Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on or around this date in 1770. Although the exact date remains unclear, Beethoven’s baptism was registered for December 17, 1770. At the time, Catholic officials required newborn babies to be baptized within twenty-four hours of birth. Strangely, throughout his life Beethoven insisted that his actual year of birth was 1772, despite evidence to the contrary. In celebration, here is the late Mariss Jansons’ vibrant recording of Beethoven’s Symphony …

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Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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Late Beethoven Revelations: String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131

In his 1998 book, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, the late literary critic Harold Bloom made the bold argument that Shakespeare “went beyond all precedents (even Chaucer) and invented the human as we continue to know it.” According to Bloom, Shakespeare’s complex and multifaceted characters “take human nature to some of its limits, without violating those limits” and open up “new modes of consciousness.” The drama that unfolds in the lines of …

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Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto: Monumental and Heroic

Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto begins with a bold and unexpected announcement. Four chords in the orchestra, outlining the most elemental harmonic progression (I-IV-V-I), stand as mighty pillars. Each initiates an expansive cadenza from the solo piano. A cadenza at the beginning of a concerto? This is not what the first audiences would have been expecting. These first bars establish the piano as a heroic, convention-defying protagonist. The orchestra launches into the expected introduction only …

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Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture: A Turbulent and Tragic Drama

The Viennese dramatist Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 tragedy, Coriolan, depicts the ultimate conflict between war and an alternate path of compassion, peace, and transcendence. In the story, the proud and vengeful general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, filled with feelings of betrayal, returns to Rome with an army made up of his former enemies, determined to invade and destroy the city. Reaching Rome’s gates, he abandons his plan at the pleadings of his mother, …

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Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata: Five Key Recordings

Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47—better known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata—was first performed on May 24, 1803. 216 years ago today, Beethoven and the Afro-European violinist George Bridgetower (1778-1860) premiered this convention-shattering music at Vienna’s Augarten Theatre. Beethoven was so late in completing the manuscript that Bridgetower was forced to sightread the performance, at times looking over the composer’s shoulder at the full score. Originally, the manuscript was inscribed with the lighthearted …

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Beth Levin Plays Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas

Beethoven said that his final three piano sonatas, written between 1820 and 1822, were conceived “in a single breath.”  In April, 2012, pianist Beth Levin gave what has been described as a “revelatory” performance of these three Sonatas (Op. 109, 110, and 111) in the intimate setting of New York’s Faust Harrison Pianos. Luckily, this special concert, performed on an 1887 Steinway, was recorded and released a year later on the Navona label (“A Single Breath: …

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