a contemporary as "fragmentary" and "too learned for a ballet," and the score, save for the overture, has since been generally neglected as little more than an historical curiosity. The work's opus number is somewhat problematic. In June 1801, Artaria published Beethoven's piano arrangement of the score, dedicated to Prince Lichnowsky, as Op. 24. In the same year, the firm of Mollo intended to publish a pair of violin sonatas as Op. 23; likely because of a printing error, the second of these, now familiar as the "Spring" Sonata, was issued separately as Op. 24, necessitating a change in opus number for Prometheus. Three years later, Hoffmeister published the full score of the overture only as Op. 43, lending the false impression that the work was composed some years later than it actually was.

Aside from a few interesting aspects of its orchestration, the most important part of the ballet, musically speaking, is the sixteenth and final number. This section shares its key, main theme, and bass line with the seventh of the Twelve Contredanses, WoO 14, composed at intervals between 1791 and 1802. It is certain that the material of this particular dance dates from about the time of the ballet, though scholars disagree on which work was the first to take shape; considering the composer's working method, it is entirely possible that the two developed simultaneously. In any event, this workhorse of a theme came to even greater prominence through its use in Beethoven's 15 Variations and Fugue for piano, Op. 35, and in the finale of his epochal Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ("Eroica"), Op. 55.

Confusingly, Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 (1795-1800) actually follows the Concerto No. 2 in order of composition. The confusion is explained by the fact that the composer withhheld what is now known as the Second Concerto from publication in order to make substantial revisions (including an all-new rondo), in the meantime proceeding to complete and publish the present work. There are distinct Mozartean moments in the First Concerto, particularly in the quiet, strings-only introduction to the opening Allegro con brio. With the entrance of the orchestra (complete with brass and timpani), however, the music takes on a more martial character and a distinctive vigor peculiar to Beethoven's style. The second subject, played by violins and woodwinds over a restless bass accompaniment, unfolds in longer, more lyrical phrases. When the piano finally enters, it's with material that can be heard as a variant of either of the themes already presented; a recurring rhythmic figure, though, clearly links it to the music that opens the work. Throughout the remainder of the movement, Beethoven employs light, rapid passagework no doubt intended to display the composer's own virtuosity. Further opportunity for pianistic display arises at the cadenza, which is followed by a brief coda. The Largo second movement begins with a vocally expressive, lyrical melody, an almost prayerful moment that forecasts the profound slow movements of Beethoven's final period. The orchestra answers with a more forthright theme, then eases into a variant of the piano's melody. The soloist returns with further comments in this vein, highly ornamented and subtly supported and commented upon by the strings and woodwinds. After a poignant episode in which the keyboard adopts for the first time a thin, unassuming texture, the piano reintroduces the opening theme, soon joined by the orchestra. The movement closes in a hushed atmosphere. The Allegro scherzando rondo is typical of much of Beethoven's music of the period: full of high spirits, rhythmic syncopations, and irregular phrasings. The piano presents a comically sputtering theme, soon echoed by the full ensemble. Several of the succeeding episodes have a quirky urgency and comic almost melodrama of the sort that inspired silent film scores more than a century later. The work draws to a conclusion in a spirit of both boldness and mischief.

For almost two centuries, the original version of the Piano Concerto No. 2 was assigned to the year 1794, when Beethoven was 23 and needed a showpiece for his public debut in Vienna. He did introduce it in the Court Theater on March 29, 1795, during the Lenten season when Hapsburg Catholicism banned all theatrical activity. But latter-day scholarship has determined that most of the B flat Concerto -- certainly the first two movements -- were written at Bonn in 1789 and 1790, three years after his curtailed first visit to Vienna, but three before his return in November 1792, with a letter of introduction from Count Ferdinand Waldstein and an invitation to study with Haydn. In other words, he was as young as Chopin when the latter composed his first concerto (which, further in common with Beethoven's B flat, was published out of sequence as No. 2). Whether or not Haydn saw it during the 14 contentious months that Beethoven was his pupil, we don't know.

Beethoven revised the concerto to include a new finale during his study year with Haydn. This was this version he introduced in 1795 and then further revised in 1798 for Prague, giving it still another finale. (The "official" First Concerto, in C, published as Op. 15, wasn't composed until 1797.) To keep the B flat for his own use, he left the solo part un-notated until the Leipzig publisher Hoffmeister agreed to buy the work in 1801, for half the price of a new sonata. The composer didn't haggle: "I really don't give [it] out as one of my best....Still, it will not disgrace you in any way to publish it."

Although the B flat has come down to us as one of the two runts in Beethoven's concerto litter (along with the "Triple"), it is nonetheless a work of substantial charm and considerable elegance, with several Haydn-like surprises including an abundance of themes. In the opening Allegro con brio movement, however, he followed Classical rules, concentrating on the two principal subjects of a double exposition (by the orchestra first, next by the soloist), then a development section, and finally a recapitulation. The main themes in their cheerful confidence are distinctly Beethoven's, though their working-out is clearly influenced not only by Haydn but also by the recently departed Mozart. The middle movement -- Adagio, in E flat major -- hints at the slow movement of the Fourth Concerto to come a decade later. It is, in effect, an accompanied fantasia that resembles a carefree theme and variations, with an attention-getting solo recitative-like passage at the end. The twice-rewritten finale, Molto allegro, combines sonata and rondo forms, with perhaps the nicest surprise of all saved for last: a brief solo rumination which the orchestra brusquely interrupts with a terminal tantara.

Beethoven composed Concerto No. 3 in 1799-1800, and introduced it at Vienna on April 5, 1803. The first sketches go back to 1797 -- after he'd composed the B flat Piano Concerto (published as No. 2), but before composition of the C major Concerto (in 1798, published as No. 1). Although Beethoven played the first performance of No. 3 in 1803 from a short score -- no one was going to steal it from him! -- he'd actually completed the music prior to April 1800, apart from a few last-minute adjustments. In other words, before he wrote the Second Symphony (Op. 36), the Moonlight Piano Sonata (Op. 27/2), or the Op. 31 triptych for keyboard.

The model for this startlingly dramatic concerto was Mozart's C minor (K. 491), which Beethoven played in public concerts. But "model" does not mean he merely imitated; indeed, the orchestra's traditional first exposition is so extensively developed that the soloist's repetition risks sounding anticlimactic. Otherwise, as Charles Rosen has written with formidable insight in The Classical Style, "There are many passages in the first movement, Allegro con brio, which allude to Mozart's concerto in the same key...particularly the role of the piano after the cadenza. But the striking development section, with [a] new melody half-recitative [and] half-aria, is entirely original, as is the new sense of weight to the form." Beethoven wrote down that cadenza several years later, to preserve the work's character and momentum, when implacable deafness seriously disadvantaged his public appearances at the keyboard.

To his contemporaries the slow movement came -- still can come -- as a shock. Not only did he mark it Largo (which is to say very slowly), in 3/8 time, but chose the remote key of E major (four sharps, vs. C minor's three flats). Alone, the piano leads off for 11 measures, introducing both the main theme and ornamentation that accompanies it throughout. Here Beethoven anticipated the solo opening of his G major Fourth Concerto five years down the road, although in that work he dispensed with thematic decorations, beautiful as they were (and are) in the Largo of No. 3.

Characteristically, the finale is a rondo Allegro, again in tonic C minor, with a pair of principal themes introduced by the soloist. This movement is rich in humor yet also dramatic, with a passage midway in E major to remind us where we've been. Following another (but brief) cadenza, Beethoven switches to C major, accelerates the tempo to Presto, and gives the orchestra the last word.

Beethoven's famously copious notebooks confirm that he only composed after an indeterminate period of inspiration, followed by a period of experimentation, followed by a period of gestation: in other words, an evolutionary process. While we know in most cases when works were premiered and published, we don't know when exactly he conceived them, or what chain of change preceded their first public performance. We remain in the dark, for example, on what days of which months -- or for that matter in what year -- he concentrated on the Fourth Piano Concerto to the exclusion of all else.

Not that we need to know. It suffices to recognize its revolutionary (as well as evolutionary) nature, beginning with the very first chord. No concerto before, by Beethoven or anyone else, began as the G major does, with the solo instrument playing unaccompanied -- not only that but playing both dolce and softly! The miracle, however, is that Beethoven introduces the main theme and rhythm of the entire first movement within five sweet, soft, solo measures ending on a D major (dominant) chord, which the orchestra answers in B major before modulating to the tonic G. There is none of Beethoven's characteristic vehemence, not even at a crescendo to forte with sforzando punctuation in measures 20 - 22, although he composed the Fourth Concerto and Appassionata Sonata concurrently, all the while the Fifth Symphony was incubating in his other-consciousness.

Fascinatingly, principal themes in the opening movements of the Fourth Concerto and Fifth Symphony share a rhythmic motto: three short notes of equal value followed by a longer fourth note. (In the concerto, all of these are the same note; in the symphony, the last one is a third lower.) Noteworthy, too, was the premiere of both works on the same Vienna program -- that storied four-hour marathon of December 22, 1808, in the unheated Theater an der Wien, which also introduced the Pastoral Symphony and "Chorale" Fantasie with an orchestra that refused to rehearse with the composer present. Apropos of the G major Concerto: while a traditional double-exposition follows its trailblazing start, Beethoven's instrumental textures, tonal weight, subtleties of harmony, and especially the illusion he creates of improvisation were seven-league strides.

The slow movement is even more revolutionary, despite the brevity of only 72 measures and its indebtedness to the middle, Romanza movement of Mozart's D minor Concerto (K. 466), which Beethoven played publicly with outstanding success. However, in his own concerto, the juxtaposition of implacable strings playing both forte and staccato, and the piano's conciliatory legato response with the "soft" pedal down throughout, was unprecedented. Such palpable confrontation was not the norm in concertos. Neither was the orchestra's eventual capitulation, followed without pause by a rondo-finale marked vivace, whose presto coda is as scintillant as any music Beethoven ever wrote.

Even so, solo pianists and their audiences were slower to take up the Fourth than Beethoven's other concertos. But Mendelssohn -- a general who savored caviar -- loved it best, and played it at his last London concert, in 1846: a program that also featured his own music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and the Scottish Symphony.

As is true of many of the composer's works with nicknames -- e.g. the "Moonlight" Sonata, the "Spring" Sonata -- the "Emperor" moniker attached to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 (1809) is not the composer's own. Still, there is hardly an adjective that could more aptly evoke the work's impressive scale and majesty. Despite its considerable technical demands, the "Emperor" Concerto handily transcends the typical role of the concerto as a mere virtuoso vehicle. Indeed, it is virtually symphonic in conception; its E flat major key (the same as that of the "Eroica" Symphony), expansive form, and sometimes martial, always grand, character grant the concerto a place among the defining works in the composer's heroic vein. The first performance of the Concerto was likely that given by Friedrich Schneider in Leipzig on November 28, 1811.

The Concerto No. 5 is Beethoven's final essay in the concerto genre. He may have lost interest in concertante works at least in part because of his advancing deafness, which brought an end to his own career as a pianist. Tellingly, he himself never publicly played the Concerto No. 5, though he had written his four previous piano concerti for his own use on the concert stage. Moreover, the athletic, virtuoso ideal rarely fit the language of Beethoven's late works, even though some of the last piano sonatas are punishingly difficult.

In the Piano Concerto No. 4, Beethoven made a striking break with convention in commencing the work with a piano solo. In the opening Allegro of No. 5, he takes this idea to an extreme, providing the soloist with an extended cadenza, punctuated by tutti chords from the orchestra, that outlines in miniature the entire 20-minute movement. The main theme is marchlike and assertive; the somewhat more relaxed second theme first appears cloaked in mystery, in a minor-key version that soon gives way to the expected statement in the dominant major. The grandeur of the movement is colored by excursions to remote keys that, however, never fully thwart the powerful forward drive.

The lyrical and idyllic second movement, Adagio un poco moto, is one of Beethoven's most tender and intimate statements. The piano predominates here -- not in a virtuoso context, but in a manner and texture that prefigure the nocturnes of Chopin. A long dominant pedal underpins a muted, even ethereal transition to the Rondo. In contrast to the noble magnificence of the opening Allegro, the Rondo is a movement of jubilant affirmation, evidenced at once by the upward-surging, dance-like main theme. Though the ambitious conception of the Concerto remains ever at the fore in the Rondo, Beethoven nevertheless does not shy away from providing the soloist with passages of exceptional brilliance.

Fantasia for piano, chorus, and orchestra ("Choral Fantasy"), Op. 80

Composition Date
1808

Composition Description by Roger Dettmer

Beethoven composed this work in the autumn of 1808 and played as well as conducted the first performance on December 22 of that year in Vienna. In addition to pairs of winds and brass plus timpani and strings, it calls for solo voices and mixed chorus.

Although a hybrid work without precedent, emulated only twice since (by Ferruccio Busoni and Ralph Vaughan Williams), the "Choral Fantasy," as it has come to be called, was composed hurriedly as a crowd-pleasing endpiece for a pre-Christmas Akademie concert. A great deal went wrong during that four-hour marathon in the Theater an der Wien, yet it was destined to become one of the most famous evenings in all of musical history.

A soprano soloist had been engaged to sing the concert aria Ah! Perfido, but quarreled with Beethoven during rehearsal and withdrew in a rage; her replacement was a teenager, not only intimidated but uncontrollably tremulous. The orchestra, which had had trouble previously with their famously irascible composer, who had badmouthed them in the bargain, refused to rehearse until he left the room. Choral parts for the Fantasie came from the copyists still wet. The old theater's primitive heating system, taxed by a cold wave that year, broke down before the concert. To cap the litany of misadventures, Beethoven forgot to tell the orchestra to ignore a repeat in the A major Adagio section of the Fantasie; thus, while he went forward on the keyboard, they went backward until the performance broke down, and had to resume in medias res. Beethoven, to his credit, accepted the blame.

Before that debacle, an intrepid audience had shivered through the world premieres of the fifth and sixth symphonies, the first public performance of Piano Concerto No. 4, and half of the recent Mass in C (Op. 86, for Haydn's patron, Esterházy), as well as the works already mentioned. As for the bedeviled "Choral Fantasy," it proved to be a prototype, in effect, of the choral finale to come 15 years later in the Ninth Symphony. Even the theme of its mainly amiable variations in C-related keys resembles the more celebrated one he would compose for Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in 1823. Its original form, however, goes all the way back to 1795 (a year before Ah! Perfido) -- to a song, with verses by Gottfried August Bürger, entitled Gegenliebe (Mutual Love).

Despite the rapid composition (for Beethoven) of his "Choral Fantasy," sketches in the storied Notebooks reveal that he had first thoughts about the substance and treatment in 1800. Remarkably, he published it in 1811 exactly as written three years before -- except for the solo introduction in C minor, which he had improvised at the premiere. It has never been determined definitively if the author of the text was Beethoven's friend, Christoph Kuffner. In the event, it is sung first by six solo voices -- two sopranos and alto, then two tenors and baritone -- after that by the chorus. Surely only a curmudgeon could fail to be charmed by the work's overall insouciance, just as only someone stone-deaf would fail to recognize it as stylistically authoritative, middle-period Beethoven.