Beethoven's 7th and 8th symphonies

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greymouse
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Beethoven's 7th and 8th symphonies

Post by greymouse » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:21 am

I just heard on a radio special that Beethoven felt insulted that his 8th symphony was overshadowed by the 7th, and that he felt the 8th symphony was a superior work in every way! :shock: I don't generally want to second guess such a great composer, but are there times when composers can't objectively judge their own work?

I agree with the general public opinion - the 7th is much better music.

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Post by DavidRoss » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:33 am

Beethoven was on the radio?
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Post by Barry » Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:57 am

Objectively, I agree that the seventh was the greater of the two symphonies. But it hasn't held up as well for me as a few of the others and I now actually probably listen to the eighth more often than the seventh. It's my own fault. I overplayed the seventh for too long when I first discovered it and burned out on it after a while. Although I also played a few of the other Beethoven symphonies to death back in those years and am able to return to those fairly regularly still.
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Post by karlhenning » Tue Oct 02, 2007 10:35 am

The two symphonies are really after different things, musically (which is but one reason to admire Beethoven for writing them both). So I have trouble considering either "greater than" the other. They are both excellent pieces.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by diegobueno » Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:34 pm

There is a tendency for composers to love best those of their works which others regard the least.

I remember reading an essay on the subject, by whom I don't remember. It might have been Copland in a book of his collected writings called Copland on Music, which is a very engaging and informative volume even it doesn't contain the essay I'm thinking of.

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Post by Ken » Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:04 pm

This is a very timely thread, in that I saw a performance of the 7th not last Thursday and finished listening to HvK's 1963 recording of the work not five minutes ago. In my opinion, the final three movements of the 7th are much more cohesive than those of the 8th, but I do prefer the 8th's opening movement to the 7th.

Wagner seemed to take a great liking to the 7th, and I can sometimes hear similarities between his music and that symphony. That said, it is an easy work for conductors to go overboard on just in order to please the crowd. Perhaps Beethoven himself witnessed too many instances of this and reacted by taking on the 8th as his own preference.
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Post by Holden Fourth » Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:53 pm

I felt the same way about the 8th until..........I heard Cyprien Katsaris play the Liszt transcription on the piano. This just opened the whole work up for me and I realised that many conductors were also not that enamoured of the work and allowed it to played in a manner that hid the music contained inside. I relistened to the versions I had and it was obvious that a very think and sludgy orchestral approach doesn't work with the 8th. So I investigated some HIP versions and there it was, the work opened up for all to see. My next task was to find a conductor who could do similar with a standard orchestra. While I'm not totally happy with any of these basically they do fit the bill:

Fricsay, Harnoncourt, Leibowitz, Toscanini. Articulation is the secret and these guys got it from their orchestra in spades. I wonder what the Reiner version is like? You may also have other choices that work for you.

BTW, if you've never heard Katsaris play this then do so - it's an absolutely jaw dropping performance!

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Post by Sapphire » Tue Oct 02, 2007 2:56 pm

Beethoven's Eighth Symphony

This has long been one of my favourites. It's well known that Beethoven considered it a better work than the Seventh. As somebody remarked earlier, the Seventh is one of those Beethoven pieces that one tends to play to death, and then leave it alone for years afterwards. I would like to add that there is a superb rendition of the 8th by Harnoncourt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. I think it was the best of the whole set of Symphonies by Harnoncourt.

Below are some notes about the 8th Symphony from Terry Barfoot of the the BBC. The possible connection with "Immortal Beloved" is interesting.

  • 1. Allegro vivace e con brio
    2. Allegretto scherzando
    3. Tempo di Menuetto
    4. Allegro vivace

    During the first decade of the nineteenth century, from the time of the Eroica Symphony onwards, Beethoven designed his music on an increasingly large and heroic scale. In the Eighth Symphony, in common with several works that surrounds it (most particularly the F minor Quartet, Op 95) Beethoven dramatically compressed the scale and duration of the music, concentrating on its bare essentials. In this respect the Symphony's directness and disarming simplicity draws attention, more than before, to Beethoven's abruptness, violence, unconventionality and rough humour. It is also the most directly classical of his later symphonies, its scale, and the substitution for a minuet instead of a scherzo third movement, underlining its parallels with the symphonies of Haydn and Mozart.

    Beethoven had a particular affection for this work that he referred to as "my little symphony". The first performance though, given in Vienna on 27 February 1814, was received with indifference by the public. It was generally held that it was less successful than the Seventh Symphony (that had been composed in the same year), a view that irritated Beethoven who responded, "That's because it's so much better."
    Many have detected in the Eighth Symphony "a mood of joyous acceptance of life and the world" (Ernest Newman) and a sense that it "transports us into a sphere of laughter, play, and the exuberant release of bound energy" (Solomon). There is some evidence though that the Symphony was written in the aftermath of one of the most profound disappointments in the composer's life. During 1812 Beethoven had been deeply in love with the woman who has become known to posterity as his "Immortal Beloved". We do not know with any certainty whom this was, but the collapse of all his hopes, somewhere in the summer of that year, led of a final renunciation of marriage and an acceptance of being forever alone. Much of the Eighth Symphony was finalised in the months following this and it was completed in Linz during October 1812. The year that followed (1813) was to be, by all accounts, perhaps the most despondent of his life.

    The Symphony is in four movements. Its sense of compression can be felt in the terse energy with which the opening theme of the first movement is released (Allegro vivace e con brio). The graceful secondary theme makes only a brief appearance before this material undergoes a development of considerable energy and fury, before returning to the initial idea. Something of the Symphony's vigour is due to the manner with which Beethoven dispenses with a slow movement, replacing it, instead, with a perky Allegretto scherzando. A delicate theme on the violins opens the movement, set against a gentle "tick-tock" figure in the woodwind. Beethoven brings to the music an almost Haydnesque humour with its occasional loud interjections and the mock-Italian operatic abrupt ending. For many years it was claimed that the "tick-tock" opening was a light-hearted "send-up" of the newly invented metronome, which Beethoven was the first great composer to use, though recent research has regrettably brought this charming story into doubt.

    The third movement (Tempo di Menuetto) is the only minuet that Beethoven was ever to insert into any of his symphonies. Tovey described its opening as a "smooth and old-world flow of gallant tune" and its central section is a warm homely melody for the two horns. The finale (Allegro vivace) was for many years noted for the very fast metronome marking that Beethoven gives it (semibreve = 84). It opens with a light fleeting theme that is only arrested by a strong interjection by the whole orchestra, far removed from its true key (C sharp in F major). Now the full orchestra takes up the theme with a heavy breathless exuberance, which is only alleviated by the serene assurance of the secondary theme. Yet despite all the various surprises, rhetorical pauses, contrasts between loud and soft that give this movement its endless fascination, it never once loses the supreme electrical charge that carries the music forward to its emphatic conclusion.


Sapphire

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:01 pm

diegobueno wrote:There is a tendency for composers to love best those of their works which others regard the least.
A very understandable artistic instinct, especially when (say) a Ravel or a Prokofiev is puzzled at how popular a Boléro or a March from an opera turns out, to the neglect of pieces which much more thoroughly display the composer's powers and skill — pieces which really are better music.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by jbuck919 » Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:14 pm

karlhenning wrote:
diegobueno wrote:There is a tendency for composers to love best those of their works which others regard the least.
A very understandable artistic instinct, especially when (say) a Ravel or a Prokofiev is puzzled at how popular a Boléro or a March from an opera turns out, to the neglect of pieces which much more thoroughly display the composer's powers and skill — pieces which really are better music.

Cheers,
~Karl
I was actually excoriated on the other board once for expressing the opinion that the Seventh is greater than the Eighth. Never mind. Two different kinds of masterpieces, that's all.

Beethoven is not unique in commenting on his own works, but he made an unusual number of them, and most of them can hardly be argued with. Before he wrote the Ninth, his own favorite among his "children" was the Eroica, and who can honestly argue with that, though it is equaled by several later symphonies? He made famous comments about Fidelio and the Missa Solemnis, both completely unique works, that amount to "it almost killed me to compose this," and who can doubt that either?

The only published comment we have by Bach about his oeuvre reads as follows: "I worked hard."

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Post by Heck148 » Tue Oct 02, 2007 6:29 pm

jbuck919 wrote: I was actually excoriated on the other board once for expressing the opinion that the Seventh is greater than the Eighth. Never mind. Two different kinds of masterpieces, that's all.
I don't see any point in comparing works like this - which is better or worse?? stronger or weaker??...
they are completely different in their styles and intensities of expression...

The 8th is very funny, just loaded with musical jokes and Beethovenesque humor...
the 7th just explodes with energy and passion...it is one of my favorite symphonies, and the power and excitement are irresistible...

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Post by Jack Kelso » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:41 am

karlhenning wrote:The two symphonies are really after different things, musically (which is but one reason to admire Beethoven for writing them both). So I have trouble considering either "greater than" the other. They are both excellent pieces.

Cheers,
~Karl
Hi Karl---on another thread some time ago you stated that you preferred the 8th. My preferences move around quite a bit, too.

Beethoven wrote the 7th and 8th pretty much together, just as he wrote the 4th, 5th and 6th roughly simultaneously. This was a characteristic often given to Schumann (composing several works simultaneously in the same form).....but was counted decades ago as a criticism!! :o

Definitely a double-standard if ever there was one.

Tschüß!
Jack
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:21 am

Jack Kelso wrote:Hi Karl---on another thread some time ago you stated that you preferred the 8th. My preferences move around quite a bit, too.
It's like that swing standard: when all your preferences are fixed in granite -- Jack, you dead! 8)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by DavidRoss » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:33 am

Well, Karl, the 7th has always been my favorite--except for when I preferred the 9th, the 5th, the 4th, the 3rd, or nowadays when I seem to be particularly enjoying the 6th.
"Most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." ~Leo Tolstoy

"It is the highest form of self-respect to admit our errors and mistakes and make amends for them. To make a mistake is only an error in judgment, but to adhere to it when it is discovered shows infirmity of character." ~Dale Turner

"Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either." ~Albert Einstein
"Truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it and ignorance may deride it; but, in the end, there it is." ~Winston Churchill

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:35 am

Oh, man, Dave: the Eighth just ain't gettin' no love 'round here . . . But it's good to see someone else who likes the Fourth.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by dirkronk » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:45 am

Holden Fourth wrote:While I'm not totally happy with any of these basically they do fit the bill:
Fricsay, Harnoncourt, Leibowitz, Toscanini. Articulation is the secret and these guys got it from their orchestra in spades.

BTW, if you've never heard Katsaris play this then do so - it's an absolutely jaw dropping performance!
I'm not always that fond of piano transcriptions, but I'll have to check out the Katsaris.

As for orchestral versions of the 8th, I've long favored the wonderful control and power of Szell and the somewhat wilder Scherchen--mainly because both conductors seem to treat it seriously, as a piece to be taken on its own terms and not as the "stepchild" of the LvB nine.

Meanwhile, this thread has inspired me. I have some vacation time coming up and it's been a while since I did a survey of multiple performances in my collection. The 8th might make an interesting focus. If I follow through with this threat, I'll report my findings.

Cheers,

Dirk

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 7:53 am

dirkronk wrote:I'm not always that fond of piano transcriptions, but I'll have to check out the Katsaris.
I haven't heard all nine, but what I have of the Liszt/Beethoven transcriptions, they are really a beguiling and transparent 'fresh snapshot' of pieces already long familiar. I am inclined to think them worth programming and listening to on their own merits, and not simply as 'what had to be done to bring Beethoven into the average 19th-century home" . . . .

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by The Ninth » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:00 am

Truth be told, I haven't given either of those two symphonies a close enough listening to decide which I prefer, and reading this thread makes me realize that I left my box set of Beethoven's symphonies at home. I have the Fifth and Sixth on my computer and am listening to the Sixth now.

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Post by dirkronk » Wed Oct 03, 2007 11:27 am

DavidRoss wrote:Well, Karl, the 7th has always been my favorite--except for when I preferred the 9th, the 5th, the 4th, the 3rd, or nowadays when I seem to be particularly enjoying the 6th.
I started out with the 6th. It was all the fault of science fiction--I watched Soylent Green on TV back in the mid 1970s, and was enchanted by the music in Edward G. Robinson's euthanasia scene (it was actually some bits from the Beethoven 6th, plus a bit from the Dvorak 9th IIRC). It was searching for this music that started me on a classical music binge that has lasted to this day.

However, my own path of "favorites" among the Beethoven nine took me from the 6th (a fling lasting a couple of years) to the 3rd (probably just a year for this one), the 9th (although I no longer identify it as "my favorite," the importance of this one in my collecting remains unparalleled), then the 5th (when I heard Mengelberg for the first time and he made that music all new to me again), then the 7th (a fascination that lasted for three or four years and so-o-o many versions) which was superceded by the 4th (the longest so far...and I still love this one SO much). Still, I confess that I've been flirting with the 8th most recently. I'm not sure if I'll ever fall head-over-heels with the 1st or 2nd, but I'll never say never, either.

:wink:

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Post by The Ninth » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:53 pm

A few years ago, having been assigned the whole Fifth Symphony as a listening exercise for an introductory music class, I got through the famous first movement well enough. And then I heard the second, which is probably what "hooked" me on classical music.

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Post by Ken » Wed Oct 03, 2007 12:56 pm

Sapphire, thank you for quoting that analysis of the 8th. This passage stood out at me, because it reflects what I have always gleaned from the symphony: "In this respect the Symphony's directness and disarming simplicity draws attention, more than before, to Beethoven's abruptness, violence, unconventionality and rough humour."

I'm going to have a look in to the Harnoncourt take -- perhaps he'll draw new light on the work for me.
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Post by Brahms » Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:08 pm

Barry Z wrote:Objectively, I agree that the seventh was the greater of the two symphonies.
Really? And how did you "objectively" arrive at this conclusion?

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:26 pm

FWIW, I never did believe that the Allegretto scherzando of the Eighth Symphony had aught to do with 'imitating' the metronome . . . .
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Post by Sapphire » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:33 pm

Brahms wrote:
Barry Z wrote:Objectively, I agree that the seventh was the greater of the two symphonies.
Really? And how did you "objectively" arrive at this conclusion?
I'd like to know how it's done too. I wonder if GMG's "Greatness in Classical Music" thread provides the answer? I wonder if Karl has any idea what it all boils down to, as he started it.


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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 2:50 pm

Sapphire wrote:I'd like to know how it's done too. I wonder if GMG's "Greatness in Classical Music" thread provides the answer? I wonder if Karl has any idea what it all boils down to, as he started it.
Such ideas as I have about it, Sapphire, don't lead me to expect it to boil neatly down to any simple bullet-points, at any rate.

Specific to the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, as far as I can tell, there is no way to "judge" the Eighth to be inferior to the Seventh, apart from essentially expecting the Eighth to do the musical things that the Seventh does, in the way that the Seventh does them.

Now, I really do think both the Seventh and Eighth greater music than Beethoven's First or Second; and I expect that Beethoven himself would have taken something pretty close to offense at any misguidedly "democratic" notion of holding the First to be "equal in musical worth" to the Eighth. Which is not to say that one cannot enjoy the First and/or Second.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Wallingford » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:00 pm

Here's an anonymous essay that more or less sums up my own feelings about the Eighth (AND answers the question about the metronome):

-----------------------------------------------

Is there rage, frustration, discordant passion in the score? Not one particle. The symphony is sheer joy and release—the laughter of a Titan who elected for the moment to make play with the stars and the planets. In no other work is Beethoven more completely and recklessly the master. The audacity and extravagance of his invention are without end, being subject, at the same time, to a supreme command of form and technic. The first phrase bursts without a preliminary chord or measure or rest from the orchestra, and that's the soul of the man Beethoven, conversing with the wind and sky. I can see him as he often was, in a "raptus," striding through street and field, muttering, shouting, singing, forging his music. The material of the movement does not seem so tremendous until it begins to grow upon you. All sorts of little scraps of sing-song are turned to Beethoven's audacious purposes, which, throughout, are light-hearted, energetic, playful, and audacious in modulation.

The second movement of the symphony has a special connotation. It has to do with Johann Nepomuk Malzel and the instrument by which he achieved immortality—that instrument which is the curse of the child's-music hour, the metronome. In this movement is heard the ticking of the metronome, or rather of its immediate predecessor, Malzel's musical chronometer.

The metronome ticked; the chronometer, a mechanism in which a "small lever set in motion by a toothed wheel," caused "little blows on a wooden anvil," must have tocked. Tick or tock, that monotonously regular beat was surely in Beethoven's mind when he composed this famous movement, this jeu d'esprit, the Allegretto scherzando of the Eighth symphony. The effect reverses the conventional order of instrumentation, for the wind instruments instead of the strings carry the accompaniment and tick the measure. There was a night when Beethoven, Malzel and other intimates of the composer dined together. According to Schindler, sometimes inaccurate as a biographer, this dinner took place before Beethoven went to Linz to make trouble and compose his symphony. Malzel was then planning a trip to England. Beethoven was fond of writing facetious canons (the canon being a device of musical imitation, in which a given motive, intoned by a leading voice, is imitated, in turn, by the other voice-parts of the composition) and singing them. On the occasion in question Beethoven jotted down a canon to the text of farewell, "Ta-Ta-Ta, Lieber Malzel," and the company sang the piece with gusto. This canon, as well as the beat of the musical chronometer, finds its way into the allegretto of the Eighth symphony. Some historians set the date of the dinner , later than that of the symphony. Be this as it may, dinner before symphony, symphony before. dinner, the movement is not to be dissociated from Malzel and his instrument and Beethoven in vein of sly humor.

Like the Seventh, this symphony is too light-footed and mercurial to have any slow movement: The third movement is a minuet; but notice how Beethoven's virile spirit transforms the character of the polite dance-form of Haydn or Mozart. The first part of the minuet of the Eighth symphony has the sharp accent, the rude vigor and swing which only Beethoven could give it; but the song given the two horns and clarinets in the quieter contrasting section is divine. At the beginning of the minuet is heard a horn-call, Beethoven's recollection, it is said, of the posthorn of the coach which drove him from Teplitz. Perhaps the last movement of the symphony was the most startling of all to Beethoven's colleagues. To-day it seems that the veriest pedant could not resist applauding his antics. He roars with laughter, he shouts to the heavens, and every measure is an astonishment. Nowhere is he more unbuttoned, more abandoned, yet simple and transparent in style. But even Berlioz, a brilliant critic, a composer far ahead of his time, was puzzled by it. No one 'wrote more penetratingly of Beethoven as a rule than he. Yet he is slightly apologetic about the Eighth symphony, especially its finale. "All this," he says, "is very curious." He stood too near the Titan who laughed. Sir George Grove, who came later than Berlioz, reserves his highest praise of the symphony for this movement. The Finale, however, is the great movementof the Symphony. It is pure Beethoven in his most individual and characteristic vein, full of those surprises and sudden unexpected effects, those mixtures of tragedy and comedy, not to say farce, which makes his music so true a mirror of human life, equal in his branch of art to the great plays of Shakespeare in his,—and for the same reasons." It is possible that some of the rhythmic combinations in this finale—groups of two notes against three, et cetera were taken to heart by Brahms, who loved this device. But even Brahms could not hope to write an Eighth symphony.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:03 pm

anonymous wrote: The metronome ticked; the chronometer, a mechanism in which a "small lever set in motion by a toothed wheel," caused "little blows on a wooden anvil," must have tocked. Tick or tock, that monotonously regular beat was surely in Beethoven's mind when he composed this famous movement
And Anonymous knows this . . . how? The glib assertion that it "was surely in Beethoven's mind" is one thing; but how do we test such an assertion?

Interesting factoid about Mälzel of course.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Sapphire
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Post by Sapphire » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:23 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Sapphire wrote:I'd like to know how it's done too. I wonder if GMG's "Greatness in Classical Music" thread provides the answer? I wonder if Karl has any idea what it all boils down to, as he started it.
Such ideas as I have about it, Sapphire, don't lead me to expect it to boil neatly down to any simple bullet-points, at any rate.

Specific to the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, as far as I can tell, there is no way to "judge" the Eighth to be inferior to the Seventh, apart from essentially expecting the Eighth to do the musical things that the Seventh does, in the way that the Seventh does them.

Now, I really do think both the Seventh and Eighth greater music than Beethoven's First or Second; and I expect that Beethoven himself would have taken something pretty close to offense at any misguidedly "democratic" notion of holding the First to be "equal in musical worth" to the Eighth. Which is not to say that one cannot enjoy the First and/or Second.

Cheers,
~Karl
Thanks Karl. The two symphonies are so different, and yet both so very good, that I agree it's very difficult to say either one is "greater" than the other on objective grounds. This is unusual for me because I do generally consider it is possible to conceptualise greatness in music in terms of empirical criteria such as long term popularilty, influence, novelty. All I would say is that I think that Nos 3, 5, 6, 9 are "the greatest", Nos 4, 7, 8 forming the next tier, leaving Nos 1 and 2 in third.

My personal favourites are 5, 9, 6, 3, 8, 7, 1, 4, 2 in that order. The last one I saw in concert was No 7 (the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra). Looking around at the audience at the end of it I recall that I had seldom witnessed such a sea of delighted expressions - the Beethoven effect.


Sapphire

RebLem
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Post by RebLem » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:33 pm

For me, its 9, 6, 5, 7, 3, 4, 8, 1, & 2, in that order. Most conductors, however, do 1 & 2 as if they were student symphonies, with which Beethoven prepared himself for # 3. The alternative view, that they were mature symphonies, fully Beethoven in their own right, is best expressed, IMO, by Solti/CSO. Personally, the last, # 2, is the only one I really don't care for much. And, if I were taking them movement by movement, the second movement of # 7 is probably my # 1 favorite.
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Post by Chalkperson » Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:57 pm

RebLem wrote:For me, its 9, 6, 5, 7, 3, 4, 8, 1, & 2, in that order
That's a pretty good order...

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Post by Wallingford » Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:15 am

I once knew a guy who listed #7 as his least-liked....... :shock:
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:18 am

And I quite like #2. :oops:

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Post by Jack Kelso » Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:49 am

Here comes Jack to defend Beethoven's second most wonderful of the even-numbered symphonies:

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, opus 36

I forgot if it was Tovey or Spitta who called the Larghetto "the most beautiful slow movement in the world", and maybe it WAS back then (before the "Eroica", etc.).

This youthful work doesn't possess the verve of the Eighth, the emotional palette and drama of the Third, Fifth, Sixth or Ninth nor the exuberence of the Seventh.

But it does express innate power and great beauty---and is as much an "improvement" over the First as the Third is over the Second.

P.S.: I also find myself in the (for me! :) ) odd position where I have to defend Brahms. What's this about Brahms not being capable of writing an "Eighth"? Brahms should be judged not on his ability to reach up to Beethoven or Schumann, but rather to be his own master. I said it before: Brahms 4 symphonic masterpieces are in no way inferior to any symphony that came before them (even tho' 3 of them lack scherzi, they make up for that in other ways).

It's always a mistake to judge one composer on another's qualities.

Jack
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Mahler
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Post by Mahler » Thu Oct 04, 2007 1:23 am

Jack Kelso wrote:Brahms 4 symphonic masterpieces are in no way inferior to any symphony that came before them.
... or after. I second that: Brahms' symphonies are second to none. "Different" does not equal "worse".
"Auch das Schöne muss sterben."

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Post by DavidRoss » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:43 am

I've no idea if there's any consensus on means of measuring a symphony's "superiority" or "inferiority" relative to others of its kind, so take it these terms mean "I like it more" and "I like it less."

In which case, although I like Brahms's symphonies--especially 3 & 4--and regard them as markedly superior to those of, say, Schubert & Schumann, they are clearly inferior to many of Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius, Prokofiev, and even some of a few other composers. :wink:
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Post by Heck148 » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:53 am

Brendan wrote:And I quite like #2. :oops:
me, too, I love it...it's a wonderful work...I esp enjoy the great woodwind writing in the 2nd mvt..

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Post by keaggy220 » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:55 am

Brendan wrote:And I quite like #2. :oops:
I love #2. When I listen to it I think that this is what Mozart would sound like if he had managed to live longer.

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:09 am

Nah. Had Mozart lived longer, there's none of us could "imagine" what his music "would have" sounded like, anymore than if Beethoven had died after his Eighth Symphony, any of us could "imagine" his Ninth.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by diegobueno » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:42 am

karlhenning wrote:
anonymous wrote: The metronome ticked; the chronometer, a mechanism in which a "small lever set in motion by a toothed wheel," caused "little blows on a wooden anvil," must have tocked. Tick or tock, that monotonously regular beat was surely in Beethoven's mind when he composed this famous movement
And Anonymous knows this . . . how? The glib assertion that it "was surely in Beethoven's mind" is one thing; but how do we test such an assertion?
I don't think the author of that statement (Bernard Shaw?) was very much concerned with its factual veracity, any more than we would be to say of a late Scriabin sonata "He must have been on drugs when he wrote that". The association of that movement with Mälzel and his metronome has a long history though, going back long before this author wrote this essay (which I have found on line without attribution but a note saying that it was first published in 1935).

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Post by Mahler » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:51 am

DavidRoss wrote:although I like Brahms's symphonies [...] they are clearly inferior to many of Mozart, Beethoven, Sibelius, Prokofiev, and even some of a few other composers. :wink:
Please note that the following is no reproach towards you:

There is an opinion I hear from time to time, claiming that Brahms' symphonies - sometimes even his music as such - lack class because of their sad and dramatic character. I disagree, but then again I do not rank any Beethoven symphony as high as Brahms' symphonies, either, and it is due to the same features I like in Brahms' music which I miss in Beethoven's works.

So I guess DavidRoss' statement is very true that "superior" and "inferior" are just reflections of our personal likes and dislikes, not a matter of quality.
"Auch das Schöne muss sterben."

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:14 am

diegobueno wrote:I don't think the author of that statement (Bernard Shaw?) was very much concerned with its factual veracity, any more than we would be to say of a late Scriabin sonata "He must have been on drugs when he wrote that".
Good point.

Is all the Mälzel-related commentary truly anecdotal, do you know, Mark, or is there aught firmer?

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:21 am

Mahler wrote:So I guess DavidRoss' statement is very true that "superior" and "inferior" are just reflections of our personal likes and dislikes, not a matter of quality.
Perhaps.

And yet, there really are instances where it is a matter of quality, don't you think?

We have seen some passionate endorsement of the Second, so setting that symphony aside . . . would it really be just a matter of "personal likes or dislikes" to consider Beethoven's First Symphony inferior to his (say) Fifth?

Cheers,
~Karl
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diegobueno
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Post by diegobueno » Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:23 am

karlhenning wrote:
diegobueno wrote:I don't think the author of that statement (Bernard Shaw?) was very much concerned with its factual veracity, any more than we would be to say of a late Scriabin sonata "He must have been on drugs when he wrote that".
Good point.

Is all the Mälzel-related commentary truly anecdotal, do you know, Mark, or is there aught firmer?

Cheers,
~Karl
I really can't say.

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Post by keaggy220 » Thu Oct 04, 2007 11:51 am

karlhenning wrote:Nah. Had Mozart lived longer, there's none of us could "imagine" what his music "would have" sounded like, anymore than if Beethoven had died after his Eighth Symphony, any of us could "imagine" his Ninth.

Cheers,
~Karl
Point well taken and you're right - it's terribly presumptuous of me to predict what Mozart's music would sound like if he had lived to see the 19th century.

I guess a better way of saying it would be that I hear more Mozart influence in the LvB second than any other Beethoven symphony I've heard.

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Post by Wallingford » Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:05 pm

keaggy220 wrote:
karlhenning wrote:Nah. Had Mozart lived longer, there's none of us could "imagine" what his music "would have" sounded like, anymore than if Beethoven had died after his Eighth Symphony, any of us could "imagine" his Ninth.

Cheers,
~Karl
Point well taken and you're right - it's terribly presumptuous of me to predict what Mozart's music would sound like if he had lived to see the 19th century.

I guess a better way of saying it would be that I hear more Mozart influence in the LvB second than any other Beethoven symphony I've heard.
MY guess is, Mozart would've been thrilled to death to hear the "fat" sound given his works from the full-sized orchestras that Walter or Beecham conducted.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
--Paul Simon

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 3:52 pm

Wallingford wrote:MY guess is, Mozart would've been thrilled to death to hear the "fat" sound given his works from the full-sized orchestras that Walter or Beecham conducted.
That's an entirely separate question.

But, in its way, just as presumptuous :lol:

It is just as likely that Mozart would have found that sound "noise." We just don't know, do we?

Cheers,
~Karl
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keaggy220
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Post by keaggy220 » Thu Oct 04, 2007 4:22 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Mahler wrote:So I guess DavidRoss' statement is very true that "superior" and "inferior" are just reflections of our personal likes and dislikes, not a matter of quality.
Perhaps.

And yet, there really are instances where it is a matter of quality, don't you think?

We have seen some passionate endorsement of the Second, so setting that symphony aside . . . would it really be just a matter of "personal likes or dislikes" to consider Beethoven's First Symphony inferior to his (say) Fifth?

Cheers,
~Karl
And we are but a tiny fraction of the world who listen to any of these symphonies for the pure joy of it - many more listen to Barry Manilow... :)

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:52 pm

Jack Kelso wrote:Here comes Jack to defend Beethoven's second most wonderful of the even-numbered symphonies:

Symphony No. 2 in D Major, opus 36

I forgot if it was Tovey or Spitta who called the Larghetto "the most beautiful slow movement in the world", and maybe it WAS back then (before the "Eroica", etc.).

This youthful work doesn't possess the verve of the Eighth, the emotional palette and drama of the Third, Fifth, Sixth or Ninth nor the exuberence of the Seventh.

But it does express innate power and great beauty---and is as much an "improvement" over the First as the Third is over the Second.

P.S.: I also find myself in the (for me! :) ) odd position where I have to defend Brahms. What's this about Brahms not being capable of writing an "Eighth"? Brahms should be judged not on his ability to reach up to Beethoven or Schumann, but rather to be his own master. I said it before: Brahms 4 symphonic masterpieces are in no way inferior to any symphony that came before them (even tho' 3 of them lack scherzi, they make up for that in other ways).

It's always a mistake to judge one composer on another's qualities.

Jack
It is just as odd for me to find myself for once not being the one doing rankings, though I can't disagree with the taste of the posters on this thread who have attempted it. I think there is a consensus that the Ninth is the greatest of all symphonies (though I have heard people express that opinion about various symphonies of Mahler ) and that the First is a wonderful Haydnesque work that already ranks with the symphonies of that master and even of Mozart. Beyond that I don't terribly see the point of pressing the issue.

And I can't disagree with Jack about the Second, though I'm not sure I would call it a "youthful work." Beethoven finished it when he was 32, by which age Schubert was already dead and Mozart and Bach had written many mature masterpieces (not necessarily symphonies, of course).

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 7:56 pm

keaggy220 wrote:And we are but a tiny fraction of the world who listen to any of these symphonies for the pure joy of it - many more listen to Barry Manilow... :)
Well, after all: Beethoven doesn't play Foxwoods :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:01 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I think there is a consensus that the Ninth is the greatest of all symphonies
I'm one happy contrarian to that.

Though, I will agree that there was a time in the past when there was such a consensus.

I just don't see that as a consensus etched in stone. For only one thing, nowadays there is a strong heterodoxy which questions the value and/or point of designating any one piece as "the greatest of all symphonies." (Consider absinthe's apt remark: Each age yields a best incompatible with other ages.)

That the Opus 125 serves as an obligatory part of each year's programming for this or that musical organization, is not strictly the same thing as considering it the world's greatest symphony.

Cheers,
~Karl
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