"Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance"

July 31, 2011

Listening to the complete Beethoven (5)

Opus 67: Symphony No. 5 in C minor (1807–1808). One of the most popular compositions in classical music, and one of the most often played symphonies. The first movement with the all-too well-known fate-motive remains impressive in its conciseness. The symphony travels from the darkness of this first movement to the light of the exuberant finale, something that Beethoven repeated in the Ninth. First performed in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterwards.

Opus 68: Symphony No. 6 in F major ("Pastoral") (1807–1808). The first movement sings of the joy of nature and is one of the most beautiful movements Beethoven wrote. The symphony was inspired again by Haydn, this time by the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons. Despite the programmatic elements as bird song and a storm, it is not a symphonic poem and all elements are well integrated in the symphonic structure. The journey here is not from fate to victory but from repose through high spirits and stormy weather to again repose.

Opus 69: Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major (1808). A lyrical sonata, as other works from this period. At the start, the cello enters softly and unaccompanied like the piano in the fourth concerto. The middle movement is an extended scherzo; a slow cantabile introduction precedes the sunny finale.

Opus 70: Two Piano Trios (1808). The first piano trios again since 1802.
No. 1: Piano Trio No. 5 in D major ("Ghost"). The first movement is characterized by a long, relaxed tune, but the modulations are quite unexpected. The second movement has a melodramatic  quality and gave the trio its nickname (Macbeth's ghosts?). The piano part is full of trills and tremolando. The finale is humorous and springs some harmonic surprises in the coda.
No. 2: Piano Trio No. 6 in E-flat major. This a sunny work with expansive themes, that has been somewhat unjustly overshadowed by its companion trio. There are four movements of which the third is a Landler.

Opus 71: Wind sextet in E-flat (1796). Again an older work, charming and delightful.

Opus 72: Fidelio, opera (c. 1803–05; Fidelio Overture composed 1814). Beethoven's only opera, on the theme of personal sacrifice and heroism. The opera tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio", rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison. The prisoner's chorus "O welcher Lust" embodies the ideals of the French Revolution of liberty and fraternity. In rescuing Florestan, Leonore shows what difference the bravery of one single person can make.

Opus 72a: Leonore (earlier version of Fidelio, with Leonore Overture No. 2) (1805)
Opus 72b: Leonore (earlier version of Fidelio, with Leonore Overture No. 3) (1806)
The two overtures to the opera that Beethoven considered as too symphonic. The 3rd is generally regarded as the best and is nowadays often played between both acts of the opera.

Opus 73: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major ("Emperor") (1809). Beethoven's last piano concerto is fully in the heroic mode. It is Beethoven's most popular concerto, but more conventional in form than the Fourth. The slow melody of the first movement is rapturous, as is the whole Adagio that follows.

Opus 74: String Quartet No. 10 in E-flat major ("Harp") (1809). The nickname "Harp" refers to the characteristic pizzicato sections in the allegro and was not by Beethoven himself. The dramatic first movement is followed by an adagio with a principal theme of great beauty. After the c minor scherzo the quartet is concluded by a set of variations.

Opus 75: Six Songs (1809). These songs demonstrate Beethoven's growing mastery in the form. The second song, Neue Liebe, for example is through-composed and full of exuberance. The third one, Es war einmal ein König, is playful and has a very memorable melody.

Opus 76: Six variations on an original theme for piano in D major (1809). The "original theme" is the same one that Beethoven later used for the so-called "Turkish March" in The Ruins of Athens.

Opus 77: Piano Fantasia in G minor (1809). Improvisatory material leads to variations on a simple tune. The free character of the opening material suggests that its origins may go back to the composer’s own improvised performances.

Opus 78: Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major (1809). A delightful and sunny sonata consisting of only two movements. Dedicated "A Therese" (its nickname) to Countess Therese Brunsvik.

Opus 79: Piano Sonata No. 25 in G major (1809). This is a "Sonata Facile," starting with a German dance, after which follow a barcarolle-style andante and a carefree rondo.

Opus 80: "Choral Fantasy" (Fantasia in C minor for piano, chorus, and orchestra) (1808). Usually considered as lesser Beethoven and decidedly in the popular mood. I saw a registration of the Proms where it was played to great effect. The piano starts with a fantasia, after which the orchestra joins and finally the chorus. The chorus about music as a symbol of beauty and joy also has similarities with the Finale of the Ninth Symphony.

Opus 81a: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major ("Les Adieux") (1809). The only sonata with extra-musical inspiration: the flight from Vienna of Beethoven's patron the Archduke Rudolph because of the impending French invasion of the city. Rather straightforwardly, "Farewell" is followed by "Absence" and "Reunion." Beethoven detested the French title his publisher stuck on the sonata - originally it was called "Das Lebewohl."

Opus 81b: Sextet in E-flat major (1795). An older work, but very entertaining music.

Opus 82: Four Ariettas and a Duet (1809). Five vocal works in Italian. There is a possibility this song collection has roots going back to 1801 when Beethoven was exercising his skills in setting Italian text under the guidance of Salieri.

Opus 83: Three Songs (1810). Three German songs. No. 1: "Wonne der Wehmut" is a warm-hearted, understated setting. No. 2: "Sehnsucht" has many delightful touches, such as the constantly varying accompaniment.

Opus 84: Egmont, overture and incidental music (1810). Music for a play by Goethe about the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain. One of the leaders, Count Egmont, is beheaded but final victory is won. A very effective symphonic overture.

Opus 85: Oratorio: Christus am Ölberge (Christ on the Mount of Olives) (1803). Dramatic oratorio portraying the emotional turmoil of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to his crucifixion. It concludes at the point of Jesus personally accepting his fate, placing the emphasis on his own decision. First performed in 1803, but only published in 1811, therefore the high opus number. The most popular part is the "Welten singen..." finale chorus.