Beethoven / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - Symphony No. 4 In B Flat Major | RECORD STORE DAY
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?It was Beethoven's original idea to follow the Eroica Symphony with what today is known as the Fifth, and he actually started work on the C minor. The Fifth was intended as a commission for one Count Franz von Oppersdorf, a musical amateur of no mean ability who admired Beethoven's music. In 1806 Beethoven shook the summer dust of Vienna off his feet and went to visit Count Brunswick at Martonvasar. Then, toward the end of the summer, the composer proceeded to Prince Lichnowsky's Castle Gratz in Silesia. Count Oppersdorf, who had a castle in Oberglogau, in the vicinity of Castle Gratz, was visited by Beethoven and Lichnowsky. It was then that Oppersdorf commissioned Beethoven to compose a symphony for him, and Beethoven promised to let him have the C minor. But Beethoven never did deliver the Fifth to the Count. On 1 November 1808, he wrote to that titled gentleman: 'Revered Lord - Don't look on me in a wrong light; the Symphony which I had intended for you I was compelled by want [this was untrue] to sell with a second one to somebody else. But be assured that you will very soon receive the one which I design you to have.' And so Beethoven, who had dedicated the Fifth Symphony to Lobkowitz and Rasoumovsky, sent along the Fourth to Oppersdorf. Since the Fourth Symphony had already been sold and had received it's premiere, Oppersdorf was insulted and infuriated. He broke off negotiations with Beethoven and apparently never wrote or spoke to him again. Beethoven had interrupted work on his Fifth Symphony to compose the Fourth, which was finished in 1806. It's first performance took place in March 1807, in the mansion of Prince Lobkowitz, and on 15 November it was repeated at a charity concert. In both cases the orchestra was largely made up of titled aristocrats, with a few professionals filling in on the instruments less favored by the nobility (horns, etc.). Coming between the Eroica and the C minor, the Fourth Symphony has often been regarded as a less 'important' work than either of those two giants; and it inspired Schumann's oft-quoted phrase of 'a slender Grecian maiden between two Norse giants.' The Fourth is, in all truth, a slighter work (in size and form) than it's two associates. It is a simpler, more, delicate and contrasting work, more graceful in contour but not a shade less inventive melodically. And the Fourth has claimed it's fanatic adherents - men like Berlioz, Schumann, Tovey and others. They adopt the view that size alone is no measure of the aesthetic value of a work of art; that the multiple felicities and subtleties of the Fourth make it one of the finest of all the Beethoven symphonies. Berlioz in particular waxed voluble over the B flat Symphony. He points out that the work 'abandons wholly the ode and the elegy to return to the less lofty and somber, but perhaps less difficult, style of the Second Symphony; and he cites it's 'heavenly sweetness.' The long crescendo in the first movement he finds 'one of the most skilfully contrived things we know of in music.' Berlioz becomes ecstatic over the adagio. 'It escapes analysis. It is so pure in form, the melodic content is so angelic and of such irresistible tenderness that the prodigious art of the workmanship disappears entirely. You are seized, from the first measure, by an emotion which in the end becomes overwhelming in it's intensity; and it is only in the works of one of the giants of poetry that we can find a point of comparison with this sublime page of the giant of music.' And Berlioz goes on to quote the Divine Comedy, ending his summary of the adagio with a particularlypurple patch: 'This movement seems to have been sighed by the Archangel Michael one day, when, seized 3 by an access of melancholy, he stood upon the threshold of the Empyrean and contemplated the world.' But there was one composer-critic who took a dim view of the Fourth Symphony. That was Carl Maria von Weber, who heard an early performance of the work. He reviewed it in a musical journal, and his review took the literary form of a dream. Weber imagined the instruments of the orchestra uttering their complaints after a rehearsal of the score. The double bass moans that although he has a strong constitution he could only just hold out. 'Five minutes more would have shattered my frame.' He adds that he had to turn himself into a fiddle to 'execute the no-ideas of Mr. Composer.' A cello says that he is too tired to speak, and another cello complains bitterly that the symphony is a musical monstrosity, at which point the orchestra attendant tells the instruments to keep quiet, and threatens them with the Eroica if they do not shush. He then describes this B flat Symphony which he says, is very much à la mode: 'First a slow movement full of short, disjointed, unconnected ideas, at the rate of three or four notes per quarter of an hour; then a mysterious roll of the drum and passage of the violas, seasoned with the proper quantity of pauses and ritardandos; and to end all, a furious finale in which the only requisite is that there should be no idea for the hearer to make out, but plenty of transitions from one key to another - on to the new note at once! Never mind modulating! - above all things, throw rules to the winds, for they only hamper a genius.' The slow introduction seemed to bother Weber more than anything else. It is hard to see why, for Haydn certainly had written symphonies 'with adagio introductions that were almost as long. But Beethoven, 'with his economy of scoring in the introduction, and by his concentration on a hushed, mysterious atmosphere, was using a subdued palette; and to the ears of the early 19th century, it must have sounded (as it did to Weber) much longer than it actually is. But where are these horrible modulations that so disturbed Weber? Today they are not even in evidence; and the great value of Weber's criticism is to reemphasize the point that even from the beginning Beethoven was far ahead of many of his listeners, even trained musical ones. As for Weber's remarks about the finale, they sound merely petulant. The finale, Allegro ma non troppo (and the 'ma non troppo' should be underlined) is a burst of Beethovenian kinetic energy in a rushing, rhythmic stream. It has almost the characteristics of a perpetuum mobile. Perhaps Weber, who himself had composed a perpetuum mobile, was jealous. And Beethoven seldom exceeded the beauty of finish and proportion that this B flat Symphony contains. Mendelssohn, who owned the manuscript, adored the music, and he selected it for his first program as director of the Gewandhaus Concerts in 1835. The Fourth Symphony is no more a retrogression from the Eroica than the Eighth Symphony is from the Seventh. Sir George Grove believed that Beethoven's musical instincts would not allow him to follow gigantic outbursts like the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth with equivalent musical statements. Hence the more equable, gracious even-numbered symphonies. Grove's reasoning may be unfounded - there is, after all, the succession of the last five quartets, each one similar in mood and scope - but one thing is certain: the spontaneity and attractiveness that he hails in the Fourth Symphony.