Day 196, Part 2: Beethoven Symphonies 1 and 3

BeethovenCD1The premiere of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 took place on 2 April 1800.

Beethoven was 30 years old.

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, was dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an early patron of the composer. The piece was published in 1801 by Hoffmeister & Kühnel of Leipzig. It is unknown exactly when Beethoven finished writing this work, but sketches of the finale were found from 1795.

The symphony is clearly indebted to Beethoven’s predecessors, particularly his teacher Joseph Haydn as well as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but nonetheless has characteristics that mark it uniquely as Beethoven’s work, notably the frequent use of sforzandi and the prominent, more independent use of wind instruments. Sketches for the finale are found among the exercises Beethoven wrote while studying counterpoint under Johann Georg Albrechtsberger in the spring of 1797.

The beginning of the twelve-bar introduction of the first movement is sometimes considered a “musical joke”. For example, the English musicologist Donald Tovey has called this work “a comedy of manners”. In fact, Symphony No. 1 can be regarded as a result of Beethoven’s bold musical experimentation and advancement which he presents five years after Haydn’s last symphony and twelve years after Mozart’s final Jupiter Symphony.

Fascinating. I had no idea Beethoven was so heavily influenced by Haydn and Mozart.

I can tell from the first few bars of Symphony No. 1 that this is a very mature composition, quite solid, and absolutely listenable. In fact, Continue reading

Day 196: Beethoven Complete Edition – Bring It On!

Today starts a new chapter in my journey of 1095 days.

For today I begin exploring the complete works of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

Once again, I turn to the Brilliant Classics label for assistance.

Their Beethoven Complete Edition is one of the least expensive, yet highest quality collections of Classical music on the market. Everything Brilliant Classics does it top-notch. Their Beethoven Complete Edition is no exception.

51XdxvVTFMLThe first thing I noticed when my box set arrived is how tiny it looked compared to the complete works of Haydn (150 CDs), Mozart (180 CDs), and Bach (172 CDs).

Beethoven’s complete works fit on just 86 discs – about half the size of the other major composers, some of whom (Haydn and Mozart) were his contemporaries. (The picture of the product on Amazon is somewhat misleading. The box is actually about half the size it appears to be in that photo.)

Beethoven lived 57 years. Haydn lived 77 years. Mozart, just 35. Bach, 65.

Mozart lived the shortest at 35 years. Yet, his output was extraordinary. More compositions than any other figure from Classical music in half the time. Haydn was almost as prolific as Mozart, yet he lived the longest of the major composers. So he had time on his side.

When seen in context like that, Beethoven’s relatively meager output – compared to other famous Classical composers – raises questions:

BoxSetsWhy did Beethoven – who lived nearly as long as Bach – only compose enough music to fit on half the amount of CDs as other legends of Classical music? What was he doing with his time? Was he ill? Did he have composers block? Was he a perfectionist? Are each of his compositions honed to perfection and of “higher quality” than the compositions of other giants of the genre?

Given this, I’m thinking my experience listening to Beethoven’s works will be different from what it was listening to Mozart’s and Haydn’s. For one thing, I’ll consider each composition to be very important since it represents a body of work more compact than other composers. Plus, I’ll research Beethoven’s life more intently to find out why.

Many questions.

And 86 days of Beethoven ahead of me in which to answer them.