Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony: The Art of Moderation

Within Beethoven’s catalogue, Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major is sometimes overshadowed by its odd-numbered neighbors, the “Eroica” and the Fifth Symphony. Robert Schumann called it “a slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants.” It’s a testament to the sense of moderation that seems to characterize Beethoven’s symphonic journey. The odd-numbered symphonies are often ferocious, mighty and revolutionary, while the even-numbered works retreat into a world of sunny intimacy. Both offer equally rich rewards. …

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Beethoven’s “Consecration of the House” Overture: A 198-Year-Old Curtain-Raiser

A festive occasion took place in Vienna on the evening of October 3, 1822. With great fanfare, the newly remodeled Theater in der Josefstadt opened to the public. (Originally built in 1788, the theater is still in use). The Josefstadt’s director, Karl Friedrich Hensler, commissioned Beethoven to write an overture for the occasion. A theatrical paraphrase of The Ruin of Athens, for which Beethoven had written incidental music in 1811, was on the program. …

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Beethoven’s “Namensfeier” Overture: The First “Ode to Joy”

The story of Beethoven’s slow, painstaking compositional process is told in long, tortured, sketch-filled notebooks. In his lecture, How a Great Symphony Was Written, Leonard Bernstein notes that the melody which opens the Andante con moto of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony went through fourteen versions over the course of eight years. Bernstein allows us to hear a few of the musical ideas Beethoven rejected along the way. Phrase by phrase, we hear stunningly pedestrian and workmanlike …

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Beethoven’s Violin Concerto: Perlman, Barenboim, and the Berlin Philharmonic (1992 Live Performance)

It’s one of the great monuments of the violin repertoire—the Concerto that set the standard for all others that followed. Yet, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major was not received particularly well when it was premiered at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on December 23, 1806. It’s believed that Beethoven finished parts of the score so late that the soloist, Franz Clement, may have been sight-reading some passages in the concert. Additionally, …

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Beethoven’s Second Symphony: Unleashing a Force of Nature

1802 was not a good year for Ludwig van Beethoven. It was around this time that the 31-year-old Beethoven disclosed the persistent deterioration of his hearing to a childhood friend. In a letter to Franz Wegeler, a physician, he wrote of his fear and humiliation: For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf. In October …

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“Nine Variations on a March by Dressler”: Music by the 12-year-old Beethoven

Here is Beethoven’s first published work, written in 1782 when the composer was twelve years old. It’s a set of nine variations on a simple, stately march melody by Christian Ludwig Dressler (1734-1779), a now obscure German composer, operatic tenor, violinist, and music theorist. First, we hear Dressler’s original theme, which is infused with military fanfare rhythms. Filled with a playful, improvisatory spirit, Beethoven’s variations begin with sly embellishments. Each becomes more adventurous …

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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: Five Legendary Recordings

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995). Michelangeli has been called “one of the most enigmatic performers of the twentieth century.” A noted perfectionist, his concert repertoire was considered to be small, and he agreed to the release of relatively few recordings during his lifetime. He practiced eight to ten hours a day, telling students, “One has to work to feel your arms and back …

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