Artist:Ludwig Van Beethoven (various orchestras in the case of this record set).
Title:Time Life Records – Great Men of Music – Beethoven and his Music
Label:Time Life Records (RCA Records)
Musicians:Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra
Producer:John E Quinn
Mastering Engineer:Edward Rich
A very brief history: Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in 1770 and grew up in a rather dysfunctional household, not unlike what we see today. His father was a stern drunk and his mother was gentle, but depressed. Ludwig got less love than he needed and grew up in anxious poverty. As a boy though, his musical talents shown early. His father sniffed a possible profit and ruthlessly set out to exploit his asset.
While only six years old, Beethoven was harnessed to his clavier like an ox to a mill wheel. His sodden father, reeling home at midnight, would often rout the boy out of bed and force him to practice. Ludwig would often be seen standing on a little footstool in front of the clavier and weeping. These terrible efforts consumed Beethoven’s childhood, made him grim and solitary and left him with a compulsive suspicion that only overwork could save him from failure. At the same time the long hours of lonely effort at the piano forged a will of steel, encouraging him to see life as a heroic episode in which a man had to suffer in order to achieve.
At eight, Beethoven was studying both violin and viola. At eleven he was taking lessons from the Elector’s court organist and beginning to compose. At 12 he completed three piano sonatas. At 14 he composed three admirable piano quartets. At 16 on a trip to Vienna, Beethoven improvised for Mozart with such brilliance that the master told his friends: “Keep your eyes on him. Someday he will give the world something to talk about”.
Bad news from home cut short Beethoven’s Vienna visit. He arrived home just before his mother died of consumption. Not long after that his father was fired from the choir for tippling (drinking). At 18 Beethoven had become the chief support for a family of four.
By 1792, 21 year old Beethoven was entirely too big a lion for a cage so small as Bonn. He had accumulated a trunkful of unpublished compositions and had become one of the foremost pianoforte players, so he moved to Vienna.
In 1800 Beethoven realized there was something wrong with the sense most essential to a musician: his hearing. All sorts of speculations have been made as to the cause of his hearing loss: Some say syphilis, some say the habit of dunking his head in a bowl of cold water to keep himself awake. A more likely theory is that one hot summer day in 1796 he came home from a walk over-heated, threw off his clothes and cooled himself at an open window. He caught chill, which led to some sort of “dangerous illness” – typhus perhaps – that caused a gradual degeneration of the auditory nerves. Beethoven was only 26 when his hearing started to deteriorate. In 1823, when he completed his Ninth Symphony, he was almost totally deaf.
Beethoven dies March 24, 1827
If you sit and listen to his music, you can sense his triumphs, his struggles, his victories and his defeats. He played with such overwhelming passion and aggression that it came through in his music. Remember, music is the most powerful of communicators.
Here’s a rundown of this behemoth of a box set: No, I don’t know or recall what the “Op” or “opus” means or what “movements” represent and all that. Frankly, in my opinion it doesn’t matter one iota! When it comes to listening to music for me, it means time to put away the slide rules, calipers, calculators, etc. What matters is the music and listening to it and enjoying it, period, end of story.
Overture, Op 62 9 (6:45) – Written in 1807, this is Beethoven at the height of his powers, when he has surmounted the terrible spiritual crisis of his deafness and is challenging fate with some of the most soul-stirring music ever written for the time.
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op 73 first movement: Allegro (20:04) – 20 minutes is a long ride and centuries before Progressive Rock. If you like Prog rock though, this is what you live for. Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto which began in 1808 and finished the following year, proved to be his last. Here Beethoven exploits the qualities of his instrument to the fullest. He moves literally from one end of his six-octave keyboard to the other and makes use of his pianoforte to move suddenly from soft to loud. The key of E flat had served Beethoven well in his third Symphony and he uses it here again for a work that is in similar vein of heroic amplitude and celebration.
Second Movement: Adagio un poco mosso Third Movement Rondo-allegro (17:53) – The second theme appears in two parts. First, it is stated by the violins in a soft, staccato treble accompanied by a limping, rhythmic figure in strings and woodwinds. Then, immediately, the theme is heard again, this time played by the horns. Then the piano re-enters with a chromatic run up the keyboard.
Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2 (“moonlight”) (13:14) – Yes, the well known “Moonlight Sonata” is what this is.
String Quartet No 9 in C major, Op. 59, No 3 (in three movements) Total time: (32:12) – Late in 1805 Count Andreas Razumovsky commissioned Beethoven to compose three string quartets. It’s immediately evident in its mysterious introduction, in which the strings seem to be feeling their way through a strange tonal landscape in search of a harmonic landmark. The second movement is famous for its mood of hypnotic melancholy, sustained by the 6/8 time of its underlying rhythm and sharpened by the intermittent low, plucked tones of the cello. The third movement and finale is an exercise in perpetual motion. The viola begins alone and is followed by the second violin, the cello and finally the first violin. From then on it is a delightful scamper to the end.
Missa Solemnis in D Major, Op 123 (9:19) – This is the only work Beethoven did with any type of religious feelings attached. When Beethoven heard that his pupil and patron, the Archduke Rudolf of Austria, was to be made an archbishop, he decided to write a mass for the installation in 1820. But Beethoven became so absorbed in his mighty creation that the occasion came and went and it was not heard until four years later. This is also the kind of classical music I can’t listen to due to vocals. I’m more a symphony guy.
Fidelio, Op 72, total time: 13:63 – This is Beethoven’s only opera. Opera, is one thing I’ll never understand. I’m not saying I don’t like the music, not at all, I just don’t understand the story.
Egmont, Op. 84 (8:02) – The Egmont overture begins with a slow introduction in F minor. The main allegro section of the overture begins with the cellos which first rise, then plunge headlong down an arpeggio of two octaves.
Violin Concerto in D Major, Op 61 in two movements. First movement (20:35) – The year 1806 was one of enormous productivity for Beethoven: he finished the Appassionata piano sonata and the fourth piano concerto and worked on the fifth symphony; he completed the first revision of his opera, he wrote the third Leonore overture, the 32 variations in C Minor for piano, the fourth symphony and the three Razumovsky quartets. Finally, for a concert on December 23 in the Theater an der Wien, he turned out in great haste his Violin Concerto in D Major.
Violin Concerto in D Major Second movement (17:03) – The slow second movement is in the form of a them and four variations, but includes and additional theme for solo violin. There is a final rondo movement where the mood is brisk and dance-like and a brightness of spirit that is Beethoven at his happiest.
The Creatures of Prometheus, Op 43 (14:16) – Late in 1800 Beethoven was asked to write the music for a ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus. Beethoven wrote an overture, an introduction and 16 individual dance numbers. The ballet was successful at first, but as time passed, slipped into obscurity, The music however, is still heard in the concert hall.
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op 111 in two movements total time (29:03) – If the 48 preludes and fugues of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier comprise the old testament of keyboard music, then Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas makes up the new testament. While Bach was the last important composer to write for the clavichord and harpsichord, Beethoven was the first to write exclusively for the piano. In this final piano sonata he wrote, his struggle to express his inner vision led him to alter the traditional shape of the sonata.
Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 in three movements (31:36) – Yes, this is the most famous of all symphonies, Beethoven’s Fifth. The first four notes are the best known in classical music.
This entire vinyl set was recorded from the masters of the RCA Corp in 1975. I’m no pressing expert, but these pressings are not bad at all. In fact, I’d say they are good, quite good for the time they were done. Of course, when it comes to classical music it’s actually harder to find a bad pressing from any era or pressing plant. Classical music has always been treated somewhat differently and has always been associated with audiophiles and fine audio systems and so the labels and plants know this and the better materials and extra attention were and are often used. Oddly enough, at least on my system I was using to listen to this, the sound quality varied in two ways: It actually sounded better through speakers than through the headphones I chose (AKG K7xx). I believe that the chosen headphones just were not up to the task of classical music.