Beethoven 6 Redux : Turns out it doesn’t suck

Run, don't walk...

There are lots of orchestral works that make big demands on conductors and performers. A piece like Mahler 7, particularly the Finale, requires an incredible sense of structure and pace from the conductor (not to mention unparalleled virtuosity from the orchestra), and there are dozens and dozens of performances that cannot meet the standard. This, of course, makes the ones that can (I’m looking at you, Kondrashin/Concertgebouw on Tahra) that much more memorable and important.

But out of all these works, I’ve determined the Beethoven Pastoral to be the most difficult for a conductor to “get.” It was only three days ago that I said that I have a problem with Beethoven 6, specifically that it sucks. I would like to amend that statement slightly: Beethoven 6 CAN suck.
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Are you alive? Take this easy 3-minute test to find out!

1) Turn your speakers up loud enough to compromise the structural integrity of your home or apartment.

2) Play this:

3) Ask yourself if you would drop everything you’re doing to go punch a Fascist in the throat.

If you are standing in the remains of what once was your living quarters screaming “смерть Гитлера,” you are very much alive.

I have a problem: Beethoven 6 sucks

Pastoral Landscape

OK, I get this.

No one is infallible, except maybe God, and even He (or She) created Texas.  This is especially true of artists, whose work can have a wide fluctuation in quality.  The reasons for this can be wide-ranging: youth and immaturity, the need for a paycheck, censorship at the hands of the state, just plain bad luck, whatever.  William Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the history of the English language, but he also wrote Cymbeline and King John.  Steven Spielberg can’t count as high as the number of Academy Awards he has won, but he is also responsible for the Jurassic Park sequel.  Frank Lloyd Wright designed many of the greatest buildings in the world, but he also designed the Sturgis House in Southern California, which looks like Noah’s Ark crash landed on a middle school.  So it is with Beethoven, perhaps the greatest composer ever.  Many critics quickly point to Wellington’s Victory as the low point of Beethoven’s musical output, but I vehemently disagree…no other work of Beethoven’s calls for musket fire, but that’s a post for another day.  I’m writing this because I want help from music lovers to help me understand one thing: why do I hate Beethoven 6 so much? Continue reading

If classical music is not live, you can still hear it on your home stereo equipment or through headphones on your portable media device, it just may not be quite as cool.

Headphones

Not part of a live performance. Or a balanced breakfast.

Succinct title is succinct.

Over the course of the last week, there has been a discussion about live music versus recordings spurred on by some very engaging posts over at On an Overgrown Path, with the general consensus being summed up by the title of the initial post: “If classical music is not live it is dead.”  Here is a brief excerpt from the post:

To date classical music has actively courted new technology as a desirable and superior partner. But is it not time to rethink this position and start driving home the message that anything other than live music is actually a poor substitute? Marketing and social media could play a big part in the call to action in the concert hall. How about aggressive collegiate marketing campaigns for live music built around straplines such as ‘Test drive a concert hall’, ‘Live classical music is louder than your iPod’, ‘Play an instrument not Facebook’ and ‘If classical music is not live it is dead’. And why not attention getting offers such as discounted concert tickets for anyone trading in iPod earbuds?

Several of the comments have taken it a step further, essentially claiming that recordings have little or no value and that any and all marketing energies ought to go towards the promotion of live performances.  There is talk of the communal and social aspect of a performance, the unreasonable expectation created by recordings for “perfect” performances, etc.  With all the concern over fidelity of sound, purity of intent, and true realization of musical concept, it seems that one fundamental element has been missing.  If Shostakovich is performed in Moscow and I live in Kansas City, did it really make a sound? Continue reading

Program Notes: Tschaikovsky – Symphony no. 5

Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tschaikovsky circa 1893

Countless works have been composed musically representing ad astra per aspera (“through hardships to the stars”); oddly enough, a number of the most popular of these are symphonies numbered 5.  Mahler’s epic Fifth takes us from the darkness of the opening funeral march in C# minor to the radiant Rondo-Finale in D major; Shostakovich’s immensely popular Fifth plunges through 45 minutes of brooding intensity and builds to a crushingly optimistic climax in C major (even if it seems like a Stalinist ventriloquist act); Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony goes from a first movement that sounds like a march to the Gates of Hell to a luminous orchestral shower of A Mighty Fortress is Our God.  Of course, the gold standard for this musical trajectory (and an awful lot of other things, too) is the Fifth of Beethoven.  But no symphony makes it quite as obvious as Tschaikovsky’s magical Fifth. Continue reading

This is the end, my only friend, the e…wait, can I post a fragment of the lyrics to “The End?” Oh God.

I have a fear of flying.  When I was in college, I was travelling home from Kentucky to see my family in the Pacific Northwest, and when we tried to land in Seattle during one of the epic windstorms they seem to get every three years or so, the result was turbulence the likes of which I hadn’t encountered before and haven’t since.  We hit air pockets that dropped us a lot in a hurry, I noticed at least two people in my general vicinity praying, and there were emergency vehicles on the ground with their lights on (I have no idea if they were waiting for us or what, but it certainly made my mind race).  Ultimately, the pilot couldn’t get the plane down in the crosswind (we couldn’t have been more than 100 feet off the ground at our lowest point), and ended up flying down to Portland to land there.  They said they were going to refuel and go back to land in Seattle.  That was them; I got off the plane in Portland, called my family (my sister and stepdad were kind enough to drive in the middle of the night to get me), tried to sleep in the Portland airport, got thrown out by security, and waited outside (I got my bags a couple days later, including my instrument).  Prior to that, I had no real issues with flying, but since then I get really nervous (not so nervous I have to take medication, but nervous enough to sweat profusely and get clammy hands).

In response to that incident, I often take cues from those around me when I fly.  It can be comforting to look around the cabin of the plane and see people sleeping or laughing or having a conversation seemingly at peace, even if I’m frantically worrying about the fact that the captain just turned the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign back on.  The truth is, though, that it really isn’t THAT much help; I still get incredibly nervous during the flight no matter what people’s reactions to the same turbulence I’m feeling are.  Compounding the frustration, the turbulence is almost always nothing but the tiniest bumps, but it draws an overreaction from me, logic be damned. Continue reading