1806: Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in Bb major, age 35

Andrés Orozco-Estrada/Frankfurt Radio Symphony

  1. Adagio (slow) – Allegro vivace, Bb major 11:00 (0:36-11:36)
  2. Adagio, Eb major 9:29 (12:06-21:35)
  3. Allegro vivace Bb major 5:28 (22:04-27:32)
  4. Allegro ma non troppo, Bb major 6:18 (27:42-34:00)

Total time: 32:15

Carlos Kleiber/Concergebouw Orchestra

  1. Adagio (slow) – Allegro vivace, Bb major 11:26 (01:00-12:26)
  2. Adagio, Eb major 9:08 (12:50-22:08)
  3. Allegro vivace Bb major 5:18 (22:37-27:55)
  4. Allegro ma non troppo, Bb major 6:23 (28:09-34:32)

Total time: 32:15 (Kleiber and Estrada are the same timing)

This is an absolute marvel.

Note the older instruments, specifically the trumpets and horns, then keep your eye on the relatively small looking group. It adds up to something as clean as whistle, with knife-like attacks, amazing accents, playful solos. This is just a home run.) This is not billed as a period instrument performance, but those are natural horns and trumpets, so this is blend of older and newer instruments.)

Instruments:

  • flute
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 clarinets in Bb
  • 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in Bb and Eb
  • 2 trumpets in Bb and Eb
  • timpani
  • strings

Symphony No. 4 in Bb major, age 35

It was composed in 1806 and premiered in March 1807 at a private concert in Vienna at the town house of Prince Lobkowitz. The first public performance was at the Burgtheater in Vienna in April 1808. But as with the other Beethoven symphonies, it’s impossible to know exactly what got composed when, because he worked on so many things at the same time for long periods.

1st movement:

Like those of the first, second, and seventh of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, it has a slow introduction. Slow intros were a specialty of Haydn. It starts on a Bb, just one note, and then immediately establishes the key of Bb minor. Then it basically morphs all over the place before getting back to an F chord, called the “dominant”, and in the key of Bb that is an F major chord. So Beethoven uses fortissimo repetition of the F major chord to lead into B flat major in the allegro vivace section. A development section is usually in the middle of the 1st movement, and it’s always the most interesting and novel place because this is where each composer starts an adventure and then has to figure out how to get back home. The introduction, is like a “pre-development”, because that’s where Beethoven already went on a tonal adventure. This is what he does. He slides to a D chord, then Gm, Eb, F, Edim, F#, F#7, Bb, and he’s home. If you listen you will never keep it all straight, even if you can hear it all. It’s magic. When he gets home he repeats the first main themes.

2nd movement:

This is a slow rondo, and that just means that there is a theme or idea that is recognizable, often called the “A section”, and it keeps coming back again and again. In between that A section you get to stick in other themes, so you can have, for instance, A B A C A, and that’s just what Für Elise does. Für Elise is probably the most famous rondo ever written – with the possible exception of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turka. It’s a very effective form because it’s repetitive and we all need some repetition not to get lost. But you can get as fancy and as complicated as you wish, and by using more themes you can really make this idea incredibly sophisticated.

3rd movement:

This is a scherzo, although supposedly it is often marked as “menuetto” in scores. A scherzo is like a minuet on speed because it goes as much as three times as fast. The usual form for a minuet was A B A, and part B was called the “trio”. It just means that you start and end the same way, with something a bit different in the middle. It’s in 3/4 time, but you don’t hear that. You hear 4/4, with each beat sounding like a triplet, and the result is the same as 12/8 time. In this rondo Beethoven uses A B A B A. The top composers tend to always do something a bit different each time, so as you are listening, you basically say: “OK, I know what’s coming next, but what will he do a bit differently to surprise us?” There is enough repeat to keep you from getting lost, but enough variation to keep everything interesting.

4th movement:

Maybe musicians had trouble playing this, because originally Beethoven just wrote “allegro”. Beethoven called this movement “aufgeknöpft” (unbuttoned). In other words, the exact opposite of stiff and formal. The way it is played today would ordinarily be called “allegro vivace” or “molto allegro”. In other words, no one is following the tempo indication. They just flat out play this as fast as it can be played without ruining it with sloppy playing, and how anyone can hear this and not love it escapes me. It comes almost to a close with a big chord, gets going again, then another big chord. Then it’s slow for just a short time the main them at half speed, mock seriousness, then bang, back to full speed and done. The wind parts require virtuoso playing, and I doubt very much that musicians in the time of Beethoven could nail the notes at such a fast speed, but the best today do it with ease.

Overshadowed by the other symphonies…

The symphony is in four movements. It is predominantly genial in tone, and has tended to be overshadowed by the weightier Beethoven symphonies that preceded and followed it – the Third Symphony (Eroica) and the Fifth.

Not neglected by other famous composers…

Although later composers including Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Schumann greatly admired the work it has not become as widely known among the music-loving public as the Eroica, the Fifth and other Beethoven symphonies.

Rich and powerful friends:

Beethoven spent the summer of 1806 at the country estate of his patron Prince Karl Alois Lichnowsky (21 June 1761 – 15 April 1814). In September Beethoven and the Prince visited the house of one of the prince’s friends, Count Franz von Oppersdorff (1778 – 1818) The Count maintained a private orchestra, and the composer was honored with a performance of his 2nd symphony, written four years earlier. After this, Oppersdorff offered the composer a substantial sum to write a new symphony for him.

Three patrons, and two were younger:

In comparison to Beethoven, The Archduke Rudolph (1788-1831) was the youngest, then Oppersdorff (1778 – 1818) was a 10 years younger, and finally Lobkowitz was six years older (8 December 1772 – 16 December 1816). Right there we have three men who were rich and connected to the aristocracy, and Rudolph was both a student and a friend. Lobkowitz was also a patron of Mozart. Beethoven was technically doing musical “jobs” for Lobkowitz and Oppersdorff , but it’s pretty clear from reading that Beethoven was really in charge, because he was subservient to no one.

One more:

There is yet another patron in this mix, Count Razumovsky (2 November 1752 – 23 September 1836), and some sources say that Beethoven offered the 5th and 6th symphonies jointly to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky. Razumovsky was the brother-in-law of Lobkowitz, and his first wife was a sister in law of Lichnowsky. Confused? Basically everyone was related to everyone else. It was a very incestuous time. The point is that Beethoven’s patrons competed for his greatest works. Razumovsky commissioning Beethoven to three string quartets in 1806, all with a Russian theme.

Dedication:

The work is dedicated to “the Silesian nobleman Count Franz von Oppersdorff”.

Although Oppersdorff had paid for exclusive rights to the work for its first six months, his orchestra did not give the first performance. The symphony was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert in Vienna at the town house of Lobkowitz. The first public performance was at the Burgtheater in Vienna in April 1808. The orchestral parts were published in March 1809, but the full score was not printed until 1821.

Mendelssohn championed yet another work of of a famous composer:

The manuscript was once owned by Felix Mendelssohn. Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869), Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) and Schumann (8 June 1810 – 29 July 1856) greatly admired the 4th, although it has not become as widely known among the general public as all the later symphonies other than the 8th, which is also a lighter and less dramatic symphony.

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