taking heroic measures, eh? – part II

the beatles’ rubber soul album as the high point of pop music?  miles davis’ kind of blue recording session as the pinnacle of jazz expression?  rodgers and hammerstein’s oklahoma! as the summit of musical theater?  these points might be debatable, but no one will sway the classical beaver from declaring Ludwig von Beethoven’s third symphony the absolute zenith of classical music.  oh, to be a fly on the wall of *prince franz joseph maximilian von lobkowitz’s bohemian palace in the summer of 1804 when Ludwig’s eroica came to life for the first time.  [le sigh]

a first movement in waltz time?  in a minor key??  lasting damn near 20 minutes?!  from the very first orchestral blast, it seems pretty effin’ clear Beethoven was shooting for some kind of sound that hadn’t existed before.  his symphonies #1 and #2 are kick-ass, but obviously owe a lot to the old guard of joe haydn and wolfie mozart; #3 bursts onto the scene as 100% unmistakable LvB.  to hear a symphonic movement with more idiosyncratic surprises (that giant-ass chord repeated 6 times in a row! the “early” horn entry of the recapitulation! that totally weird series of key changes near the end!), you gotta wait 100 years for gustav mahler to pull out his pencils.  after the eroica, symphonies are no longer just for entertainment, a thirty-something german has cemented his place as über-composer, and music will never again be the same.  and that’s just the first movement!

make way for the pall bearers, ‘cuz uncle Ludwig is gonna bring it down a notch with a classic funeral march.  i don’t play the double bass in an orchestra, but if i did, i gotta think this second movement would hold a very special place in my heart (the left ventricle, perhaps).  the intensely tragic main theme that comes and goes is unbelievably beautiful – i swear i saw a couple in the lower balcony rending their garments.  [oh, and to all you baroque fans, there’s a fugue section in here that is the absolute shit (c’mon mary, you can’t deny it!)]  bizarrely interspersed throughout the funeral are themes of unexpected triumph, and one can almost imagine Beethoven whispering from beyond the grave to mahler: “here, get up on my shoulders.”

word on the street is that #3 is the hardest Beethoven symphony to perform, and the mischievously fast third movement must figure into that assessment.  (seriously, you could see little wisps of smoke rising from all five string sections.)  chock-full to the brim with sick rhythmic changes and alpine horn charges (ree-co-laaah!), this jig is da’ bomb.  one could end here.

i’m glad Beethoven didn’t, because the final promethean movement is just staggering.  for reals.  the elongated finale of timpani over trumpets over horns over everything else makes me wanna slide my hand in my shirt and slip on my bicorne.  and to hear this music live with a top-notch orchestra like the oregon symphony is nothing short of heaven on earth.  btw, shoutout to jon “animal” greeney who did it again, absolutely anchoring the band with some super-tight action on the kettle drums.  you sir, are an absolute joy to watch and hear ~ bravo from the beaver!

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2 Responses to “taking heroic measures, eh? – part II”


  1. 1 Olin Williams April 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Left ventricle! Ha!

  2. 2 Nancy Ives April 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    Nice one! That is one fantabulous blow-by-blow of the first movement!


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