Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Classics diary: I love this theme, especially when it's played like this

by Ken

I love this theme. It's majestic, maybe even monumental, irresistibly forward-moving, even swaggering, and at the same time tender and uplifting -- if I could put it into words, I guess I wouldn't need the music.

Now, the theme can be played kinda fast:

And it can be played kinda slow:

And it can be played the way we just heard it:


It has the qualities I mentioned above, but with an inner drive and unforced momentum and at the same time a concentrated songfulness that struck me as so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes. It' happens to be on the same CD immediately following a performance, one of three recordings of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 3 included in BMG's Toscanini Complete RCA Collection set, which had a similar effect on me, and which I shared Monday, noting that the lyrical section based on the reflective section ("In des Lebens Frühlingstaen") of Don Florestan's dungeon monologue from Act II of Fidelio was handled with a suppleness, without any sacrifice of forward movement, that really affected me.

And what comes next on this CD gathering shorter Beethoven works is the only commercially issued Toscanini recording I'm aware of of Beethoven's Consecration of the House Overture. Here are the complete performances we just sampled.

BEETHOVEN: The Consecration of the House
(Overture in C), Op. 124

From Wikipedia:

The Consecration of the House (or Die Weihe des Hauses), Op. 124, is a work by Ludwig van Beethoven composed in September 1822. It was commissioned by Carl Friedrich Hensler, the Director of Vienna's new Theater in der Josefstadt, and was first performed at the theatre's opening on October 3, 1822. It was the first work Beethoven wrote after his revival of studying the works of J. S. Bach and Handel, and bears their influence. . . .

An anecdote by Anton Schindler describes Beethoven conceiving two themes for the overture while on a walk, and relates the composer's intention of treating one of these in contrapuntal fashion after Handel. Beethoven chose a monothematic structure, in which a modulation occurs, but in which the new key features the same theme. This suggests the influence of Haydn.

The overture opens with brief isolated chords which herald the beginning of a slow introduction in the manner of Handel. A slow march ensues, processional in character, as if heard in the distance. The brass and winds take over the theme and are joined by the strings for a repeat of the march. As the imaginary procession approaches, the march intensifies, closing with trumpet fanfares and kettle drum announcing the arrival. A trumpet fanfare, with runs in the bassoon, and later the violins, appearing to describe the hurrying and excitement of the crowd, introduces a fast tutti section which seems to signal the main body of the overture, but which instead gives way to a sonata-allegro form. The trumpets and drums resume, leading to an interlude connecting finally with the body of the overture: a fugal Allegro (referred to by Schindler) at the work's centre, in both single and double counterpoint. Different groups of instruments enter in turn, producing a fugal texture. The theme appears in the first violins, flute, and oboe, and a counter theme in the second violins and clarinets. This section crescendos rapidly, and -- following the recapitulation -- a forceful coda brings the overture to a brilliant close.

New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, cond. Columbia-CBS-Sony, recorded Oct. 9, 1962

Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded Oct. 28, 1959

NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini, cond. RCA-BMG, recorded in Studio 8-H, New York City, Dec. 16, 1947

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