Happy Beethoven's Birthday! - Macleans.ca

Happy Beethoven’s Birthday!


It’s also Jane Austen’s birthday, but being a Jane Austen fan is kind of tough in this day and age, and I prefer to wait until she gets a little more obscure and it’s safe to love her books again. (I read all Jane Austen’s books — being a lit-nerd — before the huge glut of Austen movies and miniseries from the ’90s. Back then it was assumed that Austen wasn’t a good prospect for movie adaptation, because her novels had so little action in them. Then came the Austen boom, but that had its cost, because her novels are a balancing act between romantic fantasy, clear-eyed realism, and her angry moral scolding, and now she’s mostly just synonymous with romantic escapist fantasy. That’s not her fault, but still…)

But Beethoven is safe, so I looked around and found this recently-uploaded performance of his most famous symphony.

The conductor, Frans Brüggen, is a world-famous recorder player who built a second career as a conductor of 18th and early 19th century music on period instruments. The interesting thing about this recent performance of Beethoven’s 5th is that the sound and style aren’t really what we associate with the early music movement (a movement he helped create). The instruments are old instruments, played without a lot of vibrato, but the performance is slowish, weighty and even a little “romantic,” with quirky phrasing and dynamics. The movement for Period Beethoven has changed a lot; now it almost has more in common with early 20th-century Beethoven, which was more subjective and gave the conductor more leeway for his personal idiosyncracies.

So here’s the first movement in this “period” performance:


And here’s that same movement in a performance by Herbert Von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic (a studio peformance directed for film by Henri-Georges Clouzot, famous for movies like The Wages of Fear). It’s faster, more brutal and clipped-sounding, and sounds more like the approach that was associated with “period” performance in the ’80s and ’90s.


The rest of Beethoven’s Fifth (as performed by Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century) after the jump.

Movement II


Movement III and beginning of movement IV


Movement IV (conclusion)


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Happy Beethoven’s Birthday!

  1. My fav! Thanks for the links.

  2. Where are the links to the Peanuts cartoons where Schroeder wishes everyone a happy Beethoven's birthday?

  3. Fair enough; I put one in.

  4. I must say that Becoming Jane gave me new respect for Immortal Beloved. In fact I'd go so far as to nominate the former for "most appalling depiction of an artistic genius in the history of cinema." But then artistic genius biopics tend to be hateful. I'm still holding out for the new Keats film, which I haven't seen.

    • IB pretty much sucked, except for the debut of the Ode to Joy, when he comes up on stage. Oh, awesome. No matter how many crappy, schlocky Olympic opening ceremonies use it, its brilliant.

  5. Thanks for this Jaime. Other loves come and go, but Beethoven will always be my great one.
    That Bruggen version is the most muted playing of the opening motif I've ever heard. Is this a clipped recording, or is it the period instrumentations? It just doesn't sound as sharp and dramatic as other versions.
    In my opinion, the Symphonies from 3 on are all absolute masterpieces. The Lockwood bio is a tremendous source for biographical and musical information on his works- with great detail on how the major pieces came to be constructed.
    "it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had forth all that I felt was within me."
    Or "There have been and will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven."

  6. "There have been and will be thousands of princes, but there is only one Beethoven."


  7. Schroeder is how I began to listen to Beethoven when I was 9 (I still have my first record – Beethoven's 9th conducted by Andre Cluyton). Happy Birthday Ludwig!!!!