Occasional Notes on the Works of Beethoven

Symphony 1 in C, Op. 21 (1800). – Toscanini recording of 21 December 1951. Remains an undiminished interpretation.

Symphony 2 in D, Op. 36 (1802). The 1949-51 composite recording by Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Beethoven’s use of form is architectural and harmonic, and the expressive is in the service of these. This is increasingly the case in this symphony and other works written around this time, such as the third piano concerto, with the concerto’s extraordinary breadth and balance of construction asserted immediately in the long introduction. But the same balance is achievable with smaller units of sound, such as the turn in the arpeggiated, triadic theme of the opening allegro con brio, and which has clear analogies to metrical units such as feet in poetry; and, even more integrally, the written shake that first appears in bar 51 and becomes the dominant assertion in the concluding bars of the finale. All four movements demonstrate the principle that Basil Lam identifies as mastery of proportion, which, “must include the ability to contrast masses of various sizes.”

Symphony 3 in E♭, Op. 55 (1804). The 1949 Carnegie Hall recording by Arturo Toscanini. One of the greatest recordings of this work.

Symphony 7 in A, Op. 92 (1812). The CulturalRites article is here.

The Count of Egmont

The Count of Egmont

Egmont (overture), Op. 84 (1810). The January, 1953, broadcast by Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini is one of the few conductors who establishes a convincing tempo in the allegro, in which the ostinato figurations are all-important, and, when taken too fast or too slow, impair the effect of the commentary of the melodic figurations and fragments. The establishment of the right tempo is also vital to the enabling of an effective transition to the concluding allegro con brio. This is the incidental music to Goethe’s 1787 play of the same name.

String Quartet 12 in E♭, Op. 127 (1825). The first of the great quartets written in Beethoven’s final years. The sonorities are remarkable, from the opening bar on, and a certain kind of spell is cast upon the listener, in which thought is absorbed and becomes pure sound and structure. There is within this, and the succeeding quartets, an understanding and its communication that the intensity of deafness heard first, and to which, with however much initial puzzlement, one must listen to, and then respond.

String Quartet 14 in c♯ (1826). One of the finest of the quartet literature.

Piano sonatas. The CulturalRites article is here.

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