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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