This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Symphonies no. 1–9 (sound recording) by…

Symphonies no. 1–9 (sound recording)

by Ludwig van Beethoven (Composer)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations
1357132,689 (4.63)None



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

Showing 5 of 5
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

The 9 Symphonies

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Recorded: 11/1982 (Nos. 5 & 6), 12/1983 (Nos. 4 & 7), 1&2/1984 (Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 8) and 9/1986 (No. 9), Philharmonie, Berlin.

Sony Classical, 2007. 3DVD. Colour, PAL, 4:3. Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround.

DVD 1:
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 [24:32]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 [31:29]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica” [49:00]
Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 [31’38]

DVD 2:
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 [30’38]
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 “Pastoral” [34’50]
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 62 [34’05]
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 [26’34]

DVD 3:
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 “Choral” [65’33]

Lella Cuberli, soprano
Helga Müller Molinari, alto
Vinson Cole, tenor
Franz Grundheber, bartione
Wiener Singverein

Realization: Herbert von Karajan & Ernst Wild
Producer: Uli Märkle
Recording supervision: Michel Glotz
Recording engineer: Günter Hermanns & Wolfgang Gülich (Nos. 5 & 6)


This is Karajan’s second and last complete video recording of the Beethoven symphonies, so completely different than the first that comparisons are really rather futile. By the early 1980s, when he founded his own film company (Telemondial), Karajan finally realised his dream to be in complete control of his music films. He didn’t just conduct all sessions. He was in charge of the direction, the editing, everything. Musically speaking, these are virtually the same (stunning) performances from Karajan’s digital set. The Ninth is the only exception. For some reason it was not shot in 1983 but three years later with 3/4 different soloists. But Karajan’s interpretation is the same, and so of course is his visual aesthetic.

I do have some quibbles about the sound. I have compared the Third and the Ninth Symphonies with the original Sony DVDs and it seems to me that the dubious procedure employed in this series – playing and re-recording at the original venues – has not improved the sound. I can’t imagine why it would. I have never heard the early Sony DVD of the Fifth Symphony, but I have it on the good authority of a friend and Karajan fan that its dynamic range was heavily compromised. This is the case here, too. The result is not unlistenable, but it’s definitely weird. The remastered CD, as I have said elsewhere, does not boast as impressive dynamic range as it should. But the one on the DVD, which should be better, is actually worse.

Nevertheless, this set of 3 DVDs at a bargain price is much preferable to the old Sony editions on which the symphonies were spread on five full-priced discs. Both are out of print and may be hard to find nowadays. This is a pity. Apart from their purely aesthetic value, these films can be educational to everybody interested in the art of conducting or the Beethoven symphonies. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 7, 2018 |
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

The Symphonies

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

Berlin, CCC Film/Jesus-Christus-Kirche, 10/1967 (No. 6);
Berlin, CCC Film/Philharmonie, 1-2/1968 (No. 9), 10/1971 (No. 7) & 11/1971 (No. 8);
Berlin, CCC Film, 10/1971 (No. 3), 11/1971 (No. 2) & 12/1971 (No. 1);
Berlin, Philharmonie, 12/1971 (No. 4) & 9/1972 (No. 5).

Unitel/DG, 2005. 3DVD. 327 min. Colour, NTSC, 4:3. PCM Stereo, DTS 5.1. Liner notes by Richard Osborne.

DVD 1:

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21 [23’26]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 [31’19]
Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica” [48’55]

Artistic Supervision: Herbert von Karajan
Directed by Arne Arnbom (No. 1) and Hans Joachim Scholz (No. 2)
Conceived and Directed by Hugo Niebeling (No. 3)

DVD 2:

Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 [32’02]
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 [30’52]
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 “Pastoral” [36’22]

Direction and Artistic Supervision: Herbert von Karajan (Nos. 4 & 5)
Conceived and Directed by Hugo Niebeling (No. 6)

DVD 3:

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 62 [34’00]
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 [25’11]
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 [64’47]

Gundula Janowitz, soprano
Christa Ludwig, contralto
Jess Thomas, tenor
Walter Berry, bass
Chor der Deutschen Oper Berlin

Artistic Supervision: Herbert von Karajan
Conceived and Directed by Hugo Niebeling (No. 7)
Directed by Hans Joachim Scholz (No. 8) & Herbert von Karajan (No. 9)


This is Karajan’s first video recording of the Beethoven symphonies. It is completely different than the second. The key word to this one is experimental.

Hugo Niebeling’s “Pastoral”, which puts to shame quite a few pop and rock music videos, was scandalous at the time and remains controversial to the present day. Karajan was certainly influenced by it in his visual interpretation of the Ninth, full as it is with wacky camera angles, faceless instruments and brusque editing. The other symphonies benefit from a more conventional approach, but there are several notable oddities. The Third and the Seventh (also Niebelingen visions, but less surreal) have the orchestra arranged in a series of steep triangles: definitely the strangest arrangement I have ever seen. Karajan is often unduly prominent and sometimes monopolises the picture for many minutes on end, an oft-repeated criticism which is here (but not in the late films) justified.

I do prefer Karajan’s more perceptive and less distracting late style as a director. But I do find a lot to enjoy in his early experiments. They are not only historically significant mementos from times when music films were still in their infancy, but aesthetically satisfying on their own. Even Niebeling has moments of insight, notably the final movement of the “Pastoral” Symphony which is coupled with monumental mountain scenery in the background (more relevant to Karajan than to Beethoven, but never mind). Karajan himself achieved some notable traces of grandeur in the Ninth’s finale by placing the chorus of Deutsche Oper all over the futuristic interior of the Philharmonie. The sight is striking, and it fits the music. It is strange that this video recording of the Ninth remained unpublished until this 2005 DVD edition.

Personally speaking, this is Karajan at his most iconic, closed eyes, grey hair and all, youngish looking for a man in his early sixties, with intense and vigorous gestures. In short, the quintessential conductor (even with open eyes during the Ninth’s finale). Musically speaking, these are superb performances recorded in sumptuous sound mostly created by Wolfgang Gülich, Karajan’s favourite Tonmeister for EMI (for which label he never recorded any Beethoven symphonies except his first set with the Philharmonia in the early 1950s). Visually speaking, the picture is fantastically clear. The colours are more vibrant than many music films decades younger. Richard Osborne’s liner notes could have been more extensive and less repetitious, but never mind that.

All in all, this is a set for Karajan buffs; but for them it is indispensable. Casual Karajan visitors will get the best of it if they keep in mind its experimental nature (inevitable at the time when it was made) and resist the passion for comparisons with modern musical films. Karajan detractors have, of course, no business watching these performances. Nothing can change their opinions anyway; and truth to tell, Karajan fans would be sorry to see these funny creatures converted into dull admirers. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 7, 2018 |
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

9 Symphonies
4 Overtures

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

CD 1:

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21

[1] I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio [10’11]
[2] II. Andante cantabile con moto [6’24]
[3] III. Menuetto. Allegro molto e vivace [3’56]
[4] IV. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace [5’53]

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
[5] I. Adagio – Allegro con brio [10’32]
[6] II. Larghetto [10’20]
[7] III. Scherzo. Allegro [3’55]
[8] IV. Allegro molto [6’28]

CD 2:

Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”

[1] I. Allegro con brio [14’10]
[2] II. Marcia funebre. Adagio assai [16’07]
[3] III. Scherzo. Allegro vivace [6’09]
[4] IV. Finale. Allegro molto [12’18]

Overture “Egmont”, Op. 84
from the music to Goethe’s tragedy
[5] Sostenuto, ma non troppo – Allegro [8’05]

CD 3:

Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60

[1] I. Adagio – Allegro vivace [10’17]
[2] II. Adagio [9’38]
[3] III. Allegro vivace [5’57]
[4] IV. Allegro ma non troppo [5’44]

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 62
[5] I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace [11’19]
[6] II. Allegretto [7’45]
[7] III. Presto [7’30]
[8] IV. Allegro con brio [6’28]

CD 4:

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

[1] I. Allegro con brio [7’18]
[2] II. Andante con moto [9’14]
[3] III. Allegro [4’48]
[4] IV. Allegro [8’41]

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”
[5] I. Awakening of Cheerful Feelings upon Arrival in the Country: Allegro ma non troppo [9’04]
[6] II. Scene by the Brook: Andante molto mosso [10’19]
[7] III. Merry Gathering of Country Folk: Allegro [3’08]
[8] IV. Thunderstorm: Allegro [3’23]
[9] V. Shepherds’ Song: Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm: Allegretto [8’25]

CD 5:

Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

[1] I. Allegro vivace e con brio [9’01]
[2] II. Allegretto scherzando [4’05]
[3] III. Tempo di Menuetto [6’01]
[4] IV. Allegro vivace [7’11]

Overture “Coriolan”, Op. 62
to H. J. von Collin’s tragedy
[5] Allegro con brio [8’33]

Overture “Fidelio”, Op. 72b
[6] Allegro [6’53]

Overture “Leonore” III, Op. 72a
[7] Adagio – Allegro [13’58]

CD 6:

Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

[1] I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso [15’34]
[2] II. Molto vivace [10’26]
[3] III. Adagio molto cantabile [15’54]
[4] IV. Presto [6’09]
[5] Presto – “O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!” – Allegro assai [18’11]
(final chorus from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”)

Janet Perry, soprano
Agnes Baltsa, contralto
Vinson Cole, tenor
José van Dam, baritone
Wiener Singverein

Recorded: 11/1982 (Nos. 5 & 6), 9/1983 (No. 9), 12/1983 (Nos. 4 & 7), 1&2/1984 (Nos. 1, 2, 3 & 8) and 12/1985 (Overtures), Philharmonie, Berlin.

Deutsche Grammophon, n.d. [1993?] 6CD. Original-Image Bit-Processing (OIBP). Liner notes by Stefan Kunze and Otto Biba. Selections of criticism edited by Hans-Günter Klein. Lavishly illustrated.


This is Karajan’s fifth, last and finest complete recording of Beethoven’s glorious nonet. I admit I have not listened to more than a few symphonies, usually some of my favourites (the odd numbers except No. 1), from the other four recordings. It was enough. The digital set easily beats them all. I have really nothing to say about it. If you like Karajan’s way with Beethoven, you’ll like these performances. If you don’t, you won’t. That is all.[1]

For my part, this is precisely how Eroica (epic, heroic and tragic), the Fifth (implacably fateful yet ultimately hopeful), the Sixth (pastoral, of course, but also ethereal), the Seventh (elusive, elegiac and exhilarating) and the Eighth (witty, sweet and charming) symphonies ought to sound. My only quibble is the Ninth where Karajan, as always, is not entirely successful. Then again, I have yet to hear a single conductor who is. Either Beethoven was completely insane when he composed the outer movements of this symphonic monster, or, more likely, we are still lagging behind his vision of the future. No quibbles about the overtures. The anguish of Coriolan and the sheer majesty of Egmont have never been served better on record.

The sound is excellent. Audiophiles may complain that the dynamic range is not what it should be. It could be greater, certainly, but I would say it is still pretty good. Besides, there is lovely depth and concert-hall ambience by way of compensation. This was not always the case with early digital recordings. They often suffered from flat and harsh sound that had little resemblance to anything you can hear “live”. This is not the case here. Strings, brass, woodwinds and percussions are crisp and vivid, and there is enough air between them. No danger of suffocation while listening.

Last and least, the presentation is gorgeous. They don’t make them like that anymore. Twenty-five years ago, when this set was probably released, it was still possible to be accompanied by two scholarly essays, plenty of relevant illustrations and a most fascinating selection of criticism. And all this in four different languages! It is a rare pleasure to read a booklet like this before surrendering yourself to “the most turbulent spirit that ever found expression in pure sound”[2].

Herr Klein did an excellent job selecting critical remarks for each symphony ranging from contemporary reviews to much later opinions. He even provided meticulously described sources! The excerpts are always entertaining, often amusing and sometimes hilarious. Some of them deserve to be better known, for example Weber’s deliciously satirical description (1809) of the Fourth Symphony. Others have become classics, like Stravinsky’s dismissing much of the Ninth’s finale as “banal” and “German-band music about in the class of Wagner’s Kaisermarsch” (1970) or Debussy’s damning the “Pastoral” Symphony as a picture of nature “experienced only through the medium of books” (1903). Hans von Bülow, a minor composer but one of the great pianists and conductors of the nineteenth century, went one better (though he didn’t know it) in a post-concert speech (1892) by dedicating Eroica to “Beethoven’s brother, the Beethoven of German politics, Prince Bismarck.”

If such great creative and re-creative artists were so wide of the mark, what hope is there for modern critics and musicologists? Not much, as it turns out. They are usually lost in arcane technical analyses or equally worthless rhetoric. Maynard Solomon, whose 1977 study of the composer I had the misfortune of reading in my youth, is the classic example of the latter. Just look at this monument of turgidity and try to guess which Beethoven symphony it might refer to:

[However different they may appear to be, all interpretations ultimately revert to] a single image: that of the carnival or festival, which, from time immemorial, has temporarily lifted the burden of perpetual subjugation to the prevailing social and natural order by periodically suspending all customary privileges, norms, and imperatives. Of course, much more is involved here than the “cheerful”. In the festival there is a joyous lifting of all restraints; a licensed eruption of the profane and the scatological; and an outpouring of mockery, ridicule, and satire expressing a comic vision of life untinged by tragic modalities.

Pure poetry in prose! So, did you guess the symphony? The Eighth? I see your point – but no. It’s the Seventh. If you decide to read Mr Solomon’s book, do so at your own peril.

The contemporary reviews are of great historical importance. They are also colossal fun to read. Beethoven’s genius was recognised from the beginning, of course, but even educated audiences were as impressed as they were puzzled. It is unfortunately impossible today – except, perhaps, for a novelist of great power and imagination – to recapture the impact of Beethoven’s symphonies in the early nineteenth century. Music lovers at the time were like people who went to the beach to have a leisurely stroll but were hit by a tidal wave.

Even about the first two symphonies, which received their first performances in 1800 and 1803, there were complaints of too much woodwinds, too much detail and great difficulties of performance and understanding. Then Eroica changed the history of music in 1805. “This lengthy work [...] is really a very extensive, venturesome and wild fantasy”, lamented the critic of Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung who counted himself among “Herr v. Beethoven’s most sincere admirers”, yet he had to confess “to finding, in this work, too much that is lurid and bizarre.” Even the Fourth Symphony (1807), quite ordinary stuff compared to Eroica, could baffle genius like Weber whose fictional character was righteously outraged:

Listen to the description of the latest symphony I’ve just got from Vienna. First we have a slow tempo, full of brief, disjointed ideas [the introduction to the first movement], none of them having any connection with each other, three or four notes for quarter of an hour! That’s exciting! Then a hollow drum-roll and mysterious viola passages, all decked out with the right amount of silences and general pauses; eventually, when the listener has given up all hope of surviving the tension as far as the Allegro, there comes a furious tempo in which the chief aim is to prevent any principal idea from appearing.

Compared to all this, the Fifth Symphony (1808) as “the quintessence of romanticism” (1810) and the Sixth (1808) being written in a language “still unknown to very many people” (1812) seem like very mild complaints. William Ayrton, a founder-member of the Philharmonic Society, loftily observed after the first London performance (1817) of the Seventh Symphony (1813) that all movements except the second “proved caviare; but other beauties by degrees become patent, though a curtailment of at least ten minutes would improve it.” You don’t say, Will! Of course the finale of the Eighth Symphony (1814) is extremely difficult to perform, not to mention “follow the torrent of the composer’s ideas and unravel what appears to be chaos and confusion” (1818), and we all know that the Ninth (1825) is “at least twice as long as it should be” (The Harmonicon in 1825 after the first London performance). Priceless stuff!

Herr Kunze actually wrote two essays, “Beethoven’s Symphonic Language” and “Overtures as Compressed Dramas”. I can’t say I got much from them. They provide only the most superficial background of composition, which today is easily available online anyway, and a good deal of perfectly pointless musical description. Perhaps trained musicians would find that “unconventional dominant seventh” at the beginning of the Adagio from the First Symphony a source of profound insight. I would much rather listen to the music.

When he indulges in general reflection, Herr Kunze sounds pretentious and obscure. He argues, for example, that an explanation for the timeless quality of Beethoven’s music “should not be sought in any individual features such as its complex motivic workings or its emotional content, but rather in the validity which characterizes the musical events, a validity deriving exclusively from the relationships between all the different elements in the symphonies.” I have no idea what this “validity” is supposed to mean. I should think it is precisely the emotional power and the impeccable structure that make Beethoven sound fresh 200 years after composition. As for Herr Kunze’s claim that Beethoven’s address to the idealised human race of the future in the Ninth’s finale only served to “underlie a message that has already been clearly announced” by his music so far, this is something that might have written by Herr Deutlich.

Herr Biba’s “Musical Culture and the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Vienna” is a much more interesting, if not very convincing, piece. It is always worth remembering what most people tend to forget – or simply don’t know. Concerts in Beethoven’s time were much rarer and orchestras much more primitive than the embarrassment of riches we are spoilt with today.

Herr Biba tries to do some serious myth-busting. He maintains that orchestras in those ancient days were not necessarily small and poor, even though they were mostly underrehearsed jumbles of professionals and amateurs. This is not easy to believe. I often wonder what standard of orchestral playing Beethoven was confronted with; I doubt it was very high. Herr Biba even defends the audiences at the time who were presumably better educated than their modern counterparts. This may be true in actual ability to read music or play an instrument, but in terms of general music knowledge it is almost certainly false.

The illustrations are mostly portraits of Beethoven (e.g. by Mähler and Waldmüller), dedicatees of his symphonies (e.g. Lichnowsky, van Swieten) or important places where they were premiered (e.g. Theater an der Wien), all black-and-white but reproduced in excellent quality. The only portrait in colour (on the booklet’s cover) is the one by Mähler from 1815 which, to my mind, makes Beethoven look stupid. A much finer achievement is the pencil drawing by Klöber (c1818), also included here, which is one of the very few portraits that actually capture Beethoven’s apocalyptic force of character which, for all we know from his life and music, was entirely characteristic of him.

Despite my reservations about the essays, this remains a lovely edition of an outstanding recording. Karajan’s digital Beethoven remains underrated. It is too often compared unfavourably with his sets from the 1960s and 1970s. I do not profess to know the reasons for that, but I do suspect the old chestnut that the 1980s were a time of sad decline for Karajan who was bogged down in mindless re-recording of old stuff may have something to do with it.

[1] Karajan first recorded the nine Beethoven symphonies with the Philharmonia for EMI between 1951 and 1955 (in mono, of course), fascinating historical curiosity but nothing more. All later recordings were made with the Berliner Philharmoniker for DG (audio) and/or Unitel/Telemondial (video). The second and most famous set was made in 1961/62, the first time when all nine symphonies were recorded specifically to be marketed as a set: another fascinating curiosity, but this one remains overrated for obvious historical reasons. The third set was made on video for Unitel between 1967 and 1972, a fine bunch of experimental films indeed. The fourth set was the late analogue recorded in 1977, almost as good as the digital remake. The fifth and last set also exists as a video production, the only exception (sort of) being the Ninth which was recorded only on video in 1986 with 3/4 different soloists.
[2] Bernard Shaw, “Beethoven’s Centenary”, Radio Times, 18 March 1827, reprinted in Shaw on Music [1955], ed. Eric Bentley, Applause, 2000. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Jul 5, 2018 |
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

The 9 Symphonies

Arturo Toscanini
NBC Symphony Orchestra

CD 1:

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
[1] I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
[2] II. Andante cantabile con moto
[3] III. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
[4] IV. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace
(Recorded December 21, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
[5] I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
[6] II. Larghetto
[7] III. Scherzo – Trio
[8] IV. Allegro molto
(Recorded November 7, 1949 & October 5, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)

CD 2:
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica”

[1] I. Allegro con brio
[2] II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
[3] III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace – Trio
[4] IV. Finale: Allegro molto – Poco andante – Presto
(NBC broadcast of December 6, 1953, in Carnegie Hall)
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
[5] I. Adagio – Allegro vivace
[6] II. Adagio
[7] III. Menuetto: Allegro vivace
[8] IV. Allegro ma non troppo
(NBC broadcast of February 3, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)

CD 3:
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

[1] I. Allegro con brio
[2] II. Andante con moto
[3] III. Allegro
[4] IV. Allegro
(NBC broadcast of March 22, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)
Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 “Pastorale”
[5] I. Happy feelings on arriving in the country
[6] II. Scene by the brook
[7] III. Peasant’s merry-making
[8] IV. Thunderstorm
[9] V. Shepherds’ Song: Joyous thanksgiving after the storm
(Recorded January 14, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

CD 4:
Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 62

[1] I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace
[2] II. Allegretto
[3] III. Presto – Assai meno presto – Presto
[4] IV. Allegro con brio
(Recorded November 9, 1951 & NBC broadcast of November 10, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)
Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
[5] I. Allegro vivace e con brio
[6] II. Allegretto scherzando
[7] III. Tempo di Menuetto
[8] IV. Allegro vivace
(Recorded November 10, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

CD 5:
Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125

[1] I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
[2] II. Molto vivace
[3] III. Adagio molto cantabile; Andante moderato
[4] IV. Presto; Allegro assai
(Recorded March 31 & April 1, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

Eileen Farrell, soprano
Nan Merriman, mezzo-soprano
Jan Peerce, tenor
Norman Scot, bass
Robert Shaw Chorale

RCA Red Seal, 2003. 5 CD. TT 52:37+77:15+70:14+58:21+64:43.


Learned connoisseurs may argue forever in favour of the Beethoven cycle drawn from the 1938-9 broadcasts, but for me, a common-mortal example of Toscanini fan, the 1949-53 cycle (studio-made except for Nos. 3, 4 & 5) is much the better choice. Yes, maybe it’s a little less relaxed and more rigid, but it’s still vintage Toscanini. The volcanic vitality, the rhythmic drive, the inhuman precision of execution and the exquisite phrasing are all here. What little interpretive insight was lost in the interim is compensated by the vastly superior sound. This 2003 RCA Red Seal budget-price edition with the most futuristic cover ever attached to Beethoven’s symphonies simply collects together the 1999 remasters from the first three volumes of the so-called Immortal series. The sound is richer and cleaner than ever before. The sonority and dynamic range are mightily impressive for mono recordings. Even the brass in the big moments has, for the most part, lost the unpleasant hard edge that is so often the case in them.

More than sixty years later, Toscanini’s Beethoven sounds as fresh and compelling as ever. There are several reasons for that. Not only are they not recognised enough, but they have actually spawned a whole army of pernicious and, alas, persistent misconceptions.

First of all, Toscanini’s attention to detail is extraordinary. This is always a good thing. A masterpiece is a masterpiece because, among other things, it contains nothing superfluous. It’s good to hear as much of it as possible. Now, with Toscanini you can easily hear, despite the limited mono sound, all sorts of details for which you have to listen carefully in many modern recordings. For example, consider the strings in the sweeping finale of the Seventh or the cheerful peasant merry-making from the Pastoral. Such articulation should not be possible at such speed. Yet there it is. It is no coincidence that Toscanini was one of the models the young Herbert von Karajan was trying to emulate.

On the other hand, attention to detail is dangerous. It may all too easily lead to disjointed performance that is nothing more than a mass of details. However fascinating some of these details may be, they remain merely details. The whole drags incessantly and becomes boring. It’s like a writer who crafts beautiful sentences but doesn’t bother to link them into a narrative. Now, with Toscanini this virtually never happens. He is one of the most rhythmic and least sentimental of all conductors. No lingering over favourite phrases or self-indulgent tempo fluctuations for him. He detested the post-Wagnerian school of German conductors who practiced these virtues with wanton excess which all too often distorted the music. One of Toscanini’s greatest virtues is complete lucidity. Phrase follows phrase with a sense of inevitability. Even the longest and most complex movements – notably the Ninth’s finale – emerge as monolithic unities.

I have heard all those complaints about Toscanini’s Beethoven being too fast, too metronomic, too unyielding, too whatever. Complete moonshine, all of it. The tempi are certainly brisk by the modern standards moulded by the dictum “the slower, the more profound”. But there is a world of difference between fast and rushed. If you keep comparing these interpretations with modern performance practice, you are likely to be disappointed. But if you accept them on Toscanini’s – and Beethoven’s! – own terms, you might be surprised how well they hold together and, yes, how musical they are. Personally, I find Toscanini’s briskness refreshing and exhilarating. It makes most modern performances sound ponderous and dull. Give an ear to the first movement of the Seventh, a typical example of something consistently faster than is customary nowadays, and decide for yourself.

Toscanini’s singing line and tonal sensitivity have seldom been appreciated. He was a man of the theatre and often treated the symphonic orchestra as the loveliest of all instruments, the human voice. This may explain the singing line, but the sense for tonal beauty is a much more elusive quality. It’s no less real for that, though. Consider the outer movements of the Pastoral Symphony, possibly the most gentle and serene music Beethoven ever composed, or the Funeral March from Eroica, possibly the most shattering. Aren’t they played with exquisite control of dynamics and phrasing? What about that noble elegy from the Seventh (Allegretto), the cheeky Allegro scherzando from the Eighth, or the glorious opening movement of Eroica? Ravishing, all of them! As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single example of butchered melodic line or crude climax in all nine of the symphonies. If it seems so sometimes, a closer look shows that this is, again, result of either the inferior sound or judging by the standards of modern performance practice.

I strongly suspect that a great deal of the criticism against Toscanini stems from ignorance and laziness. Far too many people are victims of silly prejudices that are instilled in them by presumptuous critics. They wouldn’t listen and make their own judgements: it’s easier if someone does it for them. Toscanini was a notorious perfectionist, and I guess this counts against him too. It’s an ancient superstition that perfectionism is somehow incompatible with great artistry. This is, of course, nonsense. It’s amazing how many people fall for it. Perfection no more detracts from artistic excellence than sloppiness adds to it. Such ill-informed criticism based on false assumptions is nothing new. Virgil Thompson (1896–1989), a forgotten composer and critic mostly remembered for the scathing attack he launched on Vladimir Horowitz, accused Toscanini of not paying enough attention to modernist music. Strange criticism indeed! It is hard to think of a better example of critical impotence than criticising a musician for what he doesn’t play. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Feb 17, 2016 |
This boxed set consists of Karajan's 1977 cycle of Beethoven symphonies, plus some orchestral fillers dating back to 1966 and 1970. It is the symphonies that should concern us here.

In his essay packaged with the discs, the noted British critic Richard Osborne sets out that it was Karajan's four separate Beethoven cycles that lay at the heart of his success as an interpreter of the Austro-German orchestral tradition. (This is the second such cycle, the first having been recorded with the Berliners in 1961-62.) Certainly this is a persuading argument, as for the most part these are textbook performances. There is only one point where I part from that analysis, and that, amazingly, is the final movement of the Ninth, the 'Ode to Joy'. I have listened and re-listened to this, and I cannot escape from the strange impression that to me, it sounds as though it is a piece that has been put under an orchestral microscope. Individual phrases from different instruments emerge from the whole all the way through this performance; whether this is Karajan's direction or the doing of the recording producer, Michel Glotz. or the balance engineer, Günther Hermanns, I cannot say. The overall effect, to me, is fussy and over-analytical, as if Karajan is saying "Here is the pinnacle of German musical art, and now I am going to dissect it". This strikes me as very odd, but it also seems not unlike Karajan; indeed, I have come across it in other recordings of other composers' works.

I have heard others compare Karajan recordings to Mercedes-Benz cars - superbly engineered driving machines - and the analogy may apply here. Germanic engineering is world-famous; but sometimes, Germans over-engineer something, as much for the love of the engineering as anything else. The final movement of the Beethoven 9th in this set strikes me as just that - over-engineered, taken apart and put back together and explained in minute detail so we can all marvel at the technical ingenuity. But sometimes, we just want to drive the car; sometimes, we just want to listen to the music; and I find it difficult with this interpretation. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | Jan 26, 2013 |
Showing 5 of 5
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
van Beethoven, LudwigComposerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Karajan, Herbertmain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nibeling, Hugodirectormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berlin Philharmonicsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cachemaille, GillesPerformer (bass)secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gardiner, John EliotConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karajan, Herbert vonsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minnesota OrchestraOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
NBC Symphony OrchestraOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et RomantiqueOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgonášová, ĽubaPerformer (soprano)secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Otter, Anne Sofie vonPerformer (mezzo-soprano)secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rolfe Johnson, AnthonyPerformer (tenor)secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szell, GeorgeConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
The Monteverdi ChoirPerformersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Toscanini, Arturosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vänskä, OsmoConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

No library descriptions found.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.63)
4 2
4.5 2
5 4

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 134,779,195 books! | Top bar: Always visible