Author Topic: Beethoven Symphonies on Record  (Read 31351 times)

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Offline Handelian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #140 on: November 05, 2020, 06:24:56 AM »
One of the aspects is that even though a user might be totally deaf, the metronome is visually/physically indicating speed as well, as further indication. As an early propagator for some HIP ideas regarding the symphonies, Scherchen for example succeeded in playing the indicated metronome markings back in the 60s - 50s, including with the rather provincial orchestras such as the Svizzera Italiana. Today's it's more common and perfected say with Gardiner & his specialized HIP orchestra.

Some have suggested that maybe Beethoven's own metronome had a fault, but it sounds unlikely to me - and also generally, why wouldn't someone have objected then, which to my knowledge doesn't seem to have been the case?

The fact is that historically nobody seems to have played them at those speeds. No one played the hammerklavier Sonata at the speed specified. It is practically unobtainable.

Offline Brian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #141 on: November 05, 2020, 06:38:36 AM »
The fact is that historically nobody seems to have played them at those speeds. No one played the hammerklavier Sonata at the speed specified. It is practically unobtainable.
Researching in the British Library I came across the notes of a conductor, Sir George Smart, who premiered several Beethoven symphonies in London, who traveled to Vienna to consult with Beethoven. He didn't notate his tempos specifically, but he did obsessively save every concert program and write down the time each piece took in the margins. I don't know if he consulted a watch while conducting or what, but it was clearly important to him.

Here was a post I wrote about it at the time here on GMG:

I've recently unearthed, at the British Library, a trove of concert programs kept by the English conductor Sir George Smart, active in the 1810s-30s, who was a major Beethoven advocate, leading the English premiere of Beethoven's Ninth and at one point traveling to Vienna to ask the composer about the proper tempos for all the symphonies. Beethoven composed a short unpublished canon in his presence (16th September 1825). For concerts he conducted, Smart not only kept the programs, but made little notations of some of the timings of the works which most interested him, as well as how long the interval was and when everybody got to go home.

These two struck me as interesting:

5th of May, 1823. Sinfonia Pastorale – Beethoven. [Handwritten note:] “32 M. No repeats.”
March 23, 1829: Sinfonia Pastorale – Beethoven. [Handwritten note:] “All through but no repeats 32 ½ minutes.”

Karajan '62 (no repeats) is 36 minutes. Norrington LCP (w/ repeats) is 40, Bruggen (also with repeats) 42, and the ultimate romantic, Barenboim, takes 45.

On March 1, 1830, the Sinfonia in C minor was 26 minutes, though in 1827 it had been 31 (no mention of repeats). In March 1833, "Sinfonia No. VII." was "40 m." including "Slow movement Enc'd:" and a marginal note informs us that the encore was partly because the symphony was to be followed by an aria from Cosi, but the soprano arrived very late indeed, "just after we began the Encore of the...Beethoven" . Apparently the reason for her delay was that she was also performing in another concert at another theatre that night!

It's very interesting seeing how programs were constructed. One night in 1825 began with Beethoven's 4th ("in Bb 31 minutes"), which was immediately followed by "La ci darem"! And here's the second half of the March 7, 1825 Philharmonic Society concert:

Sinfonia in C minor - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Beethoven
Aria, "Il mio tesoro," (Il Don Giovanni) - - - - - - - Mozart
Introduction and variations, Corno obligato - - - Schuncke
Scena, "Softly sighs" (Der Freischutz*) - - - - - - Weber
Overture, Preciosa - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Weber
[*sung in English. All German arias were translated; there are numerous arias sung from a Mozart work called "Il Flauto Magico" ;D , and also see below]

Another concert begins with "Eroica" and continues with Cherubini's Ave Maria and a "Fantasia Harp"!

Oddly, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography says "Smart conducted the first English performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony at the Philharmonic Society in 1826," an error, as it was actually in March 21, 1825. Smart's handwritten note says, "New Grand Characteristic Sinfonia (M.S.) with Vocal Finale - Beethoven. Composed expressly for this Society _ (Italian Words [!]) Formed 2d Act of the Concert." The performance "Began 22m past 10" and the concert "over 26m past 11" - Smart's note says "1 H 04 M."


Quite obviously, those timings would be unusually fast even today in every case but the Ninth, which now usually lasts 64ish in HIP readings. Perhaps this helps explain why orchestras back then were so notoriously scruffy!

Offline Brian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #142 on: November 05, 2020, 06:46:39 AM »
I personally am grateful nobody in the recording era has attempted a 32-minute Pastoral...only Scherchen has ever come close with his 34-minute version (to my knowledge). If he'd quickened up the slow movement, the villagers' dance, and given just a tiny bit more flow to the finale, he probably could have made it! If your goal is to match Sir George Smart's speeds, Scherchen's first movement is truly ideal.

Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #143 on: November 05, 2020, 06:56:49 AM »
The fact is that historically nobody seems to have played them at those speeds. No one played the hammerklavier Sonata at the speed specified. It is practically unobtainable.

https://simpk.de/en/_5_Autograph_Tempo_in_Beethoven's%20%E2%80%9CHammerklavier_Sonata%E2%80%9D_1321.html

"... we see that very few pianists come close to Beethoven's half note = 138: Artur Schnabel (1935) and at best Michael Korstick (2003) and Walter Gieseking (1949) (...) The majority of pianists remain in the range suggested by performance editions and other work commentary, from those of Ignaz Moscheles (1841) to William S. Newman (1971) (...) Only Carl Czerny, who studied the sonata repeatedly with Beethoven and who premiered the piece, was apparently of the opinion that the tempo half note = 138 was possible and also made sense aesthetically. He writes (...):

The principle difficulty comes from the tremendously fast and fiery tempo given by the author himself, and then in the performance of the melodic but polyphonic passages to be performed strictly Legato, in the clean performance of the passages, tensions and leaps and finally in the endurance that all of this requires. All of the individual difficulties require attentive practice, and the conception of the grand, whole first movement, kept more in the symphony style develops after repeated performance then after it has been learned, accorded the proper amount of time (...)

we find a gradual change of attitude since 1970 (...) There are an increasing number of voices calling for the feasibility of the tempo, or at least suggesting that one could come close, and who also point out that the work develops a very different and much more appropriate character at the quicker tempo.
"
« Last Edit: November 05, 2020, 06:58:39 AM by MusicTurner »

Offline Handelian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #144 on: November 05, 2020, 09:14:27 AM »
https://simpk.de/en/_5_Autograph_Tempo_in_Beethoven's%20%E2%80%9CHammerklavier_Sonata%E2%80%9D_1321.html

"... we see that very few pianists come close to Beethoven's half note = 138: Artur Schnabel (1935) and at best Michael Korstick (2003) and Walter Gieseking (1949) (...) The majority of pianists remain in the range suggested by performance editions and other work commentary, from those of Ignaz Moscheles (1841) to William S. Newman (1971) (...) Only Carl Czerny, who studied the sonata repeatedly with Beethoven and who premiered the piece, was apparently of the opinion that the tempo half note = 138 was possible and also made sense aesthetically. He writes (...):

The principle difficulty comes from the tremendously fast and fiery tempo given by the author himself, and then in the performance of the melodic but polyphonic passages to be performed strictly Legato, in the clean performance of the passages, tensions and leaps and finally in the endurance that all of this requires. All of the individual difficulties require attentive practice, and the conception of the grand, whole first movement, kept more in the symphony style develops after repeated performance then after it has been learned, accorded the proper amount of time (...)

we find a gradual change of attitude since 1970 (...) There are an increasing number of voices calling for the feasibility of the tempo, or at least suggesting that one could come close, and who also point out that the work develops a very different and much more appropriate character at the quicker tempo.
"

Confirms what I said. Schnabel tried it too fast and made a complete mess of it. It should be a lesson that two pianist with transcendental techniques - Solomon and Pollini - both came in at 102. Beethoven's markings are often all over the place - like his rehearsals were! That doesn't mean we ignore them but it means we don't slavishly adopt them. Even Brautigam on a fortepiano is the same. Stravinsky once told Colin Davis that he thought his tempo for a certain movement of his was too fast. When Davis replied that is what Stravinsky had marked the composer said, "That is just the beginning!"

Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #145 on: November 05, 2020, 09:40:34 AM »
Confirms what I said. Schnabel tried it too fast and made a complete mess of it. It should be a lesson that two pianist with transcendental techniques - Solomon and Pollini - both came in at 102. Beethoven's markings are often all over the place - like his rehearsals were! That doesn't mean we ignore them but it means we don't slavishly adopt them. Even Brautigam on a fortepiano is the same. Stravinsky once told Colin Davis that he thought his tempo for a certain movement of his was too fast. When Davis replied that is what Stravinsky had marked the composer said, "That is just the beginning!"

The link I gave does only list some of the Hammerklavier recordings, giving some background info about the work's reception since Czerny and later on. Schnabel often tends to be rather sketchy in his performances, Solomon and Pollini tend to avoid extreme tempi in general.
Beveridge Webster for example seems faster than Schnabel (8 mins 44 versus 8:52), and it works better technically for him
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFzP0h3p1-I

Stewart Goodyear, also fast, is 9:16 though.

« Last Edit: November 05, 2020, 10:03:04 AM by MusicTurner »

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #146 on: November 05, 2020, 10:15:20 AM »
I think the main problem is that nobody plays always 20% (or some other set percentage) more slowly than the Beethoven MM marks. E.g. almost everybody plays the scherzo movements of the symphonies as indicated or actually faster. (Test: Would you know without looking it up which scherzo has the fastest indication in the Beethoven symphonies? and by a some margin 132 for the bar instead of typically 108-116 and which is the slowest (discounting the menuetto of the 8th) This is even mostly consistent in the italian markings with the slowest being merely "allegro" and the fastest "presto" and allegro molto/vivace etc. in between)
There are also a few fast movements "traditionally" played often faster than indicated (finale of the 7th is often closer to 80-82 for the half note than 72). OTOH one has the extremely fast marks like in op.106,i and most people seem to find the markings for most slow movements very fast. (And these slow movements are usually playable at the faster speeds, they just don't always conform to our notion of adagio.

So the puzzle is why would Beethoven notate unproblematic tempi for the scherzi and some other movements and extremely fast ones for some others? Sure, there may be a few real mistakes with the tempo markings (there almost certainly are in the 9th symphony) but generally they are quite consistent.
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Offline Handelian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #147 on: November 05, 2020, 11:18:17 PM »
I think the conclusion we come to is the same as John Swafford in his Beethoven biography that the metronome markings are frankly sometimes all over the place and they are not to be taken too slavishly. The main point is to get the spirit of what Beethoven meant rather than a letter of trying to get a rushed tempo. There is one tempo in the Turkish section of the ninth which is too slow as marked. We would imagine if Beethoven actually heard it he would’ve changed it. We live in an age where it seems that authenticates want to allow everything to rule apart from musical sense. The great composers were not like that and would adjust the music to suit the halls they played in, the instruments they had available and their singers. They were pragmatists. I think it’s about time we started being pragmatic while appreciating what the hip movement has brought in terms of understanding. There is no such thing as authenticity in music - the spirit is more important than the letter.

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #148 on: November 06, 2020, 04:13:43 AM »
Beethoven’s metronome marks are accurate as an indicator of his intentions. For example when he marked the first movement of Op. 106 at half note = 138 he meant that the movement should be played at a fast tempo, which in turn gives it a dramatic, impassioned and wild character due to the speed with which the shifts in harmony and dynamics must be executed. Beethoven was clear that a metronome mark should only apply to the opening bars of a work and “one cannot put a number on sentiment”, that the tempo of any piece should change a dozen times over the course of the piece to reflect the sentiment of the music but these changes should be carried out in a manner “only as to be detected by the most sensitive ear”. The tempo of half note = 138 in this case is perfectly playable with a bit of practice, and certainly appropriate for the first thirty seconds or so until the first ritardando. Among pianists who take Beethoven’s instructions in context of his own self declared performance practice, Peter Serkin stands out as someone who uses 138 as a default tempo but slows down for more expressive passages and speeds up for more brilliant ones.

The flaw of the article linked above is that it attempts to measure “average tempo” over the entire course of the movement when in fact the idea of a metronomic tempo maintained throughout a movement (as in eg Mikhail Rudy’s recording, where the entire movement is taken at a strict tempo of half note = 123-124) was not something Beethoven ever would have endorsed.

As such, Scherchen’s Westminster recordings of the Beethoven symphonies are probably the most “HIP” as they take his metronome markings as given for the opening of each movement but subsequently treat the tempo with a great deal of flexibility. The flaw of Chailly (who I still quite like) is his metronomic tempi, not his fast speeds; like most modern performers, he plays Beethoven as though he were Stravinsky.

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #149 on: November 06, 2020, 05:16:38 AM »
AFAIK there is also some evidence that "espressivo" or similar meant slowing down for (late) Beethoven, because in one of the late sonatas he somewhere wrote "a tempo" or "tempo primo" although there was no explicitly ritenuto or rallentando before, only "espressivo".
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
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Offline Brian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #150 on: November 06, 2020, 06:22:00 AM »
(Test: Would you know without looking it up which scherzo has the fastest indication in the Beethoven symphonies? and by a some margin 132 for the bar instead of typically 108-116 and which is the slowest
This question fascinated me and this morning lying awake in bed I mentally played bits of all eight scherzos and tapped my finger; I'd start a mental snippet of one, get tapping, and switch to another scherzo to see how the tempos lined up in my head. The result of course is not knowably the composer's intention - the result was an expression of how I personally feel each scherzo should go.

Anyway, in my head, #5 is the slowest, then #4 and #9 roughly together, then #6 only slightly faster, and then 1-3 and 7 were all kind of grouped together in a big faster bunch, where if I tapped a consistent tempo and played through all four with the tapping dictating the music, none of them sounded wrong to me. If I had to guess, I would guess that #1 is meant to be the fastest, just because of the details in 3 and 7 which get blurred at the speed which feels proper to me in 1.

Offline Handelian

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #151 on: November 06, 2020, 07:01:35 AM »
AFAIK there is also some evidence that "espressivo" or similar meant slowing down for (late) Beethoven, because in one of the late sonatas he somewhere wrote "a tempo" or "tempo primo" although there was no explicitly ritenuto or rallentando before, only "espressivo".

Historical evidence suggests that Beethoven was pretty flexible in tempi when he was conducting himself

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #152 on: November 06, 2020, 08:27:55 AM »
This question fascinated me and this morning lying awake in bed I mentally played bits of all eight scherzos and tapped my finger; I'd start a mental snippet of one, get tapping, and switch to another scherzo to see how the tempos lined up in my head. The result of course is not knowably the composer's intention - the result was an expression of how I personally feel each scherzo should go.

Anyway, in my head, #5 is the slowest, then #4 and #9 roughly together, then #6 only slightly faster, and then 1-3 and 7 were all kind of grouped together in a big faster bunch, where if I tapped a consistent tempo and played through all four with the tapping dictating the music, none of them sounded wrong to me. If I had to guess, I would guess that #1 is meant to be the fastest, just because of the details in 3 and 7 which get blurred at the speed which feels proper to me in 1.

Yes, the 5th "Allegro" is the slowest at 96 (and it is rather different in mood than all the others). The 7th has the "Presto" with 132 bars/minute.

The others are mostly so close together, that it is to be expected that conductors would not always do the differences

100: 2 and 4 "Allegro"
108: 1 and 6 "Allegro" - Beethoven wrote "allegro molto e vivace" in the 1st probably because the movement was still called "menuetto" and the "speedy" indication is to show that it really isn't one (although many Haydn minuettos were in whole bars but usually more like a fast waltz, say 60-70 bars/minute, not 100)
116: 3 and 9, "Allegro vivace" and "Molto vivace"
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline amw

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #153 on: November 06, 2020, 02:25:54 PM »
AFAIK there is also some evidence that "espressivo" or similar meant slowing down for (late) Beethoven, because in one of the late sonatas he somewhere wrote "a tempo" or "tempo primo" although there was no explicitly ritenuto or rallentando before, only "espressivo".
Yes, that’s in op. 109.

Offline Daverz

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Re: Beethoven Symphonies on Record
« Reply #154 on: November 10, 2020, 12:44:50 PM »
Has anyone heard the Symphonies set conducted by Joe Hisaishi with the Nagano Chamber Orchestra?  Apparently very HIP influenced.  It got a very positive review in Fanfare.