Sunday, January 30, 2011

Beethoven - A Rough Guide

Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. He is
considered to have been the most crucial figure in the transitional
period between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical
music, and remains one of the most famous and influential composers
of all time.

See Wikipedia for more on the life and music of Beethoven:

The links in the guide below are to YouTube movies.  For brevity, I've
only included one movement of some of the pieces.  Apologies in
advance for any annoying ads :(  Ad-blocking plugins are available for
most browsers ;)

If the links are blocked, you can try listening to the pieces via
Wikipedia or elsewhere, e.g.

The "rough guide" ...

1. Bagatelle in A Minor, WoO 59, 'Für Elise'
This is a live performance of a piece that almost every aspiring pianist
is taught to play.  Even if you don't listen to much classical, it's
likely you've heard this piece, maybe at a school concert or in a movie.
BTW, a bagatelle is a short piece of music, typically light or mellow,
and the performer is Valentina Lisitsa (Ukraine).

2. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2, 'Moonlight':
   I. Adagio sostenuto
Originally sonatas were written for solo instruments, or sometimes
for small groups.  The form evolved through the Classical period.
Beethoven wrote 32 sonatas for piano.  Perhaps the most famous and well-
known is this one, "Moonlight".  The video is for the first of three
movements.  The performer, Wilhelm Kempff, was particularly known for
his interpretations of Beethoven's works.

3. Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13, 'Pathétique':
   II. Adagio cantabile
Here's the second movement of an earlier piano sonata, also performed
by Kempff.  Unfortunately the recording has some glitches during the
climax and other loud sections.

4. Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Op. 53, 'Waldstein':
   I. Allegro con brio
Another piano sonata, this time performed by Russian pianist Emil
Gilels.  As its tempo suggests, this first movement is quite lively.
The piece actually goes for a bit longer, but the full performance of
the sonata has been split into parts by the uploader, possibly due to
limitations by YouTube.

5. Violin Sonata No. 5 in F, Op. 24, 'Spring':
   II. Adagio molto espressivo
While Beethoven was primarily a pianist, he composed for many other
instruments.  In this sonata, the violin is the focus, but accompanied
by piano.  This performance, by violinist Henryk Szeryng and pianist
Arthur Rubinstein, is of the second movement.

6. Piano Trio No. 7 in B-Flat, Op. 97, 'Archduke':
   I. Allegro moderato
I couldn't leave this piece out, having recently read "Kafka on the
Shore" by Haruki Murakami.  One of the characters in that book becomes
obsessed with Beethoven's music, and with this piece in particular.
From Beethoven's "middle" period, it is written for piano, violin and
cello.  It gets its name from its dedication, to a student and patron,
Archduke Rudolph of Austria.  Here the first movement is performed by
Daniel Barenboim (piano), Pinchas Zukerman (violin) and Jacqueline
du Pré (cello).

7. Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat, Op. 73, 'Emperor':
   II. Adagio un poco mosso
A concerto is a composition usually in three parts or movements, where
a solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.  In this, the second
movement of Beethoven's 5th piano concerto, the piano doesn't kick in
until around the two minute mark, but the sublime melody is worth the
wait.  This concerto came in at #2 in the ABC Classic FM's Classic 100
last year, and #1 in the Classic 100 Concertos in 2007.  The performers
of this version are Krystian Zimerman on piano, with the Vienna
Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

8. Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15:
   III. Rondo: Allegro scherzando
This performance of the upbeat third movement of Beethoven's first
(published) piano concerto features Krystian Zimerman on piano again and

9. Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61: III. Rondo
This is the third and final movement of the only concerto Beethoven
composed for the violin as the principle instrument.  Interestingly,
this concerto was not well received when it premiered, but it became a
staple of the genre after Beethoven's death.  Last year it came in at #9
in last year's Classic 100.

10. Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio
A symphony is an extended musical composition, almost always for a full
orchestra.  Most people will recognise the emphatic opening to this, the
opening movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.  This version is by the
Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of big orchestral works, probably
because I prefer more minimalist music.  After building up to the full
orchestral treatment, I'm going to wrap up this rough guide with two
piano-only selections.

11. 33 Variations on a Waltz by Anton Diabelli, Op. 120 (part)
The Diabelli Variations was one of Beethoven's later works.  It is
regarded as one of the supreme compositions for the piano.  Here
Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy performs the opening theme and the
first set of variations.

12. Rondo in C, Op. 51 No. 1: Moderato e grazioso
A rondo is a composition where a principal theme (the "refrain")
alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called
"episodes", I guess a bit like songs with choruses and verses.  This
performance features the Russian pianist, Sviatoslav Richter.  Note
that this video also features a piece by Brahms in the second half.