Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

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Modernistfan
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Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by Modernistfan » Wed Sep 12, 2007 3:55 pm

Has anyone else noticed how the more traditional, weightier, "German" style of interpretation of the Beethoven symphonies has all but disappeared? It is now very difficult to find such recordings in anything approaching modern stereo sound.

Of course, the Klemperer EMI cycle is still available in a budget box. The cycle conducted by Kurt Sanderling with the Philharmonia, recorded in the early 1980's and one of the first digital cycles, is now virtually impossible to find, although I found it on 6 separate CDs at Best Buy(!!!). The earlier Kurt Masur recordings (1970's) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus are now only available as a cycle on Pentatone SACD; his later recordings with the same orchestra (early 1990's) are now out of print again, although it may still be possible to find the box set. (Believe it or not, it is out of print in England, according to MDT and Crotchet.)

Most recent Beethoven symphony recordings are lighter and influenced in some way by the period instrument movement. What gives?

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by karlhenning » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:02 pm

Modernistfan wrote:Most recent Beethoven symphony recordings are lighter and influenced in some way by the period instrument movement. What gives?
Probably the consensus is that Beethoven interpretation had reached a point where it was much more thickly Romantified than anything the composer originaly had in view (or 'in ear').

Romantic excess had its day; by and large, it has fallen out of favor.

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~Karl
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Post by Modernistfan » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:06 pm

But I like Romantic excess!!

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by karlhenning » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:06 pm

Modernistfan wrote:[Kurt Masur's] later recordings with the same orchestra (early 1990's) are now out of print again, although it may still be possible to find the box set.
That's the one I picked up, and I like it very well indeed:

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/alb ... m_id=86007
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:06 pm

Modernistfan wrote:But I like Romantic excess!!
I don't think the Masur set qualifies for that :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Modernistfan » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:22 pm

Probably it doesn't (I am listening to the finale of the Ninth from that set at work). I dislike weak, wimpy Beethoven though. I have this theory that the pendulum keeps shifting between Mozart and Beethoven according to the Zeitgeist. Right now, we are in a very conservative period, and Beethoven's barrier-shattering is out of favor; Mozart is far safer. Forty years ago, in the midst of a more radical period, Beethoven was much more in favor.

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Post by Barry » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:26 pm

Modernistfan wrote:But I like Romantic excess!!
I'm with you! And it's why the vast majority of my collection of Beethoven symphony recordings is comprised of long-dead conductors. I'll occasionally listen to a HIP-influenced recording for a change, especially for symphonies 4 and 8, but in general, I prefer the sound of a full orchestra and don't mind romanticized interpretations a bit for this music.

Furtwangler has been my favorite Beethoven conductor for many years.

There are some exceptions to the rule for modern recordings, btw. Barenboim's cycle from a few years ago is more in the mold of the conductors of yesteryear than the current HIPsters. Colin Davis also made a digital cycle that was extremely old world.
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Post by Barry » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:30 pm

Modernistfan wrote:Probably it doesn't (I am listening to the finale of the Ninth from that set at work). I dislike weak, wimpy Beethoven though. I have this theory that the pendulum keeps shifting between Mozart and Beethoven according to the Zeitgeist. Right now, we are in a very conservative period, and Beethoven's barrier-shattering is out of favor; Mozart is far safer. Forty years ago, in the midst of a more radical period, Beethoven was much more in favor.
I recall a strong trend in the direction of Mozart among the general public around the time of the 200th anniversary of his death. He was everywhere. And there was another big anniversary for him last year that brought him back to the forefront.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back the other way when we approach the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth and the 200th of his death.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

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Post by Heck148 » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:42 pm

Barry Z wrote:
Modernistfan wrote:But I like Romantic excess!!
I'm with you! And it's why the vast majority of my collection of Beethoven symphony recordings is comprised of long-dead conductors.
I agree with you, Barry, even tho our choice of conductors might differ.

HIP Beethoven is just too wimpy, it lacks the real socko, full-toned approach you get with modern instruments and full orchestras...
the passions, the energy in Beethoven's music run very deep, and lend themselves readily to the most exciting sound that can be produced....ie
at the opening of Sym #5/IV - I want to hear C Major!! real in-your-face-rock 'em-sock 'em C Major...like -
Reiner/CSO - nothing like it :D ....HIP is comically inadequate.

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Post by Modernistfan » Wed Sep 12, 2007 4:42 pm

Well, the Barenboim Staatskapelle Berlin cycle is no longer available in the US except in the form of DVD's. The cycle is still available in a budget box in England. I might consider that as well (about $35.00 plus shipping for 6 CDs at current exchange rates, not too bad in spite of the Bushie trashing of the almightly dollar). It was the disappearance of that cycle in the US that started off these musings.

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:17 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Modernistfan wrote:Most recent Beethoven symphony recordings are lighter and influenced in some way by the period instrument movement. What gives?
Probably the consensus is that Beethoven interpretation had reached a point where it was much more thickly Romantified than anything the composer originaly had in view (or 'in ear').

Romantic excess had its day; by and large, it has fallen out of favor.

Cheers,
~Karl
Yes, Karl, and sometimes these things do make a difference. To take an extreme example, a first movement of the Ninth taken at that enshrined tempo can make one wonder what is going on. A performance taken at the tempo of, say, Gardiner, i.e., the tempo intended by Beethoven,
causes one to have the appropriate reaction of wiping the sweat off one's brow with the back of one's hand (mouth agape fits in there too).

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by Barry » Wed Sep 12, 2007 7:57 pm

jbuck919 wrote: Yes, Karl, and sometimes these things do make a difference. To take an extreme example, a first movement of the Ninth taken at that enshrined tempo can make one wonder what is going on. A performance taken at the tempo of, say, Gardiner, i.e., the tempo intended by Beethoven,
causes one to have the appropriate reaction of wiping the sweat off one's brow with the back of one's hand (mouth agape fits in there too).
Here's a good example of completely different taste in how a piece is best performed. The opening movement of Beethoven's 9th my be my single favorite movement of any of the symphonies (3i and 6ii are up there too). And the performance that raised the first movement of the 9th to such a level for me was the 3/42 Furtwangler/BPO. He takes it at a little over 17 minutes. It feels like the huge climax a little over half-way into the movement longer than any other version I've heard. But it doesn't feel the least bit sluggish. He has the orchestra attack that climax with such ferocity (where every time you think he can't have them come back that hard again, they do) that I would have been happy for it to go on even longer. Then as he approaches the coda, he uses rubato in the most devastating manner (again, I mean that in the most positive of ways). I'm not great with terminology, but the part that slows down to a hault, just before the build up at the end begins is again taken very slowly. He extends the pause between each note a little longer, until he almost comes to a stop even before the last note. Then the build up at the start of the coda is so gradual, with so much space between notes, that as it gradually speeds back up, I get the sensation that he is taking something fractured and putting it back together, almost like creation itself (and I write that as an agnostic.......but the symbolism works for me). By the last few notes, the orchestra is again playing with an amazing ferocity.

I know this may look nuts to a lot of people. But I've had that feeling since the very first time I've heard this performance, and it comes back every time I listen to it. No other performance of anything has ever made such a strong impression on me. It almost completely changed my taste in how orchestral music should be performed.

A HIP approach just has never made anywhere near that kind of impact on me. I need that weight; that flexibility.

I certainly appreciate the fact that people want to hear the music as Beethoven envisioned it and as it sounded in his day. It makes perfect sense from an intellectual standpoint. But my gut tells me that composers like Beethoven and Berlioz would have been thrilled to have a full modern-sounding orchestra at their disposal and would have probably never considered turning back to what we now call a HIP orchestra if they had a band that sounded like the present day VPO at their disposal.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by karlhenning » Wed Sep 12, 2007 8:43 pm

Barry Z wrote:I certainly appreciate the fact that people want to hear the music as Beethoven envisioned it and as it sounded in his day. It makes perfect sense from an intellectual standpoint. But my gut tells me that composers like Beethoven and Berlioz would have been thrilled to have a full modern-sounding orchestra at their disposal and would have probably never considered turning back to what we now call a HIP orchestra if they had a band that sounded like the present day VPO at their disposal.
Now, wait just a second, Barry. This isn't about "intellectually choosing historical awareness" VS. "Barry's gut." And maybe you didn't really mean for that to resonate like that.

But what makes perfect sense to me is, that's the way you heard it in a formative experience; and now, for you, that's the way it has to be. That's understandable. But when another listener likes -- really intensely likes -- some other approach to the piece, don't chalk it up to intellect, even if the handle that you come closest to grasping that is via your intellect. Personally, I don't find (for instance) the HvK recordings of Beethoven which I have heard, exhilarating; but I do find exhilaration in other recordings

And, incidentally, it may not be amiss for me to point out that I used the phrase "by and large" in speaking of the taste for Romantic excess having fallen out of favor. There's always going to be hidebound holdouts like Barry ;-)

Seriously, Barry, I wish you joy of the interpretations which you love, and I would not presume to try to "argue you" out of them. I do tend to think that fixing upon a certain model because of an initial experience, can be limiting, and in some ways illusionary. But in any event, your experience and mine are not going to be the same.

Personally, I am really excited when listening to a performance which, while carrying the music and remaining true to the piece, sounds fresh. And I think that Beethoven is bigger than any one conductor, or any one school of conducting.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by Barry » Wed Sep 12, 2007 8:56 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Barry Z wrote:I certainly appreciate the fact that people want to hear the music as Beethoven envisioned it and as it sounded in his day. It makes perfect sense from an intellectual standpoint. But my gut tells me that composers like Beethoven and Berlioz would have been thrilled to have a full modern-sounding orchestra at their disposal and would have probably never considered turning back to what we now call a HIP orchestra if they had a band that sounded like the present day VPO at their disposal.
Now, wait just a second, Barry. This isn't about "intellectually choosing historical awareness" VS. "Barry's gut." And maybe you didn't really mean for that to resonate like that.
But what makes perfect sense to me is, that's the way you heard it in a formative experience; and now, for you, that's the way it has to be. That's understandable. But when another listener likes -- really intensely likes -- some other approach to the piece, don't chalk it up to intellect, even if the handle that you come closest to grasping that is via your intellect. Personally, I don't find (for instance) the HvK recordings of Beethoven which I have heard, exhilarating; but I do find exhilaration in other recordings

Cheers,
~Karl
Karl,
I doubt there is another poster on this board who bends over backwards to a greater extent to point out that my opinions are only my opinions, and I don't expect you or anyone else to agree with them. I'm afraid you tend to read things into my posts that aren't there.

I didn't say anyone who likes a HIP approach to this music is doing so for only intellectual reasons, and I'm not sure where you'd get the idea that that's what I meant. Looking at what I wrote now, I think it's pretty clear that I meant that it makes sense to me from an intellectual standpoint for people to be interested in hearing what the music sounded like when it was first performed in spite of the fact that I don't react well emotionally to that approach. I was addressing that dichotomy only from my own perspective; not yours or anyone else's.

Although I'd think that even you would have to admit that many people were initially swayed to try out HIP (and maybe this was more the case in the early years of the HIP movement than it is now) out of intellectual curiousity. How they reacted to it once they tried it is another matter altogether.

Now, if it makes you feel better, I actually agree with you that it's not a good thing that one particular performance of any piece, especially one so interpretively radical, be imprinted on me to such a great extent. I really do have trouble enjoying other approaches to the 9th and I wish that wasn't the case. But there you have it.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Sep 12, 2007 9:05 pm

Barry Z wrote: I know this may look nuts to a lot of people.
Oh, what could possibly make you think that? :)

I went to grad school with a Furtwaengler nut who had us over for a party on his (F's) "birthday" (I am not making this up). In not the first, but the last movement of the Ninth, F. executed a full-blown accelerando in the "recitative" portion. That is not performance; it is lunacy.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by Heck148 » Wed Sep 12, 2007 10:04 pm

Barry Z wrote:I certainly appreciate the fact that people want to hear the music as Beethoven envisioned it and as it sounded in his day. It makes perfect sense from an intellectual standpoint. But my gut tells me that composers like Beethoven and Berlioz would have been thrilled to have a full modern-sounding orchestra at their disposal and would have probably never considered turning back to what we now call a HIP orchestra if they had a band that sounded like the present day VPO at their disposal.
I agree - and this was the very point I was trying to impress to Mr. Corkin in the erstwhile HIP thread.
I can't imagine that these composers would be displeased to hear their music played by modern forces...

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Post by jbuck919 » Thu Sep 13, 2007 1:54 am

We are doing apples and oranges here. I just want to make it clear that I didn't reference Gardiner because of HIP, just because he performs Beethoven at an appropriate tempo.

I once had a violist friend and she remarked that normally the violas get some rest space in any work, but in the Ninth they more than earn their pay.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Post by Heck148 » Thu Sep 13, 2007 7:32 am

jbuck919 wrote:I once had a violist friend and she remarked that normally the violas get some rest space in any work, but in the Ninth they more than earn their pay.
LvB #9 is probably the ultimate endurance test for woodwinds [symphonic repertoire]
the first three movements are very fatiguing, constant playing, and if the conductor takes repeats in the 2nd mvt, it really becomes a marathon...constant playing - then you get to the 3rd mvt!! non-stop legato, sustained, soft playing...
the great finale actually, finally, provides some respite, for a little while at least..

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Post by niper » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:22 am

Try on RCA ; Beethoven symphony's(1-9)-NDR sym. orc. + Gunter Wand

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:25 am

jbuck919 wrote:. . . In not the first, but the last movement of the Ninth, F. executed a full-blown accelerando in the "recitative" portion. That is not performance; it is lunacy.
Like the famous remark about the dog walking on hind-legs: it is not done well, but one marvels that it is done at all :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by karlhenning » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:28 am

Barry Z wrote:I didn't say anyone who likes a HIP approach to this music is doing so for only intellectual reasons, and I'm not sure where you'd get the idea that that's what I meant. Looking at what I wrote now, I think it's pretty clear that I meant that it makes sense to me from an intellectual standpoint for people to be interested in hearing what the music sounded like when it was first performed in spite of the fact that I don't react well emotionally to that approach. I was addressing that dichotomy only from my own perspective; not yours or anyone else's.

Although I'd think that even you would have to admit that many people were initially swayed to try out HIP (and maybe this was more the case in the early years of the HIP movement than it is now) out of intellectual curiousity. How they reacted to it once they tried it is another matter altogether.

Now, if it makes you feel better, I actually agree with you that it's not a good thing that one particular performance of any piece, especially one so interpretively radical, be imprinted on me to such a great extent. I really do have trouble enjoying other approaches to the 9th and I wish that wasn't the case. But there you have it.
We are in substantial agreement, Barry; where perhaps you mistook me, it is no matter.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by arglebargle » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:21 pm

Barry Z wrote:it makes sense to me from an intellectual standpoint for people to be interested in hearing what the music sounded like when it was first performed in spite of the fact that I don't react well emotionally to that approach.
The original/new instrument thing is certainly a most interesting and delightfully persistent topic but I don't believe the situation is nearly as black and white as is sometimes discussed. Surely the HIPsters are not using only "intellect" and the Modernists are not using only "emotion" in making their listening choices. Personally, I find I prefer sometimes one and sometimes the other even for the same work depending on my own mood of the moment so I've really no dog in the fight about which is better.

But I would ask the Modernists to consider: if original instruments were really so inferior in terms of imparting emotion, just how it was possible for much of the very finest, most emotionally impactful classical music to be composed by people who never heard it any other way? Or put another way: how is it, given the supposed huge benefit of knowing modern instruments and what they're able to do, that modern composers haven't taken advantage of this and made us all forget about the Beethovens, Bachs, etc?

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Re: Changes in Fashion in Beethoven Interpretation

Post by Barry » Thu Sep 13, 2007 8:25 pm

arglebargle wrote:
Barry Z wrote:it makes sense to me from an intellectual standpoint for people to be interested in hearing what the music sounded like when it was first performed in spite of the fact that I don't react well emotionally to that approach.
The original/new instrument thing is certainly a most interesting and delightfully persistent topic but I don't believe the situation is nearly as black and white as is sometimes discussed. Surely the HIPsters are not using only "intellect" and the Modernists are not using only "emotion" in making their listening choices. Personally, I find I prefer sometimes one and sometimes the other even for the same work depending on my own mood of the moment so I've really no dog in the fight about which is better.
...
Please see what I wrote to Karl when he misinterpreted the same line. I DID NOT say HIPsters are using only intellect and modernest are using only emotion.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement." - Ronald Reagan

http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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Post by Yi-Peng » Fri Sep 14, 2007 1:21 am

I grew up listening to the traditional, weighter-sounding renditions of Beethoven's symphonies, as the HIP-styled renditions had yet to catch on. Then, like a breath of fresh air, my Singaporean classical radio stations aired Sir Gardiner's complete cycle, and I felt it was like a totally new breath of fresh air.
Although I know some of you are grumbling at the death (or dearth) of the old-fashioned way of playing the Beethoven symphonies, I ended up loving this set to the core. No offense to HVK, even though his 1963 cycle still commands respect, but I've been turned off by his school, as well as the Furtwangler and Klemperer schools.
I don't feel willing to stand the old-school Beethoven any more. I've felt convinced that it has now appeared frumpy and lumbering to me, and these new cycles have brushed off all the cobwebs and made me feel the excitement of these symphonies.

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