Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

  This week:  the second movement of the revolutionary Eroica symphony (which I heard in an amazing performance at Lincoln Center on Tuesday).

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Barenboim Carries the Flag at the Olympics

One of the highlights of the opening ceremony last night came as a surprise (to me):  One of the eight flag bearers at end was Daniel Barenboim, the great classical pianist for decades but here honored for his incredible work (with Edward Said) in founding the West-East Divan Orchestra--made up of Israelis and Arabs, and mainly young people, against great odds.  They have played everywhere from Ramallah to (this winter) Carnegie Hall, and I will be there.  Here's a current video that I'm posting again:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Musical Event of the Year

It could be Daniel Barenboim leading his longstanding (with Edward Said) Arab/Israeli orchestra in doing complete Beethoven symphony cycle in London (the Proms),  New York (Carnegie Hall) and elsewhere.  New CDs document.  Here is new interview today and see video below. RIP Edward Said.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

In our weekly feature, a rather offbeat pick: David Beckham, the soccer great, bends it to play the "Ode to Joy," in a ball-on-drum exercise.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

For July 4th: Beethoven's No. 4

Yes, it will always be the "greatest Fourth."  Here via Helene Grimaud in a newly uploaded full version of her Proms concert.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Essential Beethoven for Two Bucks

As  many know, the Schnabel recording of all of Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas was a landmark and influenced most pianists ever since.  Thanks to a tip from Tim Page let me point to Amazon putting nearly the full set (missing, for some reason, #31) on sale for just $1.99.  What are you waiting for?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Meeting of the Giants

Two hundreds years ago this month two of the all-time greats, Goethe and Beethoven finally met.  As we know, Beethoven admired the writer without reservations while Goethe expressed some doubts about Ludwig (too much of a wild man, maybe).  Great piece here on the visit, including the famous "Taplitz Incident"--when Beethoven refused to make way for dukes and other rich folk while Goethe bowed to them.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

In July we will mark the 200th anniversary of the epic meeting of the two German giants--Beethoven and Goethe.   LvB sent Goethe his "Egmont" (which he helped inspire).  Here is the famous overture via another German great.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

This week's pick, one of my favorite (if not so famous) string quartet movements, from "The Harp."

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Returning to my weekly feature after my vacation, here's rare orchestral version of the famous "Cavatina" string quartet movement, via the great Furtwangler.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Happy Birthday, Kreutzer Sonata

One of LvB's most significant works, the Kreutzer violin sonata debuted on this date in 1803. Among other things, it inspired the famaous novella of that name by Tolstoy, which I have covered here in recent weeks by way of the stage play (which I saw in NY) and movie. In our new book, I briefly discuss the recent Rita Dove epic poem about George Bridgewater (the half-black violinist) and Beethoven inspired by an incident on this day. Here's a Wikipedia write-up and then video of the great Milstein.

"The sonata was originally dedicated to the violinist George Bridgetower (1778–1860), who performed it with Beethoven at the premiere on 24 May 1803 at the Augarten Theatre at a concert that started at the unusually early hour of 8:00 am. Bridgetower sight-read the sonata; he had never seen the work before, and there had been no time for any rehearsal. However, research indicates that after the performance, while the two were drinking, Bridgetower insulted the morals of a woman whom Beethoven cherished. Enraged, Beethoven removed the dedication of the piece, dedicating it instead to Rodolphe Kreutzer, who was considered the finest violinist of the day.However, Kreutzer never performed it, considering it "outrageously unintelligible."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Young Beethoven

Young HJ Lim got nice review in NYT a couple weeks back for recital and has just released complete LvB sonatas via iTunes for just $9.99.  Here's video of her talking and playing:

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Ninth's New York Debut

Just back from a week in France (with no Beethoven exposure), but here is today's "Composer's Notebook" from American Public Media:   "On today's date in 1846, a Grand Festival Concert took place at New York's Castle Garden, a popular spot for 19th century Manhattanites to enjoy fireworks, balloon ascensions, ice cream, and band concerts.

"The band on this occasion consisted of some 400 vocalists and instrumentalists, including members of the four-year-old New York Philharmonic. They gave, for the first time in America, a complete performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, the "Choral Symphony."

"In attendance was a 26-year old lawyer named George Templeton Strong, who kept a diary and recorded his impressions -- which were not favorable:  'A splendid failure, I'm sorry to say," he wrote. "The first movement was utterly barren . . . the minuet was well enough, quite brilliant in parts [and] the only point I found worth remembering in the whole piece . . . then came an andante (very tedious) . . . then the fourth movement with its chorus, which was a bore . . . a small achievement for Beethoven, and the orchestra might as well have been playing at the bottom of a well...'"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Viva France

Heading to Nantes for annual visit with daughter and young grandson, so in honor, Helene Grimaud doing the Choral Fantasy in 2008, although we could have picked Aimard, I guess. See you in a week or so.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Borne Leader

This may now be my favorite version of "The Archduke," which is saying something.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Happy Anniversary to the Ninth!

Yes, Beethoven's epic premiered on this date in 1824 and hasn't aged a day since (see item below on  NYT referring to it last week in headline on its front-page--in story about Mariano Rivera).   Here's the fictionalized, but still worthwhile, depiction in the film Copying Beethoven.  Catch up with my piece over the weekend on how the "Ode to Joy" calls the tune in global protest, with great clip from Madrid. And, as always, check out our new book.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

This week's "sermon":  the not-so-well known but great late work, "The Consecration of the House" overture.  Dig the counterpoint! 

Mo, Where That Came From

Just another example of LvB's omnipresence in the world: Front-page NYT headline yesterday on NY Yankees great reliever Mariano Rivera going down with season-ending injury that turns out will not be career-ending: "For Rivera, Maestro of the Ninth, Injury Is Not Final Symphony."

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Beethoven Rock Opera

Yes, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is still around, and in fact on tour in USA now with their venerable rock opera, "Beethoven's Last Night."  Here's the trailer for the tour and you can find much more via YouTube.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Violin Sanity

Good interview on the Violin Concerto with young violinist Lisa Batiashvili, who has been getting kudos from NY Times and The New Yorker lately and is doing LvB again in NYC soon.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Continuing this long-running feature, with my favorite master of the Violin Concerto, Mr. Nathan Milstein, here in a live version from long ago,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beethoven Second on Liszt

From American Public Media's this-day-in-classical-music report:  "If you were like Dr. Who with his Tardis, and a piano fan to boot, you might set your time machine for Paris, April 25, 1841. That's when an all-Beethoven concert was given at the Salle Erard to raise funds for the proposed Beethoven monument in Bonn, the late composer's birthplace. Franz Liszt was the soloist in Beethoven's Emperor Concerto, conducted by Hector Berlioz.

"About a month earlier, Liszt had dazzled Paris with the premiere of his new piano fantasia on themes from the popular opera, 'Robert the Devil,' by Giacomo Meyerbeer. So, as Liszt walked on stage -- with the entire orchestra in place, all ready for Beethoven's Concerto -- the audience clamored loudly for a repeat performance. They made such a racket that Berlioz and the orchestra had no choice but to sit idly by until Liszt first encored his Fantasia. In the audience was a 27-year old German named Richard Wagner, reviewing the concert for a Dresden newspaper. Wagner was outraged that the Beethoven was put on hold for Liszt's flashy solo.*

"We're not sure if Wagner attended a concert the following day at the Salle Pleyel, but any modern-day time traveler would probably want to stick around to hear Frederic Chopin give one of his rare Parisian recitals, performing, among other works, his own F-Major Ballade."  *In 1870 Liszt became Wagner's father-in-law."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Beethoven at Heaven's Gate

Beth Levin, a fine NY pianist, last week played the final three sonatas in a piano showroom recital, and like Uchida in her concert at Carnegie that I caught a couple years back, she chose to perform them as a piece with little break in-between.  See a rave at the New Yorker this week. She's also written a fine piece just on opus 111, after opening with a poem.  For more on 111, see Jeremy Denk's take in our new book.  And as I wrote here recently, Sylvie Guillam's dance to 111 two weeks ago in NYC was astonishing.  Here's Levin: "That the ensuing theme and variations exist on paper is astonishing. So sublime an offering should have flown off to the heavens with barely an earthly trace....Beethoven might easily have ended in grandiose forte gestures, and yet the coda is played out in the softest of trills, seemingly to immerse the music in a cloud. The final measures reflect a poet’s wisdom."

Monday, April 23, 2012

Going Fourth: Film Preview #2

As I linked yesterday (see below), my co-author on our new Beethoven book, has started posting excerpts from his fabulous upcoming LvB documentary.  Today's segments cover the opening of the fourth movement of the 9th symphony--and the tragedy in Tiananmen Square, then on to Chile, and finally to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Film Preview

As I have written here, maybe half a dozen times, my co-author in our new Beethoven book, Kerry Candaele, has directed a remarkable film, Following the Ninth, coming out later this year.  (See link to the trailer elsewhere on the blog.)  Now he's posted an excerpt, that covers reactions to the 2nd movement of the Ninth Symphony and -- the subject of a chapter in our book -- the amazing phenomenon of the "Ode to Joy" sung everywhere in Japan every December. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Hairy Subject

I've read the book Beethoven's Hair about the saga of what's happened to various strands and what they may tell us about the man's passing.   A few weeks back here at the blog I covered the use of one such strand in a, yes, baseball card promotion.  But I've never seen the documetary on the subject.  Here's a clip:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Always a Marvelous Night for a "Moonlight"

As I relate in our new book, Andras Schiff's remarkable series of podcasts for The Guardian on all 32 piano sonatas really helped me truly "get" Beethoven a few years back, and one of the best was on the "Moonlight."  He debunks the "myths" around it and strongly states that he prefers Beethoven's directions as found on the manuscripts--for example, not the super-slow versions of the first movement today during which "you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and the poor pianist is still playing." Also, he claims Beethoven wanted the whole movement played with "pedals down."   Here is it:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Biss Creed

NYT's Steve Smith with review of Jonathan Biss recital today, featuring three Beethoven sonatas, as he starts his nine-CD recording cycle of all 32.  Steve was not thrilled with two of the three but said attention must be paid going forward.  I have seen, and linked in past to, Biss playing and also to his new e-book on daring to record the cycle.  And here is his recent chat on PBS about it:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Beethoven Wins a Pulitzer

Huff Post won its first Pulitzer yesterday (and first for any such online news org) just one hour after posting my piece on Beethoven and "Mad Men" on its front page.  Can't be coincidence.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Mad Men" Gets Beethoven-mania

Wow, what a surprise. A Beethoven-soaked "Man Men" tonight, believe it or not! First, Pete finally gets Don up to a dinner party at his house in the suburbs--and rocks LvB on his big new console stereo where it seems a "tiny orchestra" is playing. Living in Cos Cob in a house instead of a NYC apartment he can play it as loud as he wants, he boasts.  "Do you like the music?" he asks, and Don replies, "I do."

Then the episode ends with a voice over of Ken reading from a story he has written under a new pen name, relating to Beethoven's struggles  (before which Pete's humiliations  pale).  Finally, the opening of the Ninth's "Ode to Joy" section played over the credits. Proving, I dare say, what we probe in our new book--that Beethoven is everywhere in our culture today--as was apparently true in 1966.  And to think, that was the summer of Blonde on Blonde.

Here's clip of ending, transcript is:  "The Man with the Miniature Orchestra by Dave Algonquin. There were phrases of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that still made Coe cry. He always thought it had to do with the circumstances of the composition itself. He imagined Beethoven deaf and soul-sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while Death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails.  Still, Coe thought, it might have been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness - making everything ordinary, too beautiful to bear."

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Happy to see that rarely-performed Mass in C Major to be featured at Mostly Mozart in NYC this summer (Missa Solemnis, after lag of two decades, has had three big appearances in past two years).

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book 'em, Denko

Delighted and surprised to see lead piece in NYT Book Review tomorrow written by...Jeremy Denk, who gets a whole chapter in our new book, based on my interview with him (and see item on his new CD below).   It's about a new about music in the natural world.  Here is link to the review, and podcast, online now.  Jeremy is really branching out, after his recent piece in The New Yorker.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top of "The Ninth"

I have not featured here for months the film that essentially gave birth to this blog--not to mention my new book.  It's Following the Ninth, by my book co-author Kerry Candaele, it's to be released later this year, and here's the terrific trailer:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Beethoven Featured in Trailer for Book--My Own

Last year, even before finishing my book with Kerry Candaele on LvB, I was already using his music tied to another book.  It's the slow movement from the piano sonata no. 7, and the book is Atomic Cover-up.  The trailer has hit 97,000 views.

Nathan Finest

Nobody asked, but my favorite LvB violin interpreter is the great Nathan Milstein.  Not a lot of him and Ludwig on YouTube, but here's audio of one of his live takes on the Violin Concerto cadenza.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Denk Dials 1-1-1

Happy to report that New York's hottest pianist Jeremy Denk-- I interviewed him for a full chapter in our new book--just out with new album on Nonesuch  that features Ligeti and the hallowed LvB opus 111.  I have not heard the recording yet, but have caught Jeremy doing the 111 live a couple of times, just about my favorite versions.  Go here to see him perform it recently at WQXR marathon (also mentioned in our book).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beethoven Meets Andy Warhol

In our new book, I call this the worst feature movie about LvB ever, and no wonder: It's directed by former Warhol stablemate, and '60s into '70s hack filmmaker, Paul Morrissey, and it's titled Beethoven's Nephew.  Worth a few yucks if you can stand it.  The whole damn thing is up at YouTube, here is opening:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Late for the Dance

Following up on attending the Sylvie Guillem dance classic (opus #111) at Lincoln Center on Saturday (see below), here are other dance interpretations of LvB's "Hammerklavier" and opuses #109 and #111.

And "Def" Before "Mos"


Since you vastly enjoyed the Hipster Beethoven art that I posted awhile back, I'll try again with these wall posters.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beethoven in the Congo

"60 Minutes" tonight with segment that could have come right out of our new book -- unlikely orchestra and chorus formed in the Congo, climaxing with playing of, yes, the "Ode to Joy."  The first video is the full segment.  Below that is their web-only special on the Ninth.



Sylvie for Victory

Amazing dance program last night at Lincoln Center with the wondrous legend Sylvie Guillem doing LvB and more -- see below for background and video.  Good Financial Times review here.  Was afraid the opus 111 too mystical for this but actually tastefully done.  I'm sure most in crowd heard that piece (greatest ever for solo piano)  for first time ever.  Can't imagine what they thought, though friend we went with, Robert Jay Lifton, was astounded.

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

And for many, it is a special Sunday, so how else to mark it in this weekly feature but with LvB's under-played "Hallelujah" chorus?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Lore and the Dance

The NYT had major piece last Sunday on famed French ballet/dance star Sylvie Guillem coming to the city this week, and one of three pieces she will be doing is set to Beethoven's opus 111 piano sonata. Naturally, I have tix for tonight and heading out in a few minutes.  Somewhere she was quoted as saying that music has been all downhill since that, and she will get no argument from me. Anyway: Here is clip previewing the program, Sylvie dances the first and third pieces, with the LvB segment starting 1:25, as she dances Beethoven's so-called "invention of boogie woogie," a small but key part of the opus 111.

Friday, April 6, 2012

For Good Friday

And it's name is G-L-O-R-I-A. Ludwig Van the Man.

Bragg and Beethoven (and Berry)

As I've noted previously, a full chapter in our new book is devoted to Billy Bragg and his new libretto for the "Ode to Joy." We even posted Billy singing and explaining it here a day or two ago (see below). But until today I didn't know there was video out there of Billy doing "Roll Over, Beethoven." And it's at an Occupy event.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

'Fugue' for Thought

We recently brought you an orchestral version of the first movement of Beethoven's opus 131 string quartet--which Leonard Bernstein called his favorite recording.  Now here's a similar rarity: Klemperer conducting another string quartet movement with orchestra -- the revolutionary "Grosse Fugue." Still "modern" nearly 200 years later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Boy on The Hood


Better than a Mercedes for sure. Source site. (h/t @_Saladinho_)

Billy Bragg's Ode to Joy in L.A.

In our new book there's a full chapter on Billy Bragg and his writing a new libretto for Beethoven's Ninth.  My co-author Kerry Candaele produced the premiere of the new version in the USA in a gala concert in L.A.   Here's an excerpt shot by Kerry which includes a solo piano version of the Ninth and then Billy comes on about 13 minutes in, sings a tune, talks about his new libretto, sings it and leads a singalong.


Beethoven Bragg Concert Part 2 from kerry candaele on Vimeo.

Monday, April 2, 2012

10th Symphony Freeze-Out

NPR always concocts an elaborate April Fool's segment, done with straight face, and this year our hero gets the star treatment--with the discovery of his much hoped for 10th Symphony.   Some commenters have already complained that it is a bit TOO subtle.  The NY Phil's Alan Gilbert plays along.  Much more on current Beethovenmania in the U.S. in our new book.

Huston, We Have a 'Kreutzer' Film

Having recently read Tolstoy's novella "The Kreutzer Sonata," and seen the acclaimed play off-Broadway last month (and written about it twice here), I was shocked to discover over the weekend that a Kreutzer Sonata film appeared a year or two ago, starring Danny Huston and Anjelica Huston, and directed by Bernard Rose--who also gave us the troubled Immortal Beloved--and it's even on Netflix streaming.  Will let you know more when I see it but for now the trailer:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Continuing our weekly feature, for Palm Sunday,  actual church music, one of LvB's most beautfiul movements, the Kyrie from the (too often ignored) Mass in C Major.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Girl With the Rose-Colored Beethoven Tattoo

It's hard to describe Kat Von D--she's famous for her tattoos and as a tattoo artist, is a kind of model, has fragrance and cosmetic lines at Sephora, owns a gallery, featured on TV, wrote a bestselling book, and more. Today I noted at Twitter that she had posted a photo of the huge tattoo on one of her thighs of...yes, Ludwig. She also has "LvB" tattoed on one of her fingers. Here's a story about all that (she is a classically trained pianist) and that's the photo she tweeted at left.  But more on Beethovenmania in our new book.

Hymn and Her

Yes, I admit in our new book that Copying Beethoven is deeply flawed but the ending (though purely fictional) has its merits: Ed Harris as Beethoven on his death dictating the astounding Heiliger Dankgesang opus 132 movement to his copyist (Diane Kruger) as it plays on soundtrack.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bed-Stuy and Beyond

NPR on amazing Beethoven "re-mix" project in NY's gritty Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Taking the Eroica and running with it. Follow link above to listen to the five finalists (at bottom of page) and watch Mos Def sitting in with the orchestra doing his own (non-LvB) piece:

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Carrying a Torch

Yes, by most accounts, Schubert carried a torch in the great funeral procession for Beethoven, 185 years ago today--and died soon after, and now they are buried in close proximity. For the music played that day, see below. The close of the famous funeral oration by Franz Grillparzer:

"And you who have followed his escort to this place, hold your sorrow in sway. You have not lost him but won him. No living man enters the halls of immortality. The body must die before the gates are opened. He whom you mourn is now among the greatest men of all time, unassailable forever. Return to your homes, then, distressed but composed. And whenever, during your lives, the power of his works overwhelms you like a coming storm; when your rapture pours out in the midst of a generation yet unborn; then remember this hour and think: we were there when they buried him, and when he died we wept."

Beethoven's Funeral

Yes, the great man's funeral took place on this date in 1827. What may be surprise is a piece of music played, as we mention in our new book: the "Equali" for trombones that he wrote for another funeral. Here:

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Crazy Guy Upstairs

Perhaps you've heard about--or even grew up with--the book and then video and more for children, Beethoven Lives Upstairs.  In gthe Beethoven and Film section of our new book we describe it in full, but here's how the film winds up, naturally with the Ninth Symphony, and the boy saying, "Maybe he WILL change the world...bit but bit." 

Rosanne Cash Meets Ludwig

Never met her in person, but long a fan of Rosanne Cash--and for the past couple of years personally friendly via Twitter with a lot of back and forth. She's a Beethoven fan, as I noted in our new book,  and I have sent her a few things to listen to. Yesterday she sent me this photo from her recent visit to "Casa Beethoven." No, not one of his apartments in Vienna but a music store in Barcelona.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dudley Does Right

If you have somehow missed Dudley Moore's classic Beethoven parody (also available at YouTube in later, color TV version). Of course it's well-known that Dudley was quite a player, beyond this fringe.

Make Way for 'The Archduke'

As I may have mentioned (two or three times), the slow movement of The Archduke trio is almost my favorite Beethoven piece, if not most beautiful of all.  Recently discovered this historic version, more adagio than andante,  not to be missed, with Casals, an extraordinary Vegh, and Horszowski. In our new book, Jeremy Denk calls this his favorite piece of music, "the holiest of the holy."

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Beethoven's Passing

Some 185 years ago today, in 1827: Another fan's tribute here, photos with music.

Biking With Beethoven

Saw new French film The Kid With a Bike tonight.  I posted the trailer here recently (and again below), noting that it featured a good deal of the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 5 which also supposedly plays a key role in the movie, according to the NYT review.  Well, the film was initially gripping--abandoned kid tries to cope--but ultimately a bit disappointing, and as it turns out there was more Ludwig in the trailer than in the movie itself.  Very brief snippets of the concerto are heard three times during the film, but then...nothing, with a lengthy excerpt only appearing over the credits. 

Beethoven in Action

I've written about my own Beethoven Action Figure in the past, and now Steve Benson sends along this photo he took of a show window in Provincetown, Ma.  in 2004.  Quite a pantheon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Buck It, Liszt?

Just back from speaking at my hometown library on Lvb (see below) before a fine recital, with Yashar Yaslowitz playing as an encore the first movement of the Fifth Symphony as transcribed for piano by Liszt. I might prefer the 6th from Liszt, but here's the Leslie Howard piano version of No. 5's opening:

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

My weekly feature has a twist: Today it will also be Sunday Night in the Library of Beethoven.  Once again I will be talking about our new Beethoven at my hometown Nyack (NY) Library at 7:30, and then introducing the director of the library's acclaimed classical music series, Yashar Yaslowitz, who is finally giving his own recital -- an all-Beethoven program, natch.   One piece: the Pathetique (see below, with Daniel Barenboim).  I'll also be selling and signing books.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ludwig's New Hit Single

Over 740,000 hits so far for this Soulwax "re-mix" of Walter Muprhy's legendary "Fifth of Beethoven," making this sort of a parody of a parody across the centuries. Saturday night feverish.

Nelson van Beethoven

It's Saturday morning so perhaps you would like to return to your youth with a TV cartoon.  One brief, classic moment, really needing no translation,  below, from The Simpsons.  And another Ludwig joke I just spied at Twitter: "Emergency at Symphony Hall:  It's the bottom of The Ninth and the bassists are loaded!"

Friday, March 23, 2012

Another Symphonic Quartet

Yesterday I brought you (see below) what Leonard Bernstein said was his favorite recording: his symphonic version of Beethoven's opus 131 string quartet.  Now, in  the same unusual vein,  here's the great Furtwangler conducting the revolutionary Grosse Fuge:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hipster Beethoven

This made my day. Thanks to Lauren and Andrew.   Rumor has it he also liked tight pants, but never facial hair. Would have loved early Arcade Fire. Commenter says here: "liked his amateur work, you know before the commercial success; just a dude on a piano playing what he feels."

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Joni Mitchell's "Judgment" on Beethoven

My co-author, Kerry Candaele (see book cover on top right of this page), will occasionally also be contributing to this blog.  Recently he sent this along:  As far as I know, there are not many contemporary musicians or songwriters who have written songs about Beethoven.  Joni Michell did, and offered up "Judgment of The Moon and Stars" as her take on Beethoven in the early 1970s. It's obvious that she did some research before sitting down to compose.  Recorded version follows.  There's also a live version on YouTube in which she says she wrote it as a kind of "pep talk" for Ludwig after reading this terrific book. -- Kerry Candaele

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bernstein, Beethoven, Berlin

One of the most famous LvB concerts of all-time took place in 1989, and I can only be referring to the monumental affair in Germany, led by Leonard Bernstein, that marked the fall of the Berlin Wall, with lyrics of "Ode to Joy" changed to "Ode to Freedom."    Of course, such uses of The Ninth are a mjaor theme in our new Journeys With Beethoven book.  Here are a few brief highlights--the whole concert can be found at YouTube, on DVD, CD,  etc.

Monday, March 19, 2012

When Dylan Put Ma Rainey and Pa Beethoven in Bed Together

Bob Dylan, my OTHER musical hero, released his first album 50 years ago today, they say, although it took me, and most others, until at least #2 to catch on.  So, what is the one Dylan song where he mentions LvB?  Buzzzzzzz, your time's up.  Of course, it is "Tombstone Blues," off his greatest album, Highway 61 Revisited, from 1965.   The line is "Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped a bed roll."  Someone helpfully did a mashup of the pair at left.   Ma, of course, was the great blues singer later immortalzed on Broadway for her "black bottom."    The song is here, although guitarist Mike Bloomfield gets the heading to sneak this past You Tube.

Thanks Giving in March

As it may become clear here over time (if not already), one of my favorite of all of Beethoven's achievements--in fact, one of man's--is the "Heiliger Dankgesang" movement of the opus 132 string quartet.  Rather than rave on, for now I will simply offer you this remarkable 55-minute talk, with live music by the fine St. Lawrence Quartet,  about the movement by the well-known speaker and radio host/guest, Rob Kapilow.  And here's the "Hymn of Thanks Giving" movement on its own.

Spring Training!

Still a couple of days until official start of spring, but with the unusually warm weather continuing in many parts of the country here is something to get you ready (and perhaps bring back some childhood memories): The opening of the Fantasia sequence featuring the Pastoral symphony.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Adams and Ludwig's 'Jokes'

A Twitter friend tipped me off yesterday to the San Francisco Symphony premiere of a John Adams work built around LvB scherzos from some of his quartets. She had just attended and found it amazing. Here are the detailed program notes with plenty of Adams quotes, such as: “I frequently have these powerful, archetypal experiences with Beethoven, but with the piano sonatas and the quartets, which for me are the most vivid, rather than with the symphonies and the public music that gets heard all the time.”  Adams explains:

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Continuing my weekly feature: It's YouTube's most popular version of the opening movement of the Moonlight, which I saw her do live in NYC at a WQXR marathon a few months back. It's wonderful but an example of the slow tempo approach that Andras Schiff complains leaves enough time to eat lunch while it's still going on.

Kubrick and the 'Ludovico Technique'

Well, my droogies,  the chilly "ultra-violence" of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange has been getting renewed attention of late.  In our new book, we talk about the key role Beethoven plays in that film, and its soundtrack, but here's a longer analysis with clips from the film that points to some things I've missed completely (such as the lock combination based on a pair of 9s).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Beethoven, Tolstoy, and Murder in New York

Just back from New York and seeing,  at one of the tiny LaMaMa theaters in the East Village, the acclaimed play just imported from London, The Kreutzer Sonata, based on the Tolstoy novella. I've previewed it a couple times here already, and here's the NYT review,  but I'm happy to report now that it is quite terrific, though closing a week from tomorrow.  It's the story of a man confessing to fellow train passengers that he was driven by jealousy to murdering his wife (and then acquitted by a jury).  In the play, he addresses the audience directly with no other travelers in the train compartment.  However, behind a screen, his wife, who is a pianist, and a violinist (were they having an affair?) come and go, playing snatches of the famous Beethoven violin sonata in period garb. 

While their recital, playing the Kreutzer, is important the husband in the play (unlike in the novella) does not directly blame it for driving his wife wild with sexual energy.  The acting is great and the ending (and much else) nicely ambiguous.  Here's the trailer for the show:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beethoven for St. Patrick's Day

It may surprise many to learn that Beethoven--while he was no Pete Seeger--also spent a good deal of time writing or adapting "folks songs" from many lands, including Ireland.  So here is a selection of a few.  Don't miss the second one, the great "Massacre at Glencoe." It's actually a famous incident in Scotland but Ludwig included it in his Irish cycle.

The Kid With a Bike--and Beethoven

A few weeks back I carried the trailer for the award-winning film The Kid With a Bike by the famed Dardenne brothers that featured the slow movement of the Emperor piano concerto.  Now the movie has finally opened in New York, and the Times reviews it today.  Excerpt: "...brief flourishes from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 (the 'Emperor' Concerto) that punctuate several scenes, a use of music that recalls the films of Robert Bresson, an important influence on the Dardennes. The use of the Beethoven, the music soaring, as well as what appears to be a kind of resurrection, makes it easy to read 'The Kid With a Bike' as a religious allegory, though that would be reductive."  Here is the trailer again:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Robeson Finds 'Joy'

Our new book features a full chapter on Billy Bragg talking about his new version of the "Ode to Joy" with re-written lyrics, and I've featured at this blog links to excerpts and even Billy singing it.  In the book we mention previous famous versions with lyrics translated into English, such as Paul Robeson's.  Well, here's Paul:

The Gould Standard

Glenn Gould had a (to be kind) rather spotty record re: Beethoven in his recorded works.  He even voiced dislike for the master's "heroic" period and it showed in some of Gould's work.  But as I have perhaps mentioned before (and cover in our new book) my favorite of all of Glenn's Beethoven interpretations is the Liszt piano transcription of the Pastoral Symphony.  A favorite movement. Here he plays a bit on film:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beatles 'Roll' in Home of Beethoven

Continuing our survey of versions of our title tune:  We've carried a couple of other Beatles takes (live ones)  but here is the earliest--from their famous (very) early days in Hamburg, Germany, in 1962.  I was just reminded about this watching the George Harrison doc on HBO tonight. Sound quality of course is rough.

This 'One' Is Not the Loneliest Number

Today's special "concert" treat: The ever-wonderful Paul Lewis doing the underated Piano Concerto No. 1 in one video file.

Beethoven or Bust?

Rodin and Michelangelo roll over in respective graves:  Watch robot carving terrific bust of our boy Ludwig out of foam...And more fun today:  Big flap in soccer world after the legendary Pele compares himself to Beethoven and another great, Maradona, rips him, saying if that's true that he is Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Bono combined. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Hating Ludwig

The well-regarded young Ebene Quartet (appearing at Carnegie this week) talk about going from Beethoven haters to lovers--and what may happen 100 years from now.

How Beethoven Won World War II

Well, slight exaggeration.   But, as is well known, the first four notes of the Fifth Symphony were a key part of the "V for Victory" campaign (led by Churchill) in occupied Europe, and in England, as a sign of resistance.  British radio broadcasts often opened with the first notes of the Fifth Symphony because their rhythm in Morse code is the letter "V" for victory.  Also the RAF used the signal of the first four notes--three short, one long--to communicate in a special Morse code. It is said that many in Europe relished idea of the great German composer being used against the Nazis  And V, of course, is Roman numeral for...five.  All in all, a very special kind of V for vendetta.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Reich and Wrong

Yes, as we show in our new book, Beethoven's music (and particularly The Ninth)  has inspired millions of people around the world to take positive action in their own lives or in their societies.  One must also admit that the Nazis also embraced LvB who was, after all, a German icon (though they preferred Wagner).   One of the most controversial nights in music history took place in April, 1942, when The Ninth was played for Hitler's birthday, although he did not attend.  Perhaps he preferred the Fifth.

In any case, film footage has long existed of the closing moments of the performance, conducted by the legendary Wilhelm Furtwangler,  showing various Nazi leaders listening to "all men must become brothers" and applauding at the end.  And then the key moment: Nazi henchman Goebbels steps forward and shakes Furtwangler's hand.  The conductor (who had a very mixed record in relation to the Reich)  looks uncomfortable, and then we see him transfer his handkerchief from his left hand to his right--as if to erase the stain.  Or not?  We'll never know, but controversy has raged. Watch the footage for yourself--and also check out the movie from a few years back about Furtwangler, Taking Sides, which concludes with the handkerchief transfer:

'Hammer' Time

Apropos of nothing, but who needs a reason when it's Brendel and the Hammerklavier (complete at YouTube, here is the opening).

Tolstoy Meets Beethoven in New York

A couple weeks back, I noted that the acclaimed London play The Kreutzer Sonata was coming to New York, and now it has arrived off-Broadway, and with a favorable New York Times review today. Only around for two weeks but I hope to attend. It's based on the Tolstoy novella, of course, which revolves around LvB's famous violin/piano sonata and its effects on a marriage. Here's a trailer from London:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

'Joy' Full Muppets

If you have somehow missed this -- not being among the 18 million who have viewed just this video at YouTube.

Still Front Page News

In case you missed yesterday's New York Times, LvB made a key appearance in the opening paragraph of the top story on the front page: "Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, who is French, and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany are close. 'They are on a first-name basis' write Nicholas Kulish and Annie Lowrey. 'They frequently exchange text messages. Shortly after Christmas, Ms. Lagarde brought Ms. Merkel a trinket from Herm├Ęs and received a recording of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven from Ms. Merkel, a classical music lover.'” A trinket vs. Beethoven, who do you think came out ahead?

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

Continuing our weekly feature launched via Twitter three years ago, inspired by actual such "churches" that meet on Sundays: This week, it's the finale of the third movement of the "Archduke" trio. Jeremy Denk, who is featured in our new book, calls it his favorite piece of music, the "holiest" (in its own way) of all.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Night Live

From back in the day of other kinds of live TV, two of the greats, Glenn Gould and Leonard Rose, cello sonata no. 3.

Beethoven Spectacle

It's true that I've missed out on earlier incarnations of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Beethoven's Last Night spectacle, and have never quite "got" it, but they are back and here is a review that summarizes the show.  Music ranges from a bit of LvB to loud arena rock.  Also, this video with photos and music traces the entire plot, as Ludwig decides whether to make a deal with the devil:  He can keep his soul but all of his compositions are wiped from the memory of mankind.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Trombone Shorts

You may not know that Beethoven wrote a little music for trombone. I certainly did not know it until I interviewed Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist for the NY Phil, for our new book (there's a lengthy chapter with him therein).   Alessi plays on one of the few recordings. The brief "Equale" were actually played at a famous funeral... Beethoven's own. And here they are.

John Lennon's "Roll"

In our survey of versions of our title tune, we have already covered a couple of the Beatles efforts, always with George on lead vocal.  But here's John Lennon's own rarely-heard version, from his Elephant's Memory period.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ives Takes the Fifth

One of my all-time favorite pieces of non-Beethoven music naturally pays homage to Ludwig.  It's "The Alcotts" movement from Charles Ives' Concord piano sonata.  I've seen Jeremy Denk (who is featured in our new book) do justice to it at Carnegie Hall, and he also has a fine recording of it, as does Aimard, among others.  But here's a real treat: Ives himself playing it.  If not especially well, at least movingly:

Critical Mass

I've linked once before to the BBC docu-drama on Beethoven from a few years back that really is pretty good,  especially in light of other LvB-related film treatments.  Here is a terrific nine-minute segment mainly about the writing of the Missa Solemnis, with key excerpts.

Another Tortured Soul

Before his turn as John McCain in this weekend's HBO Game Change, Ed Harris played dozens of memorable roles on film and some maybe not so memorable, such as LvB in the disappointing Copying Beethoven. In our new book I described him in the film as "John Glenn in a fright wig." Also his hearing loss comes and goes. But at least he never sleeps with Diane Kruger. And the so-so film helped inspire my Beethoven obsession of recent years. The trailer:

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Animated Response

A quite beautiful animated life of Beethoven, with music, and no subtitles needed.

A Grave Matter

Nice blog post by musicians' agent (and singer and pianist) who visits LvB's grave in Vienna, reads the oration for his funeral through her tears, then recalls the Immortal Beloved letters (and reprints them).

Cheeky Ludwig

Folks, give me some credit: I did resist posting this for three days.  But now it's gone viral so I might as well give in, since one of the purposes of this blog is to chart Beethoven's amazing influence in every sphere around the globe, including pop culture.  So here it is,  a video that could be titled, "Butthoven's Fifth."

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Greatest Concert Ever

As I've written extensively online (and now in our new book), the greatest concert ever staged--in terms of enduring significance--took place over 200 years ago, on a fabled cold December night in Vienna in 1808. That evening Beethoven debuted not just his Fifth and Sixth ("Pastoral") symphonies, but also the astounding Piano Concerto No. 4.  Oh, and the Choral Fantasy. And part of his Mass in C Major. And he improvised at the piano, too. It went on far too long, the musicians were under-rehearsed, a candle may have been knocked off the piano.  But no matter.  I've always enjoyed this brief clip from a three-hour BBC docu-drama about LvB from a few years back that covers the concert while also also offering a credible depiction of an irascible Ludwig:

When It Began to Get 'Late'

On this date in 1825, Beethoven's groundbreaking opus 127, the first of his so-called "late" quartets, received its public unveiling in Vienna by the Schuppanzigh Quartet. As the story goes, it was something of a disaster. In the inimitable Beethoven manner, he had only given them a couple of days to rehearse--and handed them a score like no other before. Furious when told how badly it went (of course, by that time, he could not hear it himself), LvB then lined up another quartet to play it the following month, to much acclaim.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beethoven Seizes House Organ!

One of the wackiest scenes in any major film about Beethoven (and we cover them all in our new book) transpires in Abel Gance's otherwise compelling bio pic.  The purely fictional scene has one of Ludwig's true loves about to march up the aisle in a cathedral but instead of hearing the wedding march she faces one of Beethoven's famous funeral marches.  It seems he has hijacked the organ and maybe the organist!  Gance, of course, was one of the great directors of the silent era, and his Napoleon is one of my all-time favorites.  Enjoy:

Seventh Heaven

Following my thread on Symphony No. 7,  around and after performance in NYC on Saturday, here is a fine new video with the former LA Phil conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen talking about it and rehearsing it. I like the bit about LvB boxing himself into a corner and then miraculously getting out.

John, Paul, George and ... Jimmy?

Continuing our traversal of versions of our title track, here's a bit of history: The Beatles, at their popular peak, performing "Roll Over, Beethoven" live...without Ringo.  Seems the poor chap was sick for this  tour and replaced by someone named Jimmy Nicol.  The camera manages to cover that up not quite completely.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vanessa, as Isadora, Dances Beethoven

Head still spinning from experiencing the Zinman 7th last night (see below on this page), recalling Wagner's famous description of it--"the apotheosis of the dance"--and now my wife reminds me of videos of ballet treatments.  This one kind of amazes me.  I saw young Vanessa Redgrave as Isadora Duncan way back when but certainly don't recall the Beethoven dance segment:

Limsanity

Anyone ever hear of a pianist recording all 32 of LvB's sonatas for a major label--at the age of 24?  Korean wunderkind H.J. Lim  is doing just that for EMI.  Here's a brief sample.

Zinsanity

As I noted in my brief update last night, the concert last night at Avery Fisher in NYC, with David Zinman conducting the NY Phil doing the 2nd and 7th symphonies, was a smash hit. Yes, I had somehow nabbed 7th row center seats at the last minute but the entire packed hall erupted for four curtain calls at the end. The entire Zinman/LvB festival was so highly anticipated they booked about 10 days of it.  His approach of going bact to the Beethoven manuscripts, mixed with some "period" flavorings (though with modern instruments) felt fresh 25 years ago--and live it is astounding, with super-crisp playing and hidden elements brought to the fore. The slow movement of the 7th is played as a thoughtful "walk" rather than as a funeral march.

My friend Robert Jay Lifton (we've written two books together), who went with us, greeted us afterward with the words, "NOW I get why you are obsessed with Beethoven." I guess the "rock 'n roll" of the final movement of the 7th helped bring that home (see video down the page a bit), but was so much more, even in the much less renowned 2nd.  In the item below you can see link to NYT review and interview with Zinman.  Now here's a quite different version:  the allegretto of the 7th for solo piano, as transcribed by Liszt, but also taken at "walk," not the usual "march." 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Billy Bragg: From Woody to Ludwig

I've just written a new piece for The Nation, with excerpts from the chapter in our new book on Billy Bragg's updated lyrics for the "Ode to Joy."   Includes Kerry's interview with Billy.  Plus:  photo of Billy after he played it for the Queen, and audio of him singing it.

David and Goliath

Heading to New York City and Avery Fisher this afternoon for David Zinman conducting the 2nd and 7th (with a Stravinsky refresher in between) tonight, see NYT rave here.  Zinman talks about it (with a brisk tempo) below. UPDATE: Just back from concert. WOW. More on Sunday.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Muppets Do Mad Beethoven

One of several examples. Here's Ludwig commenting on the pianist as if to Glenn Gould: "Don't hum!".... And, on a somewhat more serious note, NYT review of last night's premiere of the Mark Morris dance for the Cboral Fantasy (previewed here earlier this week, see below).

Lord of 'The Dance'

Wagner famously called it "the apotheosis of the dance." I have perhaps foolishly dubbed it "the birth of rock 'n roll." It is, of course, the final movement of the Symphony No. 7. Yes, it's not as celebrated as the slow movement--featured in so many movies, most recently at the climax of The King's Speech--but it is just as significant. Last time I heard it live it was with over 100,000 others, in Central Park. Now I will catch it again tomorrow night (David Zinman also doing the Symphony No. 2 and Peter Serkin helping out on Stravinsky "Capriccio) at Lincoln Center, in great seats that just now popped up at their web site. A Vienna Phil version below. Now, as any lead singer in a rock band might declare: "Get out or yer seat and dance!"

When My LvB Obsession Began

As I reveal in our new book, my Beethoven obsession in recent years was (oddly enough) triggered by a single, brief mention of his Appassionata in my favorite film of the past decade, the Academy Award winning German movie, The Lives of Others.   The central character in the film, an East German playwright under investigation by the Stasi, plays a bit of a piano piece and then says to his lover that Lenin once remarked that if he kept listening to the Appassionata he would never be able to finish the revolution (that is, engage in brutal acts).  The Stasi man monitoring the conversation, moved by the music and the comment, decides to become a "good man."  Watch it here:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Got Milk?

If you do, perhaps you could try to repeat this.  Brooklyn photographer Sarah Naim has gotten a good deal of coverage (she's even mentioned in our new book)  for her original project: Seeing what the Moonlight sonata would look like after the music sailed through.... milk.  She did it by putting plates of milk on top of a speaker and taking pictures at high speed.  Supposedly you can look at the photos while listening and maybe ID which portions caused which ripples and bubbles.

Jimmy Fallon Introduces The Band

If you missed this on SNL a few weeks back: Jimmy Fallon as Ludwig finishes conducting the Ninth Symphony at its debut and then, Vegas style, introduces the musicians....

If You've Never Seen 'Ghost'

Not much to say here except that this is one of the greatest musical moments captured on video: the haunting slow movement of "The Ghost" with du Pre-Barenboim-Zuckerman (it's in two parts).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Truman Played Beethoven for Stalin and Churchill--Then Ordered Atomic Bombing

Read original news clipping on the night near the close of World War II--July 19, 1945--when President Harry S Truman sat down at the piano, at the pivotal Potsdam Conference, and played a little Beethoven at the after-dinner request of Stalin and Churchill.   Then Truman ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima (yes, I have written two books on that subject), which would kill over 100,000 civilians.    Well, there are exceptions to the humanizing effects of Beethoven, as we admit in our new book.  For example, Hitler loved the Ninth Symphony and it was famously played to mark his birthday during the war, even though he failed to show up.

Mark Morris Dances a Beethoven 'Fantasy'

2I read that this was coming a few months back and now it's here, tomorrow night, at tbe Brooklyn Academy of Music: famed choreographer Mark Morris's new version of LvB's wonderful "Choral Fantasy." Since it's new, there's no clip of the dance but here's a swell version of the piece (which, as our new book explains, I first heard in an amazing rendition by Uchida and students at Marlboro).

When Beethoven Went Top 10

Continuing our survey of all versions of our title tune, we now come to the smash early 1970s hit by Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra, complete with intro from The Fifth--and from Richard Pryor. Long hair music, to be sure!

'Journeys' Now Cost Less

Our new book, Journeys With Beethoven, on sale today for just $10.99 print and $3.99 e-book, so act now!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Day in the Life of 'The Ninth' (Literally)

You may have heard about this but never actually heard any of it: the famous digitally slowed down version of the Ninth Symphony, lasting for...24 hours. Some venues have hosted listening party sleepovers, with people sticking around for the whole "Beet Stretch" experience, as we note in our new book.  The portion below runs 10 minutes but even so just barely gets to the true opening bars, after the long, quiet, revolutionary orchestral "tune-up." It's completely mesmerizing but you may want to jump ahead to about the six-minute mark when it really starts to build by going here.   Cheap gimmick or spiritual experience?  For more: The whole piece plays all day and night via this site, just click for it, and go here for background on the project.  Brief video of a public performance.


Bernstein on Beethoven in a TV Highlight

Not sure if this is a well-kept secret or not, but one of the most famous live TV broadcasts in the arts ever is up in its entirety at YouTube:  a young Leonard Bernstein on Omnibus dissecting, "rewriting" and playing the first movement of LvB's Fifth Symphony. Did I watch this as a kid? Did you? Here's Part I:


Hitting the Other Keys

Anne Midgette, the fine classical music writer at the Washington Post -- she succeeded Tim Page -- has a very interesting piece today on the "artist as writer," jumping off from pianist Jeremy Denk's article in a recent New Yorker. (Of course, our new book has full chapter with my interview with Jeremy.)  She also mentions Jonathan Biss's recent Kindle single on recording Beethoven, which we covered here last week, then concludes that "in today’s changing climate, when classical music no longer occupies the central place in our cultural life that it did 50 years ago, we need this creativity more than ever — to lead us to new outlets and new forms of expression. Even if this means more musicians writing about music, and fewer music critics."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chuck Berry, Leonard Cohen...and Ludwig

Well, this is almost too good to be true, given the nature and title of this blog (and my own nature).   PEN awarded its first two songwriter prizes yesterday, and aptly picked Chuck Berry and my personal favorite Leonard Cohen.  Here's a Rolling Stone write-up and incredible once-in-a-lifetime photo (by Rick Friedman)  of Chuck and Leonard.  And there's this:

"In an email read by organizer Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan called Berry 'the Shakespeare of rock & roll' and Cohen 'the Kafka of the blues.'  Cohen, accepting his award, compared Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' to Walt Whitman's joyful noise – his 'barbaric yawp...If Beethoven hadn't rolled over,'  he said, 'there'd be no room for any of us.'"  Don't miss the photo gallery, with Keith Richards in the mix.

Beethoven Soundtrack

For an Academy Awards day after:  It's just a trailer, not a feature film, but it has found an audience of  almost 100,000 -- and it features LvB on the soundtrack.   When my son created this video for my recent book, Atomic Cover-up, I felt that I wanted a Beethoven soundtrack, but what?  I won't go through the various candidates (no, I did not consider a funeral march) but see what you think of my final choice.

The Beatles and Beethoven, Backwards

We mention this in our new book but probably it deserved a longer take: The Beatles' song "Because" off Abbey Road is based on the famous passage in the Moonlight sonata's opening movement, played backwards. Once you know that, it is obvious, especially since the intro is played on electric harpsichord (by George Martin). John Lennon was quoted explaining: "Yoko was playing Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano ... I said, 'Can you play those chords backwards?' and wrote 'Because' around them."  Please, no jokes about hearing "Paul is dead" on this.

LvB Makes the Oscars!

Yes, that was a snippet of the Symphony No. 7 played as Colin Firth's entrance music at the Oscars last night, due to its key role (see down the page a bit) in last year's Best Picture winner.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Exclusive Preview! Next Year's Oscar-Winning Doc

First the book, soon the movie.

Oldman as Old Man

It's Oscar Day, and who is the only nominee who ever played Beethoven?  With Ed Harris not a contender, and Erich von Stroheim no longer with us, it must be Gary Oldman.  Here's the rather fanciful climax of Immortal Beloved.  Our new book has long section on Beethoven films.

He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother

Wonderful  and unusual piece (even if couple years old) from Brooklyn writer  George Grella on why Beethoven may not be his friend, but is very much his "brother."  Also search for his other LvB writinga, including this brilliant analysis of why Beethoven is the greatest composer plus a "gift guide" for complete sets of the symphonies.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spalding and Soderbergh

I guess one of the themes of this blog--and our new book--is the universality of Beethoven, and his ubiquity in our culture. Example: Listened tonight to WBGH airing the Missa Solemnis live from Boston. Then, in contrast, watched via Netflix the recent Stephen Soderbergh doc on Spalding Gray (who once shot a scene for an HBO film in our house upstate). And, lo and behold, one of the best scenes: a brief segment with Spalding's infant daughter whirling and dancing to nothing less than the Piano Concerto No. 4, with dad on couch grinning. So here's a splendid version from Helene Grimaud, the hallowed opening never played more lovingly.

Turning Very Japanese

My co-author Kerry Candaele, who contributes to this blog from time to time (and made three trips to Japan, as described in our book), sends this along: "I don't know how to explain this. Needless to say, there is a village idiot, French New Wave influences, rural and seasonal symbolism, simple absurdity and tongue in cheek, and whatever else you would like to add. My Beethoven Ninth expert in Japan reports the following: 'You have to know about Japanese jokes, and this is in a way a little gag video about the village fool who has no idea what he is singing about but brings joy anyway by singing Beethoven's Ninth to these villagers. The guy who plays this village fool is a very famous and popular rock'n roll figure in Japan, Hiroto Koumoto.' Rock 'n Roll and foolishness, a long and honorable tradition.

As Oscar Fever Rises: Recalling Beethoven in Last Year's 'Best Picture'

Continuing our tribute to "Beethoven films" (we have a long section in our book) leading up to the Academy Awards show tomorrow night, here is the true climax in last year's Best Picture winner (and it was followed by the triumphant scene set to the slow movement of Piano Concerto No. 5).

Friday, February 24, 2012

And the Best Was Yet to Come?

It's staggering to think that LvB actually managed to write a few things even greater than this (maybe), here via the legendary Busch Quartet exactly 70 years ago. I saw the wonderful Pacifica Quartet do this live a couple months back.

Lucky Beethoven?

“I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business: Beethoven's deafness, Goya's deafness, Milton's blindness, that kind of thing.” ― John Berryman, poet

'Listen' Up, Folks

Frankly, until my exhaustive YouTube searching for our new book, I was not aware of the early Eurythmics single "Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)." Still can't say I truly "get it," but Annie does go pretty GaGa near the end. And we all love to listen to Beethoven, at least at this blog.

Missing the 'Missa'

We noted down the page the upcoming performances of the Missa Solemnis in Boston and New York (plus video), but famed conductor Kurt Masur has now pulled out due to illness. But the show will go on.

Norman Bates Goes 'Psycho' Over Ludwig

Perhaps some of you recall that in a key scene in Hitchcock's original Psycho, we get a brief look at good old Norman Bates' bedroom--and the record on his Victrola happens to be the Eroica symphony. Speculation has raged for decades about the meaning of this, including that Hitch thought that word meant "erotica"--or at least wanted audiences to think so. Anyway: In the failed re-make, Psycho 2, not too long ago, Norman also embraces Beethoven (not literally, thankfully), in this scene where he plays the Moonlight sonata at a piano.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

10,000 Maniacs

One of the highlights of our new Journeys with Beethoven book is Kerry's account of his three trips to Japan to witness the annual December phenomenon, when Beethoven's Ninth, or at least is choral finale, is performed around the country in venues large and small by dozens if not hundreds of orchestras and choirs.  Sometimes the choirs swell to 500, 5000, even (see below) 10,000 singers.  The chapter in the book explains the amazing story behind all this.

Beethoven Brakes China

My new piece at The Nation, excerpt from our book, more on LvB providing soundtrack for global protest, this time in Tiananman Square.  Inspired freedom, for awhile.

Beethoven and the 'Band of Brothers'

I might be an oddball, but the highlight (for me) in the tremendous HBO series Band of Brothers from a few years back was this little segment featuring the 6th movement of the opus 131--just about the greatest two minutes in the history of Western music--played by a quartet amidst the aftermath of American troops routing the Nazis.   The climax arrives when one GI suggests this is Mozart, but Ron Livingston (far from Office Space) sternly corrects him, "That's not Mozart... that's Beethoven."

Justin Time!

Yes, you may have to grit your teeth, avert your eyes and turn down the volume, but this is the most viral good old Ludwig has ever gotten on video:  the epic Justin Bieber vs. Beethoven "rap battle," one in a series of these showdowns.  Current page views:  35 million and counting.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Mass Appeal

Eric Owens, the opera star,  is just about the hottest singer around, including big pieces in the NYT  and Boston Globe in the past few days.  I caught him a couple of years back doing the Missa Solemnis with the NY Phil and he was spectacular.  (If memory serves, he said in an interview that he cried during a rehearsal, he was that moved by it.)  Now he is doing the Missa again in the next few days in Boston and New York.  Glad to see him raise the key point in this article:  That the piece ends in questions, not answers--as it should be.  Too rare, but totally Beethoven.  Here are highlights from that NY Phil performance with Eric, including the ending.

Jamie Foxx and a Ludwig Light Show

In our new book we offer an extensive section on Beethoven films, but did not include the recent The Soloist, starring Robert Downey as L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez, who lent a hand to street musician Nathaniel Ayres,  played by Jamie Foxx.  It's not, strictly speaking, "about" Beethoven but Ayres is obsessed with him and most of the music in the movie comes from Beethoven (even the Heiliger Dankgesang).  The movie highlights Downey getting Jamie into a rehearsal for the L.A. Philharmonic, where he gets absorbed by the Eroica -- accompanied by a '60s-style light show.   Some critics were offended. See if you think it works, as viewed here. 

Beethoven in Iraq

Yet another illustration of a theme in our book, here is the newly-formed Youth Orchestra of Iraq practicing the Violin Concerto before journeying to the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. Bringing folks from all religions and factions in Iraq together, and in an atmosphere where many reject Western music. But LvB unites all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No, No, Nanette!

We've seen countless uses of the opening of the Fifth Symphony in everything from stark dramas to comedy, and sometimes it's pretty dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb.  But there's nothing quite like the following--considered one of the classic sketches from very early TV.  It features Sid Caesar (who had the top-rated show) and sidekick Nanette Fabray in a wordless argument choreographed to the Fifth.  And consider this:  It had to be done in one take--that is, live.  Wonder if I watched this as a kid.  I ought to write a country song and call it "Old Enough to Remember (But I Don't)."

How Beethoven Calls the Tune at Global Protests

I've re-posted my piece from The Nation last week, a theme from our new book,  at Huff Post today, if you missed it the first time around.  Also had excerpt from the book at The Nation over the weekend, and another tomorrow.

Beethoven and Brooklyn

Our friends at the famous Silk Road Project just reminded us of something we meant to post a few days back:  the adventurous Brooklyn Rider have a new recording featuring LvB's opus No. 131 string quartet, and thanks to NPR you can listen to it all here.   As they note, the performance may not be to everyone's taste, but it is different, to be sure. 

Biss and That

Fine young pianist Jonathan Biss has just launched his decade-long project of recording all 32 of LvB's sonatas and also, as we note in our new book, has a Kindle single out on the daunting project (which I've read, and it's swell).  I caught him live a couple months back when WQXR in NYC, as part of it's Obey Thoven month, held a one-day mararthon of the 32 pieces, and not long ago at Tanglewood doing the Triple Concerto and the Archduke.  And here's his recent interview on PBS about his Beethoven cycle:


Monday, February 20, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Beethoven

Yes, Oscar fever is building, so here's one of this year's best actor nominees, Gary Oldman, in one of his scariest roles yet--at least as presented in this over-the-top trailer--as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved.   As we note in our new book, the film offers a ludicrous guess at solving the mystery of the beloved's identity, but the trailer also suggests it is something of a bodice-ripper and as complex as John leCarre. Yes, Gary once played Sid Vicious, but the film's notion of Ludwig as a sex pistol is, well, a bit off.  Good music, though.

Beethoven: The Cat's Meow?

As you may not have heard, a CD of classical music titled Calm Your Canine has hit #19 on the Billboard classical chart.  It has at least one LvB selection, an early piano sonata.   Presuming something similar existed for felines, I searched and found such a product, with a promo video featuring the (not always calming) music of cat-lover Ludwig, a bit schmaltz-ified for this purpose.

Precedents and Presidents

Today is Presidents' Day, marking the births of Washington and Lincoln, and naturally there is a Beethoven connection.  True, history fails to note any opinions about LvB expressed by Washington (who died before Beethoven reached full fame) or Lincoln, but there's this:  When Lincoln was killed, the slow movement of the Eroica symphony was played at stops his train made from Washington to Springfield.   The Eroica "funeral march" was also featured at the recently founded New York Philharmonic's first concert after the assassination, and has been played to mark many major passings since (it was part of a memorial service for FDR and as a memorable part of  the D.C. funeral procession for JFK, for example).   So besides changing music forever, the revolutionary Eroica has had an additional, pardon the expression, afterlife.   

UPDATE:  Reader @Sharoney sends this link via Twitter re: the Boston Symphony halting its regular program on learning of JFK's assassination in 1963--and switching to the Eroica.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chords of Fame

We've only been doing this blog for a couple weeks,  but we don't mind trying to top ourselves, and I suppose this qualifies.  Down the page a bit you will find two posts with vivid comparisons of various versions of  1) the opening notes of Piano Concerto No. 4,  and  2) the closing moments of Symphony No. 9. Now the ultimate obsessive blast-off:  the opening two chords of the Eroica symphony down through the years.   Some might say these two little (big) chords started to change Western music forever.  Warning: Fascinating but possibly headache inducing.

The 'Fantasia' Factor

In our new book, we observe that many of us of a certain age -- and many younger and older -- can trace our introduction to Beethoven via the 'Pastoral' section of Disney's Fantasia (a film that kept getting re-released every few years and was also shown on TV).  If you haven't seen it in awhile, here's  one of the best-known segments.  The music for the storm section probably more dynamic than anything in a Hollywood flick today, though written in 1808:

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

For two years, via Twitter, I have held "services" in this "church" (the only one I attend) every Sunday morning.  As I posted here last week,  real-life gatherings under this name take place everywhere from Durham to Albuquerque.  Now I'm convening the virtual service here at this new blog.  Today's service is led by Martha Argerich, offering the slow movement to Sonata No. 7 (click below then hit the  YouTube link).   My friend Tim Page once told me that this was the movement when "Beethoven became Beethoven."  And that was becoming quite a lot.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kid Takes the Fifth

One of my favorite viral videos of recent years, which I came on more than year ago, is this one starring a certain prodigy named Jonathan, age 3 (at the time), conducting the finale of LvB's Fifth Symphony.  By now it's gotten 7.5 million hits. Don't miss him trying to wipe his nose--and then collapsing in giggles at the end.  Jonathan is something of a phenomenon, perhaps the new Dudamel, as you will find other videos with him conducting, in public, some Strauss, and playing some Dvorak, at the advancing age of ... four.

The 'Curse of the Ninth'

Amazing story in L.A. Times on debut of Philip Glass's new 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall, and the long history of famous composers afraid to write a ninth symphony after doing so allegedly killed Beethoven and Schubert.  Sure enough, this week at the Glass event, someone collapsed and medics needed to be called.  Glass says he hurriedly wrote a 10th symphony, not wishing to tempt fate knocking at the door.