"Beethoven at his Happiest"
MUSIC: clip from Beethoven Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 24, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Jeremy Menuhin, piano, [EMI CDC 7 47353 2, track 3] [under the following]
Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman. Most people think of Beethoven as the most serious of composers, and with good reason. But Beethoven had his lighter side, as well, and we’re going to explore “Beethoven at his Happiest” on this hour of Compact Discoveries.
We’ll listen to upbeat movements from two of his piano concertos, two
violin sonatas, a symphony, three trios and a bagatelle. We’ll conclude
with the conclusion of the final movement of his last symphony, since
that seems like an appropriate way to end the hour, especially that
Beethoven used a poem called “Ode to Joy” with the music.
MUSIC: fades out
Let’s begin with the first happy little bagatelle from Beethoven’s Opus 33. It is in E-flat Major. I mention the key only to bring up the point that major keys seem to be inherently happier than minor keys, and fast music appears happier than slow music. Music that skips and jumps seems to be happy, just like children who skip and jump.
What, you might ask, is a “bagatelle” anyway? Well, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is “a trifle, a thing of little value or importance.” Beethoven used the word on some two dozen small piano compositions dating from his teenage years to his fullest maturity.
The performer in this Telarc recording is the Irish pianist, John O’Conor.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 33, No. 1 with John O’Conor, piano [Telarc CD-80423, track 2] [3:35]
Beethoven’s Bagatelle in E-flat, Op. 33, No. 1. John O’Conor was the pianist.
In my search for Beethoven’s happiest music, I found the word “scherzo” to be very helpful. A “scherzo” is a quick, light movement or piece. It replaced the minuet in the late 18th century as the traditional third movement of symphonies and string quartets. Haydn was the first composer to use a movement marked “scherzo” instead of “minuet” in his string quartets, but Beethoven firmly established the practice. All of his symphonies except the first and the eighth have scherzos rather than minuets. They are almost always very fast and often incorporate interesting rhythms.
We’re going to listen to the scherzo from Beethoven’s second symphony now, which I think is pretty happy music for Beethoven. But this same music, when reduced to a piano trio, sounds even lighter and happier to me. It was Beethoven himself who used the same material both ways. So we’ll hear it both ways now, first with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic on a Deutsche Grammophon CD. Then as performed by the New Arts Trio on a Fleur de Son compact disc.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Symphony No. 2: Scherzo, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic [Deutsche Grammophon 415 505-2, track 7] [3:55]
MUSIC: Beethoven: Trio in D Major, Op. 36: Scherzo, with the New Arts Trio [Fleur de Son FDS 57931, track 3]] [3:13]
Beethoven at his happiest. First we heard the scherzo movement from his Symphony No. 2, Opus 36, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Then we heard the scherzo movement from Beethoven’s Trio in D Major, Opus 36.
Now you understand why both pieces are marked Opus 36. I think the trio sounds even happier than the symphony. That’s because the dense orchestration of the symphony makes the work sound heavier, while the chamber players make the same music sound lighter, freer and less serious.
Beethoven wrote a Septet, Opus 20, and used the same material for his Trio in E-flat Major, although this time he gave it a new opus number, Opus 38. The original piece was for violin, viola, cello, bass, clarinet, horn and bassoon. The trio is for piano, violin and cello. We hear the happy scherzo movement from that work now as performed, once again, by the New Arts Trio from the same Fleur de Son compact disc as the Trio in D Major we just heard.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 38: Scherzo, with the New Arts Trio [Fleur de Son FDS 57931, track 9]] [3:06]
The scherzo movement from Beethoven’s Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 38. That was the New Arts Trio: Rebecca Penneys, piano; Yair Kless, violin, and Arie Lipsky, cello.
Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 -- the so-called “Archduke” Trio -- is his most famous work for violin, cello and piano. This is considered by professional musicians and musicologists to be the composer’s crowning masterpiece of this genre. And although the scherzo movement is as happy and carefree as Beethoven gets, he wrote this piece during a period in March of 1811 when his letters refer to a constant and worrying bad headache.
This goes to show that sometimes composers wrote happy music when they were miserable and suffering. Likewise they sometimes wrote depressing music when they were in a good mood.
The “Archduke Trio” was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph in whose palace the trio was copied at Beethoven’s request. This was in the days long before photocopying was invented so someone had to be hired to write out copies of this music by hand. To think that if this piece had been written in the past few years it might be known as the Kinko Trio because it would have been copied in a few minutes at Kinko’s Copying Center.
So here is the scherzo from Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio as performed by Isaac Stern, violin, Eugene Istomin, piano, and Leonard Rose, cello.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97 “Archduke”, performed by the Stern-Rose-Istomin Trio [Sony Classical SM2K 64513, Disc 2, track 6] [7:12]
The scherzo movement from Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 97.
You are listening to Compact Discoveries. This hour is being devoted to “Beethoven at his Happiest.” I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.
[optional one-minute station break not included in the total timing]
Next let’s listen to happy rondo movements from two Beethoven piano concertos. We’ll start with Piano Concerto No. 3,
performed in this 1986 CBS Records Masterworks compact disc by Murray
Perahia with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3: Rondo, performed by Murray Perahia, piano, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink [CBS Records Masterworks CCS 12398, track 10] [8:56]
The rondo movement from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3. The pianist was Murray Perahia. The Concertgebouw Orchestra was conducted by Bernard Haitink.
The rondo from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 also reflects the composer’s happier moods, as you’ll hear in this excerpt.
MUSIC: Beethoven: excerpt from ending of Piano Concerto No. 5, Rudolf Serkin, pianist; Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa [Telarc CD-80065, track 2] [4:43]
Pianist Rudolf Serkin playing an excerpt from the final movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73.
You are listening to “Beethoven at his Happiest” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.
Our search next centers on two of Beethoven’s most famous violin sonatas. We’ll first hear the very brief but complete scherzo from his Sonata in F Major, Op. 24, which is better known as the “Spring Sonata.” Then we’ll listen to the finale of his Sonata in A Major, Op. 47, which is known as the “Kreutzer Sonata.” The violinist in both will be Yehudi Menuhin. Jeremy Menuhin is the pianist. Both sonatas are coupled together on a 1986 EMI compact disc.
If the scherzo from the “Spring Sonata” isn’t Beethoven at his Happiest,” I don’t know what is. To me it sounds like the music for a young child skipping off to a friend’s birthday party. Since the piece lasts only a little over a minute, the friend must live next door.
The “Kreutzer Sonata” was dedicated to, guess who? You got it! Rodolphe Kreutzer, who was a French violin virtuoso.
One other thing you might want to know before I play these two excerpts. The violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, was a world-famous violinist. But who on earth is the pianist in this recording, the chap named Jeremy Menuhin? Well, he is the San Francisco-born son of Sir Yehudi Menuhin.
MUSIC: Beethoven: Scherzo from Sonata in F Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 24, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Jeremy Menuhin, piano, [EMI CDC 7 47353 2, track 3] [1:18]
MUSIC: Beethoven: Finale from Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano, Op. 47, performed by Yehudi Menuhin, violin; Jeremy Menuhin, piano, [EMI CDC 7 47353 2, track 7] [7:15]
Excerpts from two happy violin sonata movements by Beethoven, both performed by violinist Yehudi Menuhin and his piano-playing son, Jeremy. The first was the complete but short scherzo from his “Spring” Sonata; the second was the finale from his “Kreutzer” Sonata.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is called the “Choral” because, in addition to the symphony orchestra, he used vocal soloists and a chorus. The text for the singers is taken from Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy.” It seems an appropriate way to conclude this hour of “Beethoven at his Happiest” with the ending of this symphony with its “Ode to Joy.” This was from a live performance recording issued by Philips in 1980 with the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam conducted by Bernard Haitink. Since this was recorded live, remember to join the applause at the end.
MUSIC: Beethoven: excerpt from the end of the Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 performed by The Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink [Philips 410 036-2, track 5] [6:40]
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PROGRAM ENDS at 58:00
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