Saturday, 11 May 2013

1. Beethoven Symphony no.5

Ludwig van Beethoven

As a beginner, Beethoven's 5th symphony is a great place to start, due to its immense popularity and familiarity. Most people will recognise the opening, but few will know how or why they know it (frankly, who cares). It's popularity and catchiness is undeniable.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a German composer. His 5th symphony consists of four movements, as do most symphonies as a general rule (there are exceptions, of course). The whole symphony lasts about 30 minutes on average. The title of each movement is in Italian, which was also a standard at the time (again with exceptions). The titles mostly indicate the speed of the work, so that when translated into English, become fairly useful:
1. Allegro con brio (Fast with liveliness)
2. Andante con moto (Medium tempo with motion)
3. Scherzo. Allegro (Joke. Fast)
4. Allegro (Fast)

Beethoven Symphonies Gewandhausorchester Riccardo Chailly

A quick search on iTunes, Spotify or will reveal a dizzying number (literally hundreds) of recordings of Beethoven's 5th symphony. This further supports the claims of popularity, but makes choosing a recording close to impossible. My current favourite recent recording, hence the one I recommend, is played by the Gewandhausorchester (Gewandhaus is a concert hall in Leipzig, Germany, the home of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra), conducted by the famous Italian conductor, Riccardo Chailly.
If you are interested in hearing some thoughts by the conductor, then see below video.

My main reason for liking this recording is the clarity of sound, the crisp energised playing and the generally fast, driving speeds, which I'm partial to. Basically, this is exciting music making from beginning to end and is therefore extremely enjoyable. You are guaranteed to be bobbing your head, pounding your fists, air-conducting, singing along or dancing around. I encourage all emotional responses to music, however bizarre, as long as it adds to your enjoyment. Purists may disagree, but who cares.

A small piece of advice for those who really want to develop an appreciation for this and all future works. Break the experience down into manageable parts. I recommend listening to your favourite movement a couple of times, say 2-4 times, then move on to your next favourite movement and repeat. Then listen to the work as a cohesive whole and repeat until you feel you know the work well. There is no hurry, so do this over a few days or weeks. The goal is to enjoy the journey, so sit back, relax and enjoy.

Links to the recording: Beethoven: The Symphonies [+digital booklet] (Disk 4 track 2-5)

Spotify (track 2-5)

Below is an excellent performance that you can watch on YouTube. This is a performance that took place in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which is just down the road from where I live.

For fact junkies, see the below links:
Information about Beethoven 
Information on Beethoven symphony no.5

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