A Conversation for Ludwig van Beethoven - Pianist and Composer

Beethoven recordings

Post 1


I would take issue with the idea that Beethoven was the greatest of all composers. Though his music means more to me than the music of any other composer I would be very careful about describing his comparative greatness.

I almost fit the stereotype described in the original article. I am over 40, I wear slippers (sometimes) and I am increasingly listening to string quartets. But so far I have not succumbed to the cardigan.

I have a couple of Beethoven string quartet cycles and a few piano concerto cycles. But right now I am completely obsessed by his symphonies and have 18 or so complete cycles (I lose count), ranging historically from Weingartner and Toscanini to the latest sets from Rattle and Norrington.

I have a deeply treasured set recorded by Andre Cluytens and the Berlin Philharmonic. I treasure this set because it was the first set of the Beethoven symphonies I ever heard (back in the days of vinyl), because I found it more recently (on CDs) quite by accident in an HMV shop and because it no longer appears to be available. Although I have better recorded and better performed sets of the symphonies in my collection the Cluytens is still very stimulating anhd holds a place of special affection in my heart.

It seems to me that a comparison is in order. The Cluytens set was recorded in 1960. During 1961-3 another cycle was recorded by the same orchestra with Herbert Von Karajan. This is for me the best of the three sets that Karajan recorded with the Berlin Philharmonic but, even so, I think it is vastly over-rated. He is credited with building the magnificent sound of the Berlin Philharmonic. But for my money (and less money, as it turns out) the Cluytens set knocks spots off the Karajan set.

It would be lovely to discuss this with someone else.

Are there any other Beethoven nutters out there?

Beethoven recordings

Post 2

Gnomon - time to move on

Have you heard the Sir Charles Mackerras recording of the Ninth? It is shocking. Mackerras claims that the speeds at which the symphony is normally performed are completely wrong for two reasons:

1. Beethoven didn't know how to read the numbers on the metronome and occasionally wrote numbers which don't match the Italian speed terms (presto etc).

2. Wagner didn't like the speeds Beethoven set and changed them, and everybody else has followed suit.

Mackerras tries to restore the symbphony to the way that Beethoven would have performed it. To be honest, it's not as good, but it is much closer to a work of the earlier 19th century than the way it is normally played. It is certainly interesting.

I wouldn't describe myself as a Beethoven nut. I haven't even got a recording of the 7th or 8th symphonies.

Beethoven recordings

Post 3


I have the Mackerras set, and very good it is too.

I like different approaches to this music but I particularly favour the period instrument/period performance approach.

Mackerras is not alone in playing Beethoven up to the metronome speeds. There are also Norrington, Zinman and Zander (to my knowledge although I am sure there are others). The Zinman set is excellent. Both Norrington sets are fabulous. But I'm not really interested in the Benjamin Zander set. I've heard bits of it and it doesn't really add anything of value (especially by the side of such an eminent Beethovenian as Roger Norrington). I appreciate Zander's evangelising zeal but you would think he was the first to try using Beethoven's metronome marks. Please, Benjamin, your betters have pipped you to the post and you don't even have the grace to acknowledge their achievements.

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