Monday, January 14, 2008

Beethoven: Symphony #6

I've wondered, after composing something as flawless and structurally perfect as the 5th Symphony, what can a man, even a giant like this man, possibly do for an encore? That's what draws me to Beethoven's 6th Symphony.

Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony #5
Symphony #6, "Pastoral"
Deutsche Grammophon, 1984
The 6th Symphony, which I'll focus on today, may not have the gravitas of the 5th, but it is still stunningly beautiful and inspiring. It is lilting (as much as Beethoven can lilt), yet still quite formal.

Beethoven was probably the cockiest composer in the history of classical music, but if you just spend a little time listening closely to any of his music, you can see that he deserved to be cocky. I have always loved the story about his response to people who were bewildered by the dissonance and complexity of his so-called "late" string quartets. He said, "Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age." Of course he was right.

I'll be returning to Beethoven repeatedly this year, as I have all of his symphonies, as well as his complete string quartets and several of his piano sonatas. And his life, and all of the adversity he overcame, makes his music that much more compelling.

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