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About Gary

Piano Teacher with over 40 years experience, teaching in the Fort Lauderdale area. Teaches exclusively at All County Music in Tamarac FL.

1804: Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (EROICA) in Eb major, age 33

Mr. Peabody Says:

The “Eroica” was one of the great milestones of music, a time when Beethoven fully matured into the monster talent we all know today. It came at an incredibly painful and difficult point in his life. It is often called the 1st Romantic symphony. Beethoven at this time knew he was going deaf, but decided to keep composing.

Wilhelm Furtwängler/Wilhelm Furtwängler

  1. Allegro con brio (fast with brilliance), Eb major 16:43 (0:00-16:43)
  2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai (quite slow) – C minor 18: 49 (16:43-35:32)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace (fast, lively) – Trio – Eb major 6:33 (35:32-42:05)
  4. Finale: Allegro molto – Poco Andante – Presto – Eb major 13:00 (42:05-55:05)

Total time: 55:05

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

  1. Allegro con brio (fast with brilliance), Eb major 15:09 (0:19-15:28)
  2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai (quite slow) – C minor 15:11(16:12-31:23)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace (fast, lively) – Trio – Eb major 5:40 (32:00-37:40)
  4. Finale: Allegro molto – Poco Andante – Presto – Eb major 12:00 (37:56-49:56)

Total time: 48:00

Toscanini/NBC Symphony Orchestra

  1. Allegro con brio (fast with brilliance), Eb major (-)
  2. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai (quite slow) – C minor (-)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro vivace (fast, lively) – Trio – Eb major (-)
  4. Finale: Allegro molto – Poco Andante – Presto (10–14 min.) – Eb major (-)

Total time: 46:38

Instruments:

  • 2 flutes
  • 2 oboes
  • 2 clarinets in Bb
  • 2 bassoons
  • 3 horns (the 1st in Eb, C, and F; the 2nd in E♭ and C; and the 3rd in Eb)
  • 2 trumpets in E♭ and C
  • timpani in Eb and Bb (in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th movements) and in C and G (in the 2nd movement)
  • strings

1st movement

Rather than writing a whole bunch about what is happening, hopefully just by listening you can get the feeling of what is going on by knowing that this first movement sounds like something complete all by itself.

2nd movement

The longest performance I’ve ever heard is by Furtwängler, and it takes indescribable magic to make it this slow and work. The recording is old, so a bit hard to listen to re sound, but the performance is absolutely magnificent.

But why a “funeral march”? What does that mean? Who died? Let’s be a bit figurative for a moment and consider that this could have been about the death of Beethoven’s hearing and his willingness to go on living and composing. He had written at one point that he had considered suicide, and for certain there is agony in this.

C minor had symbolic meaning for Beethoven, and he often used this key to express very angry or dark emotions, the best example perhaps being his 5th Symphony in C minor. So many times in tragic music I think of the famous T. S. Elliot line from The Hollow Men:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.

3rd movement

It’s about 6 minutes long, and after the depression and tragedy of the last movement the mood flips to manic energy, and the idea that the world and the universe was a bad place is gone.

The trio section features three horns, the first time this had appeared in the symphonic tradition.

4th movement: The finale is theme and variations:

There are 10 variations plus a coda in addition to the intro and theme.

Intro and Theme:

  1. 37:56 – Intro and Theme: Eb major

The variations:

  1. 39:12 – Variation: Eb major
  2. 39:43 – Variation: Eb major
  3. 40:14 – Short Bridge
  4. 40:23 – Fuegal – C minor , circle of 5ths, dim, G7 Bm
  5. 41:14 – B minor – D major
  6. 41:45 – G minor, very like Mozart 40th symphony
  7. 42:27 – C major
  8. 42:35 – contrapuntal, fuegal build to huge cadence on Bb9
  9. 43:53 – Variation: Eb major
  10. 45:51 – Variation: Eb major and minor: Eb major – G minor
  11. 48:28 – Coda: Eb major

And now for the story behind the symphony…

Beethoven began composing the third symphony soon after Symphony No. 2 in D major, Opus 36 and completed the composition in early 1804. The first public performance of Symphony No. 3 was on 7 April 1805 in Vienna.

This is the first of the most famous of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. It quite literally changed the course of musical history.

Back to front…

It appears that the Eroica, perhaps unlike Beethoven’s other symphonies, was constructed in reverse, starting with the last movement. Beethoven’s principal sketchbook for 1802 supposedly contains something that ended up in the 3rd. There is a huge amount of time-overlap for all the symphonies because they were not written quickly, and he often worked on more than one at the same time.

Dedication…

Beethoven originally dedicated the 3rd symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, who he believed embodied the democratic ideals of the French Revolution. In the autumn of 1804, Beethoven withdrew his dedication of the third symphony to Napoleon, but this is where it gets complicated.

How much of the change in dedication was idealism, and how much of it was practical? He was owed a fee, and Napoleon was a clear threat to the aristocracy. But Prince Lobkowitz he was paying for this symphony, so when he re-dedicated his symphony to the prince it was to be sure he would. That did not stop him from titling the work “Buonaparte”.

Change of heart…

However, when Napoleon proclaimed himself Emperor of the French, that was the last straw for Beethoven. He broke into a rage and exclaimed:

“So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!”

He tore up his title…

Of course, he was right about Napoleon. When he found out the truth, Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, and tore it up. There is one more quote from Beethoven that makes me smile:

“It’s a pity I do not understand the art of war as well as I do the art of music. I would conquer him!”

Change in dedication…

In 1806, the score was published this way, in Italian:

Sinfonia Eroica … composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grande Uomo (Heroic Symphony, Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.)

Performance…

The first public performance was on 7 April 1805, at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna; for which concert they announced the key for the symphony as D# major, which would have two double sharps. It was in Eb major, since the key signature of D# major would have been insane. From everything I’ve read the performance itself was ragged, under-rehearsed, which lead to confusion and a negative impression.

Anton Eberl got better reviews…

The concert also included the premiere of a Symphony in E flat major by Anton Eberl (1765–1807) that received better reviews than Beethoven’s symphony. Here is Eberl’s symphony that was on the same program, and it was fine music, but today it’s impossible to understand how it was considered better than Beethoven’s. However, Beethoven’s premieres were often near disasters because of lack of preparation, so what audiences heard was probably nothing like what we hear today. Perhaps that explains some of the weak reviews.

And now what critics said about the first performance…

I have made it one of my primary goals in life to talk about how horribly wrong critics have always been when judging new music, and the story here is astounding. Here are seven especially stupid comments:

Stupid comment number one:

Unfortunately I don’t know who said this. Apparently this “genius” thought the only thing good about Beethoven’s symphony was all the extra instruments:

“Through strange modulations and violent transitions … with abundant scratchings in the bass, with three horns and so forth, a true if not desirable originality can indeed be gained without much effort. *** becoming unbearable to the mere amateur.”

Stupid comment number two:

“this new work of B. has great and daring ideas, and … great power in the way it is worked out; but the symphony would improve immeasurably [] if B. could bring himself to shorten it, and to bring more light, clarity, and unity to the whole.”

Stupid comment number three:

“…for the most part so shrill and complicated that only those who worship the failings and merits of this composer with equal fire, which at times borders on the ridiculous, could find pleasure in it.”

Stupid comment number four:

“The finale has much value, which I am far from denying it; however, it cannot very well escape from the charge of great bizarrerie.”

Stupid comment number five:

“The finale pleased less, and that the artist often wanted only to play games with the audience without taking its enjoyment into account simply in order to unloose a strange mood and, at the same time, to let his originality sparkle thereby.”

Stupid comment number six:

“…this finale is long, very long; contrived, very contrived; indeed, several of its merits lie somewhat hidden. They presuppose a great deal if they are to be discovered and enjoyed, as they must be, in the very moment of their appearance, and not for the first time on paper afterwards.”

Stupid comment number seven:

“…[he would have] most properly ended with the funeral march, omitting the other parts, which are entirely inconsistent with the avowed design of the composition.”

Now, to be fair a great deal of this can be blamed on poor play and poor preparation. If that first audience had heard the kind of performances we now hear, they might have immediately fallen in love with the whole symphony. Regardless, the stupidity of critics is never-ending.

Hut

“Hut” Rati Prachayanuporn…

He’s the same guitar player who did the Lydian improv that is also in Spotlight. I got to talk to him a bit on Facebook. He is Thai and I don’t think understands much English, and I understand NOTHING of his language. But I understand the music. He told me he does not read music well, so he is probably an ear player.

What is impressive about him, for me, is his versatility. He really knows his craft. He is also a teacher.

Most people on the Internet are all talk, but he has a number of short videos that are just playing and they are excellent. I like that he is showing many different styles, and improv fascinates me because it is my greatest personal weakness.

1919: Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin: age 44

As I listen to this the words that go through my mind are: charming, gracious, easy to listen to, relaxing, pleasing. It’s not exciting, dramatic or demanding. It’s just a simple, wonderful listening experience. There is a a piano version, which has a very different charm.

Orchestration:

  • two flutes (one doubling piccolo), two oboes (one doubling cor anglais), two clarinets, two bassoons
  • two horns, trumpet
  • harp
  • strings

Celibidache, MPO (1984)

It started as a piano suite…

The suite was composed between 1914 and 1917.

Six movements…

All were based on those of a traditional Baroque suite. Each movement is dedicated to the memory of a friend of the composer (or in one case, two brothers) who had died fighting in World War I.

The orchestral version deletes two movements…

The orchestral version from 1919 omitted two of the original movements.

Tombeau…

The word “tombeau” in the title is a musical term popular from the 17th century, meaning “a piece written as a memorial”.

François Couperin…

“Couperin” is probably about François Couperin “the Great” (1668–1733). Ravel stated that his intention was to pay homage more generally to the sensibilities of the Baroque French keyboard suite, not necessarily to imitate or pay tribute to Couperin himself in particular.

1802: Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 (PASTORAL) in F major

I would suggest listening to only one movement at a time at first, perhaps starting with Allegro ma non troppo – F major , simply because it is the “beginning of the story”. But please listen with excellent speakers or the best earphones you can. Then feel free to do anything you want while listening, and see if you can hear the magic.

It tells a story…

This is the only Beethoven symphony containing programmatic content. In other words, it tells us something through images, and Beethoven wrote down ideas at the beginning of each movement. This recording by Celibidache is the most satisfying I’ve ever heard, and it’s because he takes the whole thing so slowly. For me he makes time stop. For me it seems to both go on forever, in the best possible way, and yet it is over before I want it to be over.

Segiu Celibidache/Munich Philharmonic Orchestra

  1. Allegro ma non troppo – F major 11:30 (0:30 -12:30)
  2. Andante molto mosso – Bb major 16:12 (12:18 -28:30)
  3. Allegro – F major 6:35 (28:30 – 35:05 )
  4. Allegro – F minor 4:53 (35:05-39:58)
  5. Allegretto – F major 11:37 (39:58 – 51:35)

Total time: 50:47

Instruments:

  • 1 piccolo (fourth movement only), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B♭, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in F and B♭, 2 trumpets in C and E♭ (third, fourth, and fifth movements only)
  • 2 trombones (alto and tenor, fourth and fifth movements only)
  • timpani (fourth movement only)
  • strings

1st movement: Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande – Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside

For some reason I don’t think about form at all in this symphony, not in the whole thing. I was very young when I first heard it, and now it just seems like an old friend. I have to turn on my brain and turn off the enjoyment to figure it out, but it is some kind of sonata form, meaning exposition (A B, repeat of AB), development, A B again (recapitulation) and coda (ending), but the whole thing is so seamless that it just seems to flow effortlessly. It is without doubt one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, just this first movement.

2nd movement: Beethoven’s description says: Szene am Bach – Scene by the brook

The second movement is another sonata-form movement, this time in 12/8 and in the key of Bb major, IV chord key of the whole symphony. It begins with the strings playing a motif that clearly imitates flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, and the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.

Toward the end is a cadenza for woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (two clarinets).

3rd movement: Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute – Merry gathering of the country folk

The third movement is a scherzo in 3/4, but that is about form and tempo. It’s really more than that, a wonderful country dance. It is in A B A B A form, but the last A is abruptly cut off.

The final return of the A theme has an even faster tempo, then suddenly then ends abruptly, without a pause. There is an incredible range of ideas about how fast this movement should go.

4th movement: Storm: Gewitter, Sturm – Thunder, storm

The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, building from just a few drops of rain to a great climax with thunder, lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain. The storm eventually passes, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement. This movement parallels Mozart’s procedure in his String Quintet in G minor K. 516 of 1787, which likewise prefaces a serene final movement with a long, emotionally stormy introduction.

5th movement: Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm – Shepherd’s song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

The finale is in 6/8 time, in this case representing the shepherds’ song of thanksgiving. Allegretto just means a bit fast, sort of between andante and allegro, and the end is essentially a prayer.

The rest of the story:

Beethoven was in his 30s when he wrote this symphony, which he composed between 1802 and 1808 – age 31-37

The first sketches of his Pastoral Symphony appeared in 1802. It was composed simultaneously with Beethoven’s more fiery 5th symphony. Both symphonies were premiered in a long and under-rehearsed concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 22 December 1808.

He loved to walk in the country side:

Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locations. The composer said that the 6th symphony is

“…more the expression of feeling than painting”

Disney:

The 6th symphony was used in the 1940 Disney animated film Fantasia, but with alterations in the length of the piece made by conductor Leopold Stokowski.

The symphony has an extra movement:

There are five movements rather than the four typical of symphonies of the Classical era. Beethoven wrote a programmatic title at the beginning of each movement.

Performance controversies:

There are modern performances of Beethoven’s symphonies that are very fast, and there are number of logical reasons for playing them faster than they used to be played decades ago. There is also a move to use so-called “historic instruments”, and the sound of these older instruments can be very convincing. I would put Gardiner’s recordings right at the top of them. But this symphony is the least convincing than all the others with the older instruments, and in general you will find those who really are familiar with Beethoven leaning toward Furtwängler, Klemperer, Walter and Szell, all “old school” conductors. Andrés Orozco-Estrada is right there with the old school conductors, slower, more relaxed.

Furtwängler is considered by many to be one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century – I agree – but unfortunately he did not live long enough to record in stereo, so the sound is harder to listen to.

1767: Haydn: Symphony No. 35 in Bb major (VIRTUOSO HORNS), age 35 GA

What a miracle this group is! I thought about buying their studio recordings, but this live recording is even better, and free. It’s always a bonus to see players performing and watching the conductor make it all happen. Perhaps start with Allegro, but the movements are all great!

Giovanni Antonini/Il Giardino Armonico

  1. Allegro – 0:14
  2. Andante in E♭ major – 7:26
  3. Menuet – Trio – 13:21
  4. Presto -16: 09

Instruments:

  • two oboes
  • bassoon
  • two horns
  • strings
  • continuo

1st movement:

The horns are spectacular, and listening to these players you have no idea how difficult these parts are!

2nd movement:

The winds get a rest. This is only strings, a typical slow movement otherwise.

3rd movement:

It’s a minuet. Again the horns are insanely high.

One of the interesting about minuets is that no one agrees how fast they should be. This one if rather fast and very energetic. In addition, in the trio (middle section) each beat is divided into three, so that you have nine fast notes in each measure, which makes it sound even faster.

4th movement:

This is really fast. It’s marked “presto”, which means very fast, but just how fast that marking is depends on the conductor. This is one of the main features of later Haydn symphonies, a very fast last movement. His idea was to leave the audience with a big finale, full of energy and fun.

Date:

The autograph score is “carefully” dated “December 10, 1767”. It has been speculated that this symphony was written to celebrate Prince Esterházy’s return from a visit to the Palace of Versailles.

Nickname – Virtuoso horns:

The horns are extremely high, so it takes amazing players to play the parts. So for now I used this for nickname. There are only two of them, but somehow it seems like more because they are so good.

1765: Haydn: Symphony No. 72 in D major (4 HORN SCALES), age 33

This symphony belongs to a brief time when Haydn had four horns to work with, which was for around one year, and actually less. The horn parts are insanely hard, and very cool. This has become one of my favorite Haydn symphonies. I would start with Allegro, which is just fun to listen to.

Christopher Hogwood/The Academy of Ancient Music

  1. Allegro – 0:00
  2. Andante – 5:49
  3. Menuet & Trio – 12:35
  4. Finale: Andante (Thema. Var. I–VI) -16:46

Instruments:

  • flute
  • two oboes
  • bassoon
  • four horns
  • strings

1st movement:

This is where you hear four horns, and all to great effect. The virtuoso horn writing is just amazing.

2st movement:

Now you hear solos, flute and violin Note the sound of the old flute is very different, kind of like mixing a modern flute with a recorder.

3rd movement:

The minuet begins and ends with the same phrase, and the ending is an echo. The strings are silent in the trio, which all the winds minus the flute.

4th movement:

The finale is a set of marching variations that features many soloists accompanied by strings. The first variation has a solo flute, the second a solo cello, the third a solo violin and the fourth a solo violone, which you can read about HERE. To my ear this sounds mostly like our bass violin (double bass.) Such bass solos are rather rare, so you can tell that Haydn was showing of his player!

The fifth variation is scored for oboe, two horns and strings while the sixth variation is for flute, oboe, bassoon, four horns and strings. The movement ends with a Presto coda in 6/8 time 8 with a final horn flourish.

Nickname:

There is none, so I’m calling this “horn scales”, and I’m making note of the fact that there are four, because Haydn normally did not have that many to work with. The scale work at the beginning is amazing.

Date:

There is no better example of how awful the number system is than this symphony. It was composed fifteen to twenty years before the neighboring works. It belongs with the “Horn Signal” symphony because it has four horns. But it could also be called “everyone gets a solo”, because in the last movement there are so many cool solos.

1931: Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major, age 56

Mr. Peabody Says:

Start here: Adagio assai, and likely you will fall in love with this enchanting melody. It is one of the most perfect things ever written, and Ravel’s mastery of instrumentation is astonishing. Supposedly he struggled with the opening theme, but listening to it you would never guess that.

Argerich/Emmanuel Krivine – Orchestre national de France, 2017

  1. Allegramente
  2. Adagio assai
  3. Presto

Benedetti Michelangeli/Ettore Gracis – Philharmonia Orchestra

This is my all time favorite recording from 1957.

Instruments:

  • piano solo
  • flute, piccolo, oboe, oboe, cor anglais, Eb clarinet, clarinet in Bb and A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in F, trumpet in C, trombone
  • timpani, triangle, snare drum, cymbals, bass drum, tamtam, wood block, whip, harp,
  • strings

Composition:

It was composed between 1929 and 1931. The concerto is in three movements and is heavily influenced by jazz, which Ravel had encountered on a concert tour of the United States in 1928.

1st movement

It opens with a single sharp whip-crack, followed by an exposition that contains five distinct themes. The development section – “a lively romp” – is followed by a cadenza-like passage leading to the recapitulation. Where a cadenza might be expected in such a concerto movement, Ravel writes three: first for harp, then for the woodwind, and finally for the piano; the last of these draws on the fifth theme of the exposition. An extended coda concludes the movement, bringing back some of the material from the development section and finishes with a series of descending major and minor triads.

2nd movement

In contrast with the preceding movement, it is a tranquil subject of Mozartian serenity written in ternary form. Ravel said of it, “That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!” The first theme is presented by the piano, unaccompanied. Ravel said he took as his model the theme from the Larghetto of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, but in an analysis of the work published in 2000 Michael Russ comments that whereas the Mozart melody unfolds across 20 bars, Ravel builds an even longer – 34-bar – melody, without repeating a single bar.

After thirty bars the solo flute enters with a C♯ and oboe, clarinet and flute carry the melody into the second theme. The cor anglais reintroduces the opening theme beneath the piano’s “delicate filigree in the high register”.

3rd movement

At just under four minutes in a typical performance it is much the shortest of the three.

 

1785: Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, age 29

Mitsuko Uchida, Piano & Conductor/Camerata Salzburg

This is just a fantastic performance and one of the most dynamic and red-blooded performances I’ve ever heard of this concerto. I’m also a huge fan of  pianists who conduct their own performances because it allows them to totally shape a conception. I just discovered this tonight, and it may be the best I’ve ever heard of this work. So in spite of all the things I don’t like to see, I recommend this video highly.

Total time: 31:25

Instruments:

  • solo piano
  • flute, two oboes, two bassoons
  • two horns, two trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

History:

The first performance took place at the Mehlgrube Casino in Vienna on 11 February 1785, with the composer as the soloist.

Mozart’s father’s opinion:

A few days after the first performance, the composer’s father, Leopold, visiting in Vienna, wrote to his daughter Nannerl about her brother’s recent success:

“I heard an excellent new piano concerto by Wolfgang, on which the copyist was still at work when we got here, and your brother didn’t even have time to play through the rondo because he had to oversee the copying operation.”

Minor key concertos:

It is the first of two piano concertos written in a minor key (No. 24 in C minor being the other).

One of Beethoven’s favorites:

The young Ludwig van Beethoven admired this concerto. Many different composers wrote cadenzas for it.

Pedal board:

This excerpt from the Wiki article is important:

One of Mozart’s favorite pianos that he played while he was living in Vienna had a pedal-board that was operated with the feet, like that of an organ. The fact that Mozart had a piano with a pedal-board is reported in a letter written by his father, Leopold, who visited his son while he lived in Vienna. Among Mozart’s piano works, none are explicitly written with a part for a pedal-board. However, according to Leopold’s report, at the first performance of Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor (K. 466), Mozart, who was the soloist and conductor, used his own piano, equipped with a pedal-board. Presumably the pedal-board was used to reinforce the left-hand part, or add lower notes than the standard keyboard could play. Because Mozart was also an expert on the organ, operating a pedal-board with his feet was no harder than using only his hands.