The Symphony

Beethoven Symp.

The symphony is usually a rather large work with Beethoven's ninth a whopping 74 minutes long but Mozart wrote one that is only about 6 minutes long.  Legend has it that when Sony and Philips were designing the compact disc or CD, they picked 74 minutes as the maximum playing time as they wanted Beethoven's ninth symphony to fit on one disc.  There is some argument about who has conducted the best Beethoven symphonies.  I favor Claudio Abbado.  One fellow I met at Tower Records said that Abbado's reading of Beethoven's symphonies was the only one that made him feel like dancing.  Now that is putting life into music.  I listed the boxed set of all nine symphonies because if you have come this far, you will eventually want to have them all anyway.  The other plus to this collection is that the symphonies are all in order and none are split between discs.  Many recording companies do split things up and it is a very annoying practice, CD changer or not.  If you feel awkward spending that much money at once, you can purchase single discs.  Each disc will have two symphonies on it with the last disc containing just the ninth.  This collection is quite good and is best described as clean and refreshing.   Beethoven's symphonies have been the hallmark of classical music.  

Beethoven's fifth has an opening motif that also happens to be identical in tempo to the morse code 'V'.  During World War II it was played often to raid the morale of the citizens of England during WWII.  Why?  V stood for Victory.  There are many  pictures of Winston Churchill taken during that time where he is holding his fingers up in a 'V'.  They needed all the moral support they could muster as they were being bombed night after night.  Those that live in the US have no idea what that was like including myself.   Imagining the bombings is bad enough thanks.  I once met a couple from England whose names were Monica and Harold Watkins that lived in London during the bombings of London.  During the bombings people would either go to air raid shelters or they would stay at home and take their chances.  During one particular raid their anxiety and tempers grew quite short which resulted in an argument between them.  He went upstairs to shave while she ranted.  Finally he said "I hope a bloody bomb comes right through this roof and lands on your head.   She just laughed and laughed and said "Harold, you do realize that you get it first."  I do have to admit that they never really got over WWII and I can't say I blame them either.

Beethoven's "Pastoral" symphony paints a very large picture of a forest, a brook and many other things including birds and specifically a cuckoo.  Parts of this symphony are featured in Disney's "Fantasia".   I have heard bits and pieces of Beethoven's symphonies in commercials, radio and television programs, and movies.  I consider Beethoven the father of modern music.  Many of his themes and motifs were as unique and different as rock was in the 1950's.    Haydn once said about Beethoven, "I cannot teach him anything.   He knows it all already."  And that came from someone nicknamed "Papa".

The "Eroica" symphony was originally meant as a tribute to Napoleon Bonaparte but upon hearing news about Napoleon, Beethoven tore up and stomped on the title page.  He then wrote another title page. 

I firmly believe that Beethoven is the father of modern music.  I recommend that you read the Beethoven chapter of The Composers.  You will see what his contemporaries and even modern critics have to say about his symphonies.

Yes, Beethoven eventually went deaf and that depressed him greatly and as far as I am concerned he certainly had much to be depressed about.  If I were to suffer that same fate, I am not sure I would have the fortitude to continue on with life.  Without music I become depressed.  I did without music in my home for several years for a variety of reasons and circumstances.  Never again will I be without good music...not ever!  I suppose I have my sister Ann and my mother to thank for my appetite for classical music.   My sister Ann would play all manner of classical music when I was quite young.  She played it all ranging from Anderson to Wagner.  To this day I cannot say where or when I first heard things but it is quite amazing the stuff I have heard before and never knew what it was.  There was one bit of music that I did remember as a child and it took me years to determine what it was.  One night I was listening to Karl Haas' radio program Adventures in Good Music and there it was.  Karl played Chabrier's "Joyeuse marche  - Marche francais"  which led me to "Espana", two pieces that I had been searching for for years.  Below is the cover for a wonderful recording of Chabriers music.  It is excellent technically and artistically as well.


Chabrier (Sha-bree-yay) is a French composer that loved Spanish music.  His music is a fun listen and the recording above really is superb both technically and musically.  OK, I have drifted off a bit.  So sue me!  Let's return to the symphonies.

Brahms' Symphonies and Serenades

Brahms 3+4

This Telarc recording of Brahms 3rd and 4th symphonies earned a great many accolades from a great many sources.  I must admit that the first time I listened to this work it was on an unknown label by an unknown orchestra. Suffice to say I was less than impressed.  No it wasn't that I was unimpressed,  it was just plain horrible.  The conductor and orchestra sucked the life out of the recording and what one was left with was the equivalent of a midi file.  That one recording illustrated to me, and quite dramatically I might add, why the budget recordings are so cheap and why I will never buy another.   The CDs pictured are a part of my permanent collection.  Anyway, this Telarc collection is just plain great stuff.  Never have I heard this music performed better.   I recommend getting all 4 symphonies if you have the extra money.  Even if you don't get the others, you must get the Serenades.  It is another must have for any collection.

Tchakovsky symphonies

Tchaikovsky wrote several symphonies but the ones that are most popular are his 4th, 5th, and 6th.  Personally I consider his other symphonies to be rather lackluster and I cannot recommend them for the beginning listener. 

I do wish DG had picked some different cover art for this CD.  It appears rather bland  Thankfully the music isn't.  I have heard many of these themes on television and I must admit they are quite memorable.  His Pathetique symphony is rather sad at the end as it was written to describe life and finally death.

Tchaikovsky was a troubled man.  Many have tried to ascertain what his real problem was and most seem to agree he was depressed about his sexuality.  Some have stated he was "bi-polar" which means he had horrible mood swings from elation to deep depression.  I personally have experienced deep depression from taking the drug commonly called Sulfa.  I know what it is to feel that and I truly feel sorry for them.  It was the single worst feeling I have ever had and thankfully it only lasted a few hours.  I don't know how people live with continuous deep depression.  There is some controversy over what caused his death.