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 “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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Mahler’s Seventh Symphony: A Journey Through the Night

The Seventh may be the most strange and enigmatic of Gustav Mahler’s nine completed symphonies. Its five symmetrically arranged movements take us on a mysterious and haunting journey into the night. This is music that attracted the young Arnold Schoenberg, who heard the crumbling of romanticism in the Seventh Symphony’s daring and sometimes disquieting modernism. Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony, completed in 1906—a year after Mahler completed the Seventh Symphony—contains many themes built …

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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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