Saturday, July 31, 2010

7/31 Richter: The Enigma

Today's post will be "and More" (from the "LvB and More" title of this blog).

My favorite pianist is Sviatoslav Richter ('rish-ta'). Unlike most pianists, his repertoire covers everyone from Bach to Berg, Baroque to 20th Century. He premiered several of Prokofiev's piano sonatas and I still think his interpretations are without peer. He learned his craft not through a carefully-constructed career path involving lessons at 3 and tournaments at 7, but rather through playing background piano for operas, ballets and cabaret shows. Subsequently, at his first real lesson his teacher proclaimed him to be a genius. When the celebrated pianist Emil Gilels came to America he would tell interviewers "if you think I'm good, wait till you hear Richter." At the end of his career he was uncomfortable with the role of the performer as star and preferred to perform in the dark with only a single lamp lighting his sheet music. In later years he wanted to bring music "to the people". He played shows in small country towns in Siberia, sometimes in churches (since there were no actual concert halls). He had a piano with him in the back of a truck.

Even though Richter is my favorite pianist, ironically I can't claim him as my favorite Beethoven pianist. His Beethoven is magnificent, and Richter's intention is to be nothing more than a pure conduit between the composer and the listener. Yet, when I hear his recordings I think Richter first and Beethoven second. He never performed all of Beethoven's sonatas (including the Waldstein). Maybe that tells something right there.

Here's a fantastic documentary in two parts, "Richter: The Enigma", Parts 1 and 2 (Directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, 1998). It's basically a 'memory walk' with Richter himself.  It's pretty long, each part is 77 minutes long, so set aside a good 2 and a half hours.  You can use the controls at the bottom to skip to a part of the program if you want to view it in parts.  Or use Keepvid to download the whole thing to your computer.  You can use my playlist.  But it is one of my favorite documentaries on a pianist (or musician) ever made.

Friday, July 30, 2010

7/30 Advice from the Tagebuch

One of the most interesting of Beethoven's body of writings is his diary, or "Tagebuch". It was written between 1812 and 1818. Sadly the original manuscript is missing, but what we have left are handwritten copies of it by early Beethoven biographers. In it, he jots down proverbs, money lending accounts, shopping lists, favorite passages from poems and plays...nowadays we have these things called blogs instead of diaries. Except that blogs are public of course...

Anyway, here are some sample Tagebuch entries along the lines of "Beethoven's Chicken Soup for the Soul", or maybe "Dear Ludwig"...

(Entries with quotes are not B's own words, but something he is quoting; text in parentheses is my own humble commentary)

5. "Speech is like silver, but to be silent at the right moment is pure gold."

6. "Don't waste time with bad people."

7. The best way not to think of your woes is to keep busy.

10. How should Eleison be pronounced in Greek? E-lei E-le-ison is correct.
(B set it as E-lei-son in the Missa Solemnis)

16. I have to show the English a little of what a blessing "God Save the King" is.
(B wrote 7 Variations (in C major) on 'God save the King' WoO.78)

19. Shoe brushes for polishing when somebody visits.

25. There is much to be done on earth, do it soon!

26. For Fate gave Man the courage to endure to the end.

30. Hatred recoils upon those who harbor it.

32. 7 pairs of boots.

34. Never outwardly show people the contempt they deserve, because one cannot know when one may need them.
(Clearly would not have made it as a blog entry. Can you imagine John Adams writing that on his blog?)

38. 34 bottles of wine from Countess Erdody.

48. Always study from half past 5 until breakfast.
(Extremely dedicated for someone in his mid-40s.)

70. About a library: large books must stand upright and in such a way that one can easily grasp them.

84. Leave aside operas and everything else, write only in your manner.
(In other words, go your own way and to hell with the public demand.)

109. Never again live alone with one servant, it is and remains hazardous; just imagine the situation where the master falls ill and the servant perhaps does too.
(I prohibit my servants from getting ill.)

110. The shortest way to avoid cheating is to order from a particular restaurant.

122. Sensual gratification without a spiritual union is and remains bestial, afterwards one has no trace of noble feeling but rather remorse.
(Not sure how often one should feel 'noble' afterwards, under any circumstances....)

126. Tranquility and freedom are the greatest treasures.

156. A separate rack for Handel.
(I'm assuming he means his bound 1st edition copies of Handel scores and not his CD collection.)

167. Troglodytes = cave-dwellers.

My transcriptions of B's Tagebuch come from Maynard Solomon's "Beethoven Essays" (Harvard). Recommended, at the very least for just for the complete Tagebuch and Mr. Solomon's much more erudite commentary.

(some excerpts from Google books below)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

7/29 Beethoven : Play by Play (A. Rich)

One of my favorite books when just starting to listen to B's major works is Alan Rich's "Beethoven - Play by Play" (Harper/Collins). I bought it for $1 'like new' on Amazon. Best deal of the year.

Basically it is a detailed guided tour of the Eroica Symphony and the Egmont Overture. It includes a CD recording of these 2 works conducted by Sir Georg Solti w the CSO and it gives track times in the analyses so you can easily match the text with the time on your CD player.

Here's a random quote:

"Heading for C minor, the music veers instead to a deceptive cadence on A-flat (Track 2, index 8, 12:28). A quiet new theme (F) in A-flat (T2/i8, 12:44) leads to a reprise of (B2) (T2/i8, 13:22) in the 'proper' key of C minor but then to a complete collapse (T2/i8, 13:34) as fragments of themes (A) and (B) turn to sand..."

(from the chapter on the Marcia Funebre).

Actually that was a bit dry - so much for random. It's in general more exciting than that.

The first part of the book is 79 pgs of a general overview of B's life and work (relatively decent considering it's brevity), then the detailed run down of the Eroica and Egmont in 35 pgs. Finally (and this is the part that I refer to the most) structural analyses of 16 of B's most famous works in 36 pgs:

Symphonies 5, 7, 9, Missa Solemnis, Mass in C, Moonlight, Pathetique, Appasionata, Grosse fugue, Archduke Trio, Kreutzer & Spring Violin Sonatas, Piano Concertos 4 & 5, etc....

These also come with recommended recordings and timings for each section. For someone who is not experienced at discerning melodic and structural form in large scale works these were extremely helpful in developing my sensitivity to structural dynamics in B's music.

Here's an example:

Sonata 23, Op 57 (Appassionata) (Alfred Brendel, Phillips 411470-2)
Track 7 Assai allegro - Sonata Form

0:00 Exposition: first theme
0:59 Second theme
1:21 First theme (variation)
1:58 Third theme
2:27 Development: First theme
3:30 Second theme
4:52 Third theme
4:57 Recapitulation
5:59 Second theme
6:59 Third theme
7:30 Coda

Listening to something over an hour long like the Missa Solemnis with orchestral score in hand can be pretty exhausting for someone not used to score-reading, but with a breakdown like the one in Mr. Rich's book it can at least be approached with these "signposts".

Of course you still have to search out the "recommended recordings" if you want to follow the track timings.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Mr. Rich nor Mr. Brendel.

Oh wow , Mr. Rich just passed away this past April. RIP and thanks for a great book Mr. Rich!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

7/28 Eroica : The Revolutionary

It's a fact that the most written about Beethoven symphony is Symphony 3, The Eroica. So I guess I will add my 2 cents as well...

The Eroica is my favorite work of music, the 1st movement my favorite 'piece'. To truly appreciate its revolutionary nature it's helpful to listen to a bunch of Mozart and Haydn symphonies first (not that there's anything wrong with them!). Then listen to the Eroica.

KABLAM - the Romantic Era is born.

A few things jump out for me:
  • The 1st movement is in Eb but the 1st theme resolves to a C# (DISSONANCE right from the very start, even before the main theme is fully stated!). Then at the recap this main theme comes again - but it is RESOLVED. It feels like a battle has been won, or a mystery has been solved.
  • The development usually re-works previously stated themes but here a NEW THEME surfaces. It also happens to be one of the most emotionally resonant themes in B's oeuvre. This theme comes back in the coda, which actually feels more like a 2nd development, it's so huge.
  • Right before the recap the horn enters 'early' before the full orchestra. It's like a pre-echo of sorts. Apparently Ries (B's student) thought it was a mistake on the part of the musicians during the first rehearsal.
  • A favorite moment is the 6 orchestral 'hits' of C7 before the end of the exposition repeat. It feels like it should be |BAM-BAM-BAM|BAM-BAM-BAM| but instead it's |ah-BAM-ah|BAM-ah-BAM|ah-BAM-ah|BAM-ah-BAM|. He really means those tuttis!
  • The fughetta in the development is beautiful, not exactly revolutionary but worth mentioning.
  • And finally, the "Psycho" moment (in reference to Bernard Herrmann's score for the Hitchcock film), which is in the development where these 10 chord hits come before the new dev. theme mentioned earlier. The first 4 hits is a dissonant chord but then it suddenly resolves itself (top of 9th interval(B/C1) drops down a step to the octave (B/B1)) for the last 6 hits, while in a diminuendo. Somehow a so-called 'resolution' never sounded so creepy/ominous.
There's many, many more cool things in just the 1st movement but I'll save that for another post.
Here are some great sites with detailed analyses of the Eroica, including audio samples:

and a long thesis on the history of the Eroica:

And Peter Gutman's thorough overview.

(fyi - I used the Liszt transcription for my own brief analysis because I am essentially lazy. :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

7/27 Das liebe Kätzchen (The Dear Kitten)

Something lighter today after the epic Waldstein:

Das liebe Kätzchen (The dear kitten) Hess 133

B. did quite alot of folksong arrangements, among them Welsh, English, Scottish, Russian, Spanish, etc... He was asked by George Thompson to set various trad. melodies to small chamber ensembles for amateur performance. He added some very imaginative intros and codas to these otherwise innocuous melodies. In fact one was rejected because it was too hard to play (one about a nightingale I think).
Here is an Austrian folk song arrangement which is pretty 'cute'. In fact the first time I heard it I thought my iPod had skipped to a Doors song...

Das liebe Kätzchen (The Dear Kitten), Hess 133

Apparently composed for piano trio this harpsichord version has a unique quality.

(Sung by Volker Horn with harpsichord by Hans Hilsdorf)


Our cat's had kittens
63 of them, all mine
one of them has stripes
that's the one for me.

Monday, July 26, 2010

7/26 Waldstein Sonata Op.53 (Gulda & Teoria)

Friedrich Gulda (rt) with free jazz icon Cecil Taylor (left)
Piano Sonata 21, Opus 53 (Waldstein) is one of my favorite of B's sonatas - it starts out absolutely churning, the second subject is the definition of lyrical, the development acrobatic. And that's just the first movement. Sadly my favorite pianist Sviatoslav Richter never recorded the Waldstein, though my 2nd favorite, Friedrich Gulda did, and it is blazing with dynamic energy.

Anyways here is a great animated flash analysis of the Waldstein 1st movement by José Rodríguez Alvira.  In fact his site is a treasure trove of animated musical goodies including Sonata Op. 49, No. 2 and some very cool Bach fugues.

Teoria : Music Theory Web
Here's a video capture as a preview, but go to the link above for a much better looking animation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

7/24 Mephistos Flohlied (Song of the Flea)

My favorite lieder by B, this inspired me to actually arrange it for guitar and voice. The story is by Goethe, essentially it's about a flea being invited to a royal court. I think it gets squashed at the end....

Here's good ol Dieter's version:
Aus Goethes Faust ("Mephistos Flohlied"/Song of the Flea), Op. 72, No. 2

And here's Spin-17's version (from rehearsal so you may notice some "liberties" - posting this for the arrangement, not to show off my guitar virtuosity :)

Text Translation (from

A king there was once reigning,
Who had a goodly flea,
Him loved he without feigning,
As his own son were he!

His tailor then he summon’d,

The tailor to him goes;
Now measure me the youngster
For jerkin and for hose!

In satin and in velvet

Behold the younker dressed;
Bedizen’d o’er with ribbons,
A cross upon his breast.

Prime minister they made him,

He wore a star of state;
And all his poor relations
Were courtiers, rich and great.

The gentlemen and ladies

At court were sore distressed;
The queen and all her maidens
Were bitten by the pest,

And yet they dared not scratch them,

Or chase the fleas away.
If we are bit, we catch them
And crack them without delay.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7/23 Animated Symphony 6 with Autograph

I'm pretty fond of B's autograph manuscripts. It's as if his sketches are plans for individual tactics, and the manuscript is the enactment of the entire battle - sometimes things need to be changed on the spot, hence the X's and cross-outs to be found all over his manuscripts.
The BeethovenHaus in Bonn has a great website with loads of archival material including manuscripts, sketches and letters. Here is a short animated autograph score to the beginning of the 6th (Pastoral) Symphony.

Juilliard also has a great manuscript collection.

7/22 Seufzer eines Ungeliebten - Gegenlieb

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
This is a somewhat obscure lieder from B. with words by GA Bürger, the title translates to "Sigh of one who is unloved - Love returned". At the time B. was 25 and apparently a real man about town... It's nice to see a different side of the "thunderer".

The other thing that's interesting is that the melody for the "love returned" part sure sounds fact it's largely the same as the end melody to the Choral Fantasy in 1809, which eventually led to the Ode to Joy melody of the 9th Symphony in about getting a tune stuck in your head!

Sung here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:
Seufzer eines Ungeliebten - Gegenlieb, WoO.118 (1795)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

7/21 1st chord of 1st Symphony

The first chord of Beethoven's first Symphony in C is a seventh chord. It's actually the chord of C which is the key of the piece, but because it's a 7th it's unstable and has to resolve to F. Not C! Not only that but the strings are played pizzicato. The work is unmistakable from the very first note. Even in his first major orchestral statement he's approaching an original and revolutionary stance. This was not the first time a dominant 7th chord opened a symphony but it was still a pretty cheeky move for a relatively unknown composer. Funnily enough, around this time a review of B's Clarinet trio in the AMZ music review said that he could never hope to become famous unless he tried to "write more naturally" (Burk).

Here's a great Paavo Jaarvi performance of Beethoven's 1st:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

7/20 Presto In C Minor, WoO.52 (Schenck)

Here's one of my favorite "not famous" Beethoven piano pieces. The 5-note bass motif is pretty catchy, sooo Beethoven. This performance by Georg Schenck is my favorite. His Fantasia In G Minor Op.77 is also pretty great...

Presto In C Minor WoO.52 (1795, rev. 1798 & 1822)

Monday, July 19, 2010

7/19 Beethoven and the Panharmonicon

Here's a picture of the Maelzel's Panharmonicon (from This was a mechanical device which could play pre-programmed orchestral music, kind of like a gigantic music box. Beethoven composed Wellington's Siege (Battle of Vittoria) Op.91 (1813) for it and then created a score for regular orchestra. Actually the score has 2 parts, a 'battle' symphony and a 'victory' symphony. The 'victory' part was composed for the panharmonicon. Maelzel (who invented the metronome as well as Beethoven's ear-trumpets) more or less told Beethoven which themes he wanted for this device and that's why this piece is usually considered an embarrassment. Actually it's a light piece of program music and I still like it for what it is. It basically provides music and sound effects to evoke the Battle of Vittoria where Britain's Wellington defeated Napoleon. In fact, cannon and musket shots are actually written into the score (the battle part). Yes, Beethoven used graphic notation in 1813. You can here a midi version of this piece and more info below from

(Wind Band version)

Interestingly, I recently learned that the ensemble which premiered the orchestral version of Wellington's Siege included Salieri (cannon supervisor), Hummel (percussion), and Meyerbeer (large thunder machine) wonder it was a hit!
Part of the Panharmonicon which Beethoven composed for. These are the "rolls".
The first disk-based computer music system (so to speak).