1812 – 1: Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major

WEDNESDAY, October 28, 2020 – 2:51 AM

(If I had to pick one movement of all symphonies as the greatest, I might pick the 2nd of this one. I keep updating this because I’m finding more and more amazing live recordings, and live recordings with great camera work are more fun for everyone, including me.)

Symphony No. 7 in A major, age 40-41

Instrumentation:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in A (E and D in the inner movements), 2 trumpets in D
  • timpani
  • strings

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

This man has a way with Beethoven I’ve never heard before. He is considered a miracle in Vienna. The people there are apparently in love with him. He uses natural horns and trumpets, but he also uses modern instruments. The group is on the small side. The playing is clean, precise, and there is a ton of adrenaline. But the slow stuff is exceptional. This is just an exceptional live performance.

Klaus Mäkelä

This is a very new recording, apparently only up for a few days although recorded a couple months ago. It is a bit slower, less manic, and the brass is not quite as much in your face as Andrés Orozco-Estrada’s performance, but it’s equally effective. The slow movement is slower, and the appoggiaturas are drawn out more, which is my preference. Klaus is like the reincarnation of great conductors of the past, with a clean and controlled stick technique and a minimalist style of movement.

Iván Fischer:

I found this last night, and I would rate it right up with the best performance. In addition to its being a great performance, the chance to watch the players is again wonderful.

1st movement:

 It starts with a long, slow introduction. Then it launches into something so fast and energetic that it just makes you feel good. The whole symphony is sometimes called “Symphony of the Dance”.

2nd movement:

This is miraculous music. It starts off with theme that is so simple, you think a three year old could have come up with it. Then he adds one layer after another, building a magnificent structure. There is a middle section, a bit like a trio, very peaceful, that finally builds up to the beginning again, but this time it’s huge. Little by little it winds down.

3rd movement:

 It’s a scherzo, and this is where I tend to lose interest in Mozart’s symphonies, because he wrote minuets, and they usually sound like fillers to me. Beethoven changed all that, replacing that rather stodgy dance with something so fast that no one could dance it, and then everyone copied this idea for around the next 150 years. This is one of his best scherzos.

4th movement:

Endings are hard. So often they disappoint. This one does not.  In fact, part of Beethoven’s genius was knowing how to end things, usually with an explosion of energy and a huge feeling of contagious optimism.

On a break for his health…

Beethoven wrote this while improving his health in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice. The work is dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries.

Beethoven was proud of it…

It may seem strange, but composers don’t always agree with the public even when the public is wild about one of their creations. At its premiere, Beethoven was noted as remarking that it was one of his best works.

Instant fame, popular for more than 200 years…

The second movement, Allegretto, was the most popular movement and had to be encored. Its instant popularity of the Allegretto made that movement a stand-alone favorite, performed often alone.

Premiere…

The work was premiered with Beethoven himself conducting in Vienna on 8 December 1813 at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau.

There are two things curious about this. First, Beethoven apparently spoke publicly. If he conducted, we have to ask how deaf he was.

Much later, at the premiere of his 9th symphony, someone else had to conduct for him, and he could not even hear the applause at the end.

More music…

The program also included the patriotic work Wellington’s Victory, exalting the victory of the British over Napoleon’s France. The orchestra was led by Beethoven’s friend Ignaz Schuppanzigh and included some of the finest musicians of the day. The Wiki article lists:

violinist Louis Spohr, composers Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Antonio Salieri, bassoonist Anton Romberg, and the Italian double bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti, and Italian guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani on cello.

The symphony was a huge success, so much so that the audience demanded a repeat of 2nd movement. This 2nd movement has continued to be iconic.

Stupid quotes:

Nothing about Beethoven would be complete without mentioning some of the really stupid things said. Friedrich Wieck, father of Clara Schumann, was present during rehearsals and said that the consensus, among musicians and laymen alike, was that:

Beethoven must have composed the symphony in a drunken state

Conductor Thomas Beecham commented on the third movement with some of the most incredibly idiotic words ever recorded:

“What can you do with it? It’s like a lot of yaks jumping about.”

Wagner on the other hand was right…

He was one of many admirers. Referring to the lively rhythms which permeate the work, he called it the:

“apotheosis of the dance”

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