Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1/25 Beethoven Selects his Greatest Hits

I always like getting recommendations from people who I respect when I want to discover some good music. So what would LvB have recommended (out of his own music that is)?

Well, later in life he definitely would not have recommended his Septet, Op.20, which was actually kind of an early hit with the public. "I wish it were burned", he said, according to Thayer. Also in a letter about his Sextet Op.71: "All that one can really say about it is that is was written by a composer who has produced at any rate a few better works". The 2nd Piano Concerto he admitted was "not one of my best" and sold it at a discount. He admitted in one letter that the overtures "Ruins of Athens", "Nameday" and "King Stephen" were not his "best and greatest".  He once wondered why so many people were crazy about Piano Sonata No. 14 ("Moonlight"), since he thought "Fur Therese" Op.78 (NOT "Fur Elise") was so much better.

However, he was known to name his 3rd Symphony ('Eroica') and the 9th Symphony as favorites later in life and described the 7th Symphony as "one of the happiest products of my poor talents". At one point his favorite piano sonata was Op.22, then Op.57 ("Appassionata"), and then later still Op.106 ("Hammerklavier").
Before the 9th Symphony came along, he said of the Missa Solemnis, "(it's) the greatest work I have ever composed" (tho I'm not sure if that's a quote from an actual conversation, or a fund-raising letter...). Of the string quartets, his favorite was Op.131 in C-sharp minor (which is usually considered his best by many today). And his 'Cavatina' movement from String Quartet Op. 130 always made him cry whenever he thought about it.  He never got tired of his song "Adelaide" Op.46, either for some reason.

So there you have it, if Beethoven were alive today to produce his "Greatest Hits" it would have Symphonies 3,7 and 9, Piano Sonatas "Appassionata" and the "Hammerklavier", String Quartet Op. 131 and Op. 130 and probably the "Gloria" from the Missa Solemnis. Maybe a bonus track would be "Adelaide"....or a remix of the Septet Op.20 with more timpani....?

Here's a transcription of "Adelaide" for guitar and voice, possibly by Anton Diabelli.  I dare someone to sing this at the next Lilith Fair...:)
(Elizabeth Parcells)

(A traditional arrangement of Adelaide can be found HERE)


  1. I am a fellow Beethoven fanatic and enjoy your blog.

    Though you quote Beethoven's comment on his 7th symphony, I have read that when asked why the 7th was so much more popular with the public than the 8th (which premiered in the same concert), he responded something along the lines of "because the 8th is better". I love the 8th but wouldn't agree if Beethoven actually meant it.

  2. Ah yeah, I've read that story too. Beethoven was such a moody guy and would disown an old friend one day, and send him a gift the next week - so I agree sometimes he wouldn't mean something he said. He was a funny guy...

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I think he did mean it, in a way. It was his way of showing annoyance that the 8th was so poorly received at its premiere, compared with the audience's wild reception of the 7th (2nd movement in particluar). I also think he always meant what he said--at least at the moment he said it! B might agree with your last remark about the "remix" of the Septet, but he might want to use your head as the extra timpani, Ed. ;))

  4. One more thing---I really like this "sunburst" version of the famous Stieler portrait!

  5. LOL - yeah I can easily imagine B rapping me on the side of the head for a good fraction of my -remixes- of his pieces! It is fun tho.

    Speaking of the 7th Symphony Allegretto - it was used pretty effectively in the recent movie, The Kings Speech. In fact it is used almost too much in films these days...but it was pretty good in this film.