Author Topic: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas  (Read 944666 times)

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Offline Todd

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4620 on: July 23, 2022, 07:50:27 AM »
Kempff seems to have a special affinity for Op 28, at least for me.  All four recorded versions are top notch.
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4621 on: July 23, 2022, 09:32:27 AM »
Hi premont!

Stereo DG - Op. 28, 101, 110, 111.

I agree that these may be the cream of the set, particularly op 28. But I think many of the others are almost as good. Op. 2/1, 10/2, 14/2, 26, 31/2, 31/3, 78 and the slow movement of op.106. And generally I find the set more musically satisfying and rewarding than the efforts of many sets from more technically gifted pianists, eg. Goode, Lewis, Yokoyama, Ciccolini, Gieseking and even Gulda.
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Offline George

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4622 on: July 23, 2022, 04:04:29 PM »


I've now compared the Backhaus mono and stereo sets and have listed my findings below. I'd like to address a few quick points first. The more I compared, the more I felt that the sound of the stereo was not only a great deal better than the mono, I felt that the beauty of his playing was hard to separate from the actual sound quality. The stereo set has a beautiful sound that seems to highlight Backhaus's playing, and especially the tone of his instrument, in an attractive light. Still, I did my best to separate this from the actual performances, so the results below represent my best attempt at judging only the performances of these two sets. Since the mono Op. 106 is used in both sets, I only had 31 sonatas to compare. In the end, I thought the performance of 8 of the sonatas was better on the mono set, while 23 of the sonatas were better in the stereo set.     

Op.2/1 - Stereo a bit better.
Op. 2/2 - The mono is notably better. While I find parts of the stereo version to be a bit clumsy, I hear none of that in the mono.
Op. 2/3 - The mono is much better, superb energy in the first movement. Impressive playing here.
Op. 7 -  The mono has a slower slow movement, which is good because I find the stereo to be too quick. I like the mono a bit more.
Op. 10 - The mono is a bit better in all three, more solid playing.   
Op. 14 - The mono is a bit better in each, again more solid playing.
Op. 22 - The mono is a bit better, but it is close.
Op. 26 - Stereo
Op. 27 - Stereo for both
Op. 28 - Stereo
Op. 31- Stereo for all three
Op. 49 - Stereo for both
Op. 53 - Stereo
Op. 54 - Stereo
Op. 57 - Stereo
Op. 78 - Stereo
Op. 79 - Stereo
Op. 81a - Stereo
Op. 90 - Stereo
Op. 101 - Stereo
Op. 106 - Mono only
Op. 109 - Stereo
Op. 110 - Stereo
Op. 111 - Stereo
« Last Edit: July 23, 2022, 04:13:18 PM by George »
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Offline George

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4623 on: July 24, 2022, 06:27:54 AM »
I agree that these may be the cream of the set, particularly op 28. But I think many of the others are almost as good. Op. 2/1, 10/2, 14/2, 26, 31/2, 31/3, 78 and the slow movement of op.106. And generally I find the set more musically satisfying and rewarding than the efforts of many sets from more technically gifted pianists, eg. Goode, Lewis, Yokoyama, Ciccolini, Gieseking and even Gulda.

Thanks, I have some time tomorrow and will revisit those Kempff stereo recordings. I do recall listening to just the slow movement of his stereo Op. 106 one day, sitting in a park, and found it absolutely gorgeous.

I had the Goode and Ciccolini and let them go, but the Gulda Amadeo/Brilliant Classics set remains in my top 3 Beethoven Sonata sets. 
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Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4624 on: July 24, 2022, 06:52:24 AM »
op.106 in the stereo set is the Beethoven/Kempff highlight for me, especially the slow movement (together with the Emperor Concerto/Leitner).
I also have the earlier Decca mono LP version, but it didn't appeal in the same way.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2022, 06:54:09 AM by MusicTurner »

Offline André

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4625 on: July 24, 2022, 11:27:27 AM »
I’ve finished listening to the Claude Frank cycle. It’s musical, sturdy and sometimes probing, but not really illuminating. One feature I like in this cycle is the way each disc features sonatas from different periods, sort of a single disc recital concept. Frank’s approach reminds me of Anton Kuerti’s, although the latter is more systematic in his brusque, irascible conception of Beethoven. The sound is okay.

Commencing Michael Korstick’s cycle. Disc 1 down, with the works presented chronologically this time (the 3 opus 2 sonatas). I find the playing very solid and the sound is much more present. Korstick too adheres to a tensile, volatile view of the music. The slow movement of sonata 2 was a real highlight.

Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4626 on: July 24, 2022, 12:40:03 PM »
I’ve finished listening to the Claude Frank cycle. It’s musical, sturdy and sometimes probing, but not really illuminating. One feature I like in this cycle is the way each disc features sonatas from different periods, sort of a single disc recital concept. Frank’s approach reminds me of Anton Kuerti’s, although the latter is more systematic in his brusque, irascible conception of Beethoven. The sound is okay.

Commencing Michael Korstick’s cycle. Disc 1 down, with the works presented chronologically this time (the 3 opus 2 sonatas). I find the playing very solid and the sound is much more present. Korstick too adheres to a tensile, volatile view of the music. The slow movement of sonata 2 was a real highlight.

Compared to Kuerti's contrieved version I find Frank's interpretation very natural. I have listened to Frank a bit recently and find him very musical and illuminating. BTW I try to avoid a direct comparison of recordings. When you don't find Frank illuminating it may be because others already have done similar things, but I don't find this detracts from Frank's version because every version must be considered as an individual integrated whole (maybe a bit clumsy expressed on my part (English isn't my first tongue), but I trust that you understand my point).
« Last Edit: July 24, 2022, 12:51:32 PM by (: premont :) »
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Offline (: premont :)

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4627 on: July 24, 2022, 01:06:05 PM »
I had the Goode and Ciccolini and let them go, but the Gulda Amadeo/Brilliant Classics set remains in my top 3 Beethoven Sonata sets.

I have never understood the praise of Gulda's version. Yes, he masters the sonatas technically and more than that, but on the musical level I often find him sub par, with a tendency to rush through the music particularly in fast movements. In some of the slow movements he is more reflective, but this doesn't make up for the other shortcomings. I rate Backhaus and Kempff very much higher than Gulda, because their purpose of playing the sonatas is much more than trying to get through the music as fast as possible. Yes, for musical reasons Gulda isn't but second tier IMO (Todd's classification).
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Offline George

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4628 on: July 24, 2022, 04:33:00 PM »
I have never understood the praise of Gulda's version. Yes, he masters the sonatas technically and more than that, but on the musical level I often find him sub par, with a tendency to rush through the music particularly in fast movements. In some of the slow movements he is more reflective, but this doesn't make up for the other shortcomings. I rate Backhaus and Kempff very much higher than Gulda, because their purpose of playing the sonatas is much more than trying to get through the music as fast as possible. Yes, for musical reasons Gulda isn't but second tier IMO (Todd's classification).

What I don't like about Kempff and to some extent Backhaus, the slowish fast movements and the "old" feel of their playing, is what I like about Gulda - nice and energetic fast movements and a feeling that this is a youthful Beethoven. Not the only way to do things, but one I highly enjoy. I guess what you hear as "getting through the music as fast as possible" I hear as someone greatly enjoying the music that they are playing, kind of like Gould with Bach.   

Someone who seems to have some of Kempff's qualities, especially the beauty in playing, is Lucchesini's cycle. Here I think it works splendidly. He's another in my top three LvB sets, if not my top.

Not saying I am right in any objective sense, my friend, just wanted to share/explain my preferences. And while I have had sets come and go in my collection, Kempff's and Backhaus's will be staying for the duration.   
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Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4629 on: July 24, 2022, 06:03:32 PM »
I’ve finished listening to the Claude Frank cycle. It’s musical, sturdy and sometimes probing, but not really illuminating. One feature I like in this cycle is the way each disc features sonatas from different periods, sort of a single disc recital concept. Frank’s approach reminds me of Anton Kuerti’s, although the latter is more systematic in his brusque, irascible conception of Beethoven. The sound is okay.

Commencing Michael Korstick’s cycle. Disc 1 down, with the works presented chronologically this time (the 3 opus 2 sonatas). I find the playing very solid and the sound is much more present. Korstick too adheres to a tensile, volatile view of the music. The slow movement of sonata 2 was a real highlight.

I culled Frank's cycle as unengaging, and kept Kuerti and Korstick. I don't see much similarity between Kuerti and Frank however; Kuerti is too indididual in his style and ~sound, I think. The highlight in Kuerti is probably Der Sturm.

I like Gulda in the concertos/Stein set, but his various sonata recordings mostly leave me rather cold.
« Last Edit: July 24, 2022, 06:11:56 PM by MusicTurner »

Offline Holden

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4630 on: July 24, 2022, 06:05:54 PM »
I have never understood the praise of Gulda's version. Yes, he masters the sonatas technically and more than that, but on the musical level I often find him sub par, with a tendency to rush through the music particularly in fast movements. In some of the slow movements he is more reflective, but this doesn't make up for the other shortcomings. I rate Backhaus and Kempff very much higher than Gulda, because their purpose of playing the sonatas is much more than trying to get through the music as fast as possible. Yes, for musical reasons Gulda isn't but second tier IMO (Todd's classification).

I'm of the same opinion. I bought the complete Amadeo(?) set and try as I might, as soon as he got past the early period sonatas I lost interest and I did really try to like them. Yes, there was the odd well played slow movement but generally the impression I got was that he just wanted to get through them as quickly as possible. I did get a chance to audition the first set he did for Orfeo and this is the one I like the best out of the three. I have a Gulda box set that I'll never listen to again if anyone is interested. Strangely enough, I really like his WTC.
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Offline MusicTurner

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4631 on: July 24, 2022, 06:17:11 PM »
I'm of the same opinion. I bought the complete Amadeo(?) set and try as I might, as soon as he got past the early period sonatas I lost interest and I did really try to like them. Yes, there was the odd well played slow movement but generally the impression I got was that he just wanted to get through them as quickly as possible. I did get a chance to audition the first set he did for Orfeo and this is the one I like the best out of the three. I have a Gulda box set that I'll never listen to again if anyone is interested. Strangely enough, I really like his WTC.

I agree about early Gulda being often the most interesting. I don't like his WTC, but for example the early Debussy Preludes etc. sets, and the Chopin 1st Concerto/Boult (great sense of line and progression, yet flexibility in tempi, also some peculiar details in the orchestra, via the Balakirev version !).

There's a good Membran 10 CD box with that stuff, including some early Beethoven sonata recordings (I missed the opportunity of getting an inexpensive Orfeo set).
« Last Edit: July 24, 2022, 08:58:11 PM by MusicTurner »

Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4632 on: July 24, 2022, 10:25:43 PM »
What I don't like about Kempff and to some extent Backhaus, the slowish fast movements and the "old" feel of their playing, is what I like about Gulda - nice and energetic fast movements and a feeling that this is a youthful Beethoven. Not the only way to do things, but one I highly enjoy. I guess what you hear as "getting through the music as fast as possible"
As a lot of this music is youthful and energetic (roughly all up to op.31), Gulda's approach fits very well. I also like him in the two more "objective/classicist" late sonatas, 106 and 111.

Quote
Not saying I am right in any objective sense, my friend, just wanted to share/explain my preferences. And while I have had sets come and go in my collection, Kempff's and Backhaus's will be staying for the duration.
I have heard only to about a half dozen sonatas by each but I find both Wilhelms among the most overrated Beethoven players ever. (And I grew up with reading accolades of Kempff as "grand old man", although I guess Arrau and Brendel were more heavily marketed in the 1980s).
Backhaus is similarly "cool" as Gulda, just not as energetic. Kempff is for me mostly just "lame", not in the sense of slow but of lacking any extremes of playing or expression the music seems to demand. He makes the music appear small. It's not Kinderszenen...
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4633 on: July 29, 2022, 09:01:03 AM »
As a lot of this music is youthful and energetic (roughly all up to op.31), Gulda's approach fits very well. I also like him in the two more "objective/classicist" late sonatas, 106 and 111.
I have heard only to about a half dozen sonatas by each but I find both Wilhelms among the most overrated Beethoven players ever. (And I grew up with reading accolades of Kempff as "grand old man", although I guess Arrau and Brendel were more heavily marketed in the 1980s).
Backhaus is similarly "cool" as Gulda, just not as energetic. Kempff is for me mostly just "lame", not in the sense of slow but of lacking any extremes of playing or expression the music seems to demand. He makes the music appear small. It's not Kinderszenen...

Just a contrasting opinion, not trying to force your mind on anything I've written below. I find Hammerklavier and op. 111 lean quite into the tumultuous nature of what I associate with the romantic era. I am actually surprised to see three other people feel the same way I do about Gulda (Amadeo), I thought I was the lone opinion that thought these were superficial and lacking any great insight into the late sonatas.

Kempff was the second cycle I heard after Arrau and I did not care for it either. His interpretations slowly grew on me, as I said in the Annie Fischer thread his studio recordings from the 1920s through 1940s were among my most played Beethoven Piano Sonatas in the last couple of years. I have heard Kempff referred to as small scale, and that I can agree with, it sounds to me like "chamber music" Beethoven which for me an interesting approach to the music, an alternate view.

As for Backhaus I find more than just his tempi, there is much that is interesting in his piano playing. I don't know if this was just how he knew to play piano, or he was doing it on purpose but it's very much a different style of playing from Kempff and his Austro-German peers at the time. Like his left hand playing is not always in sync with the right, and his emphasis on the downbeat not always being where we would expect it: https://youtu.be/MyK86fEDbCU . I came to him with the stereo cycle but didn't really understand why Backhaus was so revered. It was after hearing the mono Decca cycle and how Backhaus sounds more spontaneous and less measured that I came to really appreciate what he was doing (I personally care more about interpretation than recording quality). Interestingly many of his later live recordings sound more like Backhaus on the mono cycle (and why I always keep an eye out for these) than the stereo cycle with how inspired and a bit more off the cuff his playing sounds. I don't hear him as cool like Gulda, but instead rigid and unwavering but for me still has that great late Beethoven sound world.

(And to tie off the big Wilhelms, just listened to Furtwängler in one of my favorite works :laugh: )
« Last Edit: July 29, 2022, 09:04:56 AM by hvbias »
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4634 on: July 30, 2022, 12:25:54 AM »
op.106 and 111 are formally far more classicist than opp. 101, 109, 110. That's what I meant. op.57 is also "tumultous" but that does not make it un-classical. I admit that some of my fondness for Gulda might be that it was a recording I got rather early (although for most sonatas it was more like the 3rd recording I heard, not the first, I had the Gilels box and most sonatas cobbled together with different pianists before I got the Gulda in the late 1990s) and listened to a lot in the past. It's also that 20 years ago Gulda's was about the only easily findable fast (in movements 1+3) op.106.

A few day ago I listened to Backhaus/stereo op.13, 27/2, 57 and 81a and I liked it more than last time, maybe op.81a best. op.13 had an uncommon slowing down for a subsidiary theme in the 1st movement I found a romantic touch that didn't really fit with his general approach (and then the 2nd movement was very fleet). I would call these 4 mostly good to very good, "solid" interpretations, but I don't quite get why they should be very special or among the very best.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4635 on: July 30, 2022, 04:40:59 AM »
op.106 and 111 are formally far more classicist than opp. 101, 109, 110. That's what I meant.

Hmm. I'll give you op.106 as a good solid 4-movement work. But I'm not sure what your criteria are for the others. For example op.109 starts with an excellent sonata form. It was being made to realise that it was sonata form that made me love it more. I guess Beethoven manages to make it not sound like what you'd expect for a sonata form, but it is.
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4636 on: July 30, 2022, 08:02:25 AM »
Hmm. I'll give you op.106 as a good solid 4-movement work. But I'm not sure what your criteria are for the others. For example op.109 starts with an excellent sonata form. It was being made to realise that it was sonata form that made me love it more. I guess Beethoven manages to make it not sound like what you'd expect for a sonata form, but it is.
You are correct, but also in your implication that it takes some effort to recognize it and the piece will probably even at third listen give the impression of a somewhat rhapsodic change between the fast and slow sections.
Op.110 even has an easily recognizable sonata form first movement, and so does the finale of 101, incl. repeat. It's not simply a matter of form, I should have tried better to express what I meant. Nevertheless, I think these three are a bit similar overall to the two "fantasy sonatas" op.27 (whereas op.106 and 111 almost seem stress the "regularity" of form) with uncommonly lyrical first movements and uncommon sequence of movements overall and demand a more flexible/expressive style. Gulda can be straightforward to a fault, so I understand that people do not appreciate this approach in these sonatas whereas I think the "straightness" or "objectivity" has a lot of merit in the other two late sonatas.
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Offline Madiel

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4637 on: July 30, 2022, 12:31:47 PM »
You are correct, but also in your implication that it takes some effort to recognize it and the piece will probably even at third listen give the impression of a somewhat rhapsodic change between the fast and slow sections.
Op.110 even has an easily recognizable sonata form first movement, and so does the finale of 101, incl. repeat. It's not simply a matter of form, I should have tried better to express what I meant. Nevertheless, I think these three are a bit similar overall to the two "fantasy sonatas" op.27 (whereas op.106 and 111 almost seem stress the "regularity" of form) with uncommonly lyrical first movements and uncommon sequence of movements overall and demand a more flexible/expressive style. Gulda can be straightforward to a fault, so I understand that people do not appreciate this approach in these sonatas whereas I think the "straightness" or "objectivity" has a lot of merit in the other two late sonatas.

Thanks. Don’t apologise for how you have expressed yourself, it is quite difficult to put these things into words.
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Offline hvbias

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4638 on: August 01, 2022, 07:53:42 AM »
You are correct, but also in your implication that it takes some effort to recognize it and the piece will probably even at third listen give the impression of a somewhat rhapsodic change between the fast and slow sections.
Op.110 even has an easily recognizable sonata form first movement, and so does the finale of 101, incl. repeat. It's not simply a matter of form, I should have tried better to express what I meant. Nevertheless, I think these three are a bit similar overall to the two "fantasy sonatas" op.27 (whereas op.106 and 111 almost seem stress the "regularity" of form) with uncommonly lyrical first movements and uncommon sequence of movements overall and demand a more flexible/expressive style. Gulda can be straightforward to a fault, so I understand that people do not appreciate this approach in these sonatas whereas I think the "straightness" or "objectivity" has a lot of merit in the other two late sonatas.

Regarding Hammerklavier and op. 111 I'm not so sure I see sticking to a certain number of movements or form to have to solely box it into a "classicist" style. Both of these were used well into the romantic era. Mahler also utilizes sonata form but not in overly obvious ways. I'm considering what is written as well, and these two sonatas are far different from other classical sonatas that came before them.

In the early/mid 2000s there was a backlash for pianists from Asia that "sound the same" this is basically how I view Gulda in the late sonatas.
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Offline Jo498

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Re: Beethoven's Piano Sonatas
« Reply #4639 on: August 01, 2022, 11:57:11 PM »
I am certainly not taking # of movements as a criterium here because there are many 2 movement sonatas by Haydn and earlier Beethoven, in fact op.106 is the first sonata in the typical 4 movements since op.28 (31/3 has 4 movements but no slow movement, 101 has. Like Mahler can use classical form in a rather loose or in a rather strict (like symphony #6, first movement, even with repeat) fashion, so can Beethoven. If you don't perceive such differences between the respective first movements of op.109 or 101 and 106 or 111, I probably cannot say anything to help. Again, an external indication, but probably not accidental that Beethoven writes double bar expo repeats only in these most classicists movements (106,i, 111,i and 101, finale).
Of course, it is still another question if this could or should impact the interpretation and how. I think that the "more strict" movements lend themselves to a more straightforward, less flexible interpretation compared to the more "poetic"/"fantastic" movements.

Gulda is a bit like Toscanini or Leibowitz in the symphonies, fast and straightforward with comparably little flexibility or "highlighting" of contrasts (although as I probably wrote before, I was often surprised that he quite closely follows dynamics, articulations etc. in the score, unlike e.g. Gould who can be very cavalier). The "whole sweep" takes precedence over details, though, and I also think that this does not work equally well everywhere.
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)