Day 281: Folk Songs (Last Beethoven Blog!)

BeethovenCD86I would have preferred to end my eye-opening journey through complete works of Ludwig van Beethoven with symphonic music, like a piano trio or a symphony or even a violin concerto.

As it is, finishing today – 86 days after I started listening to Beethoven – with these folk songs kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed this musical exploration. Or that I intensely dislike what I’m hearing this morning.

On the contrary, Beethoven was as big a thrill to me as when I listened to Mozart for 180 days (his complete works on 180 CDs) a few years ago.

Maybe more so.

Definitely more so.

Beethoven took me by surprise. Totally.

I had no idea Beethoven was this rich, complex, emotional, melodic, and profound. The word deep comes to mind most often when I consider Beethoven’s music. Yet, that’s not even the word I’m looking for. It’s a combination of deep, rich, emotional, melodic, et al. All together.

By way of contrast, when I listened to the complete works of Haydn, I got little out of it other than 150 days of effort. I don’t remember a single melody, most likely because I never heard one that stuck with me. Frankly, Haydn bored me.

Mozart was a blast to study. I learned a great deal – but Continue reading

Day 269: Mass in C

BeethovenCD74Today’s CD is a Mass.

In the key of C.

Frankly, I don’t think it would matter to me f it was in D or B Flat or F Sharp.

It’s a mass.

With a huge choir.

And lots of soloists.

And a theme that may have been novel back then, but wears thin now.

I mean, really. How many of these religion-themed compositions can one hear before they all sound the same?

Apparently, this particular mass did not go over well when it was first performed. According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his Mass in C major, Op. 86, to a commission from Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II in 1807. In fulfilling this commission, Beethoven was extending a tradition established by Joseph Haydn, who following his return from England in 1795 had composed one mass per year for the Esterházy family, to celebrate the name day of the Prince’s wife. Haydn had ceased this tradition with the failure of his health in 1802.

Prince Nikolaus did not appreciate the mass, causing Beethoven to leave his house in a rage. Charles Rosen, in The Classical Style, has called the episode Beethoven’s “most humiliating public failure”. The mass is appreciated by critics (such as Rosen), but is probably one of the least often performed of Beethoven’s larger works.

Of the work, Michael Moore writes “While [it] is often overshadowed by the immense Missa Solemnis, written some fifteen years later, it has a directness and an emotional content that the latter work sometimes lacks.” The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs (2004 edition) forthrightly calls the work a “long-underrated masterpiece.”

To my ears, this like every other mass to which I’ve listened. No better. No worse. So I don’t know why Prince Esterhazy did not appreciate it. It sounds fine to me.

Beethoven was 37 when he composed this mass.

Here are the performers on today’s CD:

Elly Emeling soprano
Janet Baker mezzo-soprano
Theo Altmeyer tenor
Marius Rintzler bass
New Philharmonic Chorus
New Philharmonic Orchestra
Carlo Maria Giulini conductor

Day 197: Beethoven Symphonies 2 & 4

BeethovenCD2Like yesterday’s CD, today’s offering of Beethoven symphonies (No. 2 and No. 4 this time) are mature, melodic, dynamic, remarkably listenable, and enjoyable from start to finish.

And, like yesterday, I have to admit I had no idea Beethoven was this good.

I’m sure Schroeder (from Peanuts fame) would cluck his tongue at my ignorance regarding his favorite composer.

But I can’t know everything about everything. I mean, come on.

I’m only human.

Beethoven’s symphonies are both dynamic and delicate, with boisterous passages as well as gentle ones. Plus, the choice of instruments and what they play is masterful. I find myself leaning forward to hear every note.

I didn’t do that with Haydn. (Well, maybe once or twice.)

I did it with Mozart. A lot. But rarely with Haydn.

And, so far, I’m doing it with every composition from Beethoven.

According to Wikipedia, “Symphony No. 2 in D major (Op. 36) is a symphony in four movements written by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1801 and 1802. The work is dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky.” Which means Beethoven was 32 when he finished Symphony No. 2. (And 33 when it premiered.)

From its entry on Wiki:

Beethoven’s Second Symphony was mostly written during Beethoven’s stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802, at which time his deafness was becoming more apparent and he began to realize that it might be incurable. The work was premiered in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 5 April 1803, and was conducted by the composer. During that same concert, the Third Piano Concerto and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also debuted. It is one of the last works of Beethoven’s so-called “early period”.

For example, Movement III (“Scherzo & Trio: Allegro”) from Symphony No. 2 in D. Op. 36 is particularly captivating. Lots of clever little Continue reading

Day 2: Sunrise

Haydn2There’s something about the opening of Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 in D “Le Matin” that reminds me of a sunrise, which is fitting since I’m sitting here watching one as I type this.

That’s not to say this piece remains idyllic and pastoral as Debussy or a Chopin nocturne. After easing into it for nearly a minute, Symphony No. 6 bursts forth (around the :56 second mark) like the sun over the horizon, throwing color everywhere.

I knew nothing about this composition before listening to it this morning. However, I just discovered that “Le Matin” means “the morning.” According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The nickname (not Haydn’s own, but quickly adopted) derives from the opening slow introduction of the opening movement, which clearly depicts sunrise. The remainder of the work is abstract, as, indeed, are the other two symphonies in the series. Because of the initial association, however, the remaining were quickly and complimentarily named “noon” and “evening”.

Do I know my Classical music, or what?

Haydn wrote Symphony No. 6 in D in 1761. He was Continue reading

Day 1: Getting Into Haydn’s Head

Haydn1The first stop on my three-year journey into madness…erm, creativity…is the Haydn Edition, a budget-conscious, but high-quality set of complete recordings by Brilliant Classics.

The Brilliant Classics Haydn Edition begins with Symphonies, specifically Symphony #1, which is apropos considering Haydn (1732-1809) was considered “the Father of Symphonies” because of his contribution to the form.

CD 1 features Symphony No. 1 in D through Symphony No. 5 in A, all performed  by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, Adam Fischer (1949- ) conductor. The recording quality is superb, very bright and clear. The brass instruments are not overly loud or obnoxious. The stringed instruments are perfectly balanced with the brass.

One of the many distinctions of the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra is that it plays and records in Haydnsaal in Eisenstadt. According to their web site:

Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra was founded in 1987 by Adam Fischer in order to perform Haydn’s work in the place where he lived and worked, and bring together some of the finest musicians from Austria and Hungary…The Haydnsaal (“saal” means hall in German) is in the Eszterházy Palace at Eisenstadt, Austria. It was build in mid 17th century and is the very important hall in a music history since. As its name shows, the composer Jozef Haydn had worked more than 30 years and many of his pieces were first played…There are three beautiful frescos on the ceiling. This hall does not have any air conditoning system to protect the frescos. So, there is no concert in winter. The capacity of this hall is 600 and the acoustics is marvelous…

This recording lives up to the billing. It is Continue reading