A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Barenboim And Beethoven

Daniel Barenboim
From 20-27 July the conductor Daniel Barenboim and his youthful West-Eastern Divan Orchestra took up residency at London's Albert Hall to perform all of Beethoven's nine symphonies. It was a resounding success. The week, part of the BBC Proms season, marked the climax of Barenboim's ambitious Beethoven For All three year world tour. Each performance was recorded and filmed, and I watched the whole cycle on TV. Like many others I found it completely engrossing.

Barenboim has always had a missionary zeal about Beethoven. He's the composer who speaks to him the most. He knows the entire oeuvre inside out. As a concert pianist his interpretations of Beethoven's piano music are legendary. As a conductor of Beethoven he's strict but sensitive, meticulous, a perfectionist. His aim was to bring out the extraordinary and exciting contrasts we all know and love in Beethoven: the order and disorder, the resolution and irresolution, the hope and despair, the light and the shade, the intellect and the emotion, the simplicity and the complexity, the varying moods and tempi and unexpected key changes, the dark night of the soul followed by optimistic triumph at the end of the day. Listening to Beethoven is like riding a roller coaster you don't want to and can't get off.

Ludwig van Beethoven
For me there is no other composer quite like him. Despite the massive problems in his life — probable syphilis and worsening deafness — he remained an idealist and an optimist. Each of his symphonies was revolutionary in some way, from the initial bold diminished chord (a B flat introduced to the chord of C like a piece of grit in an oyster) in the first symphony (the first time this had been done) to the inclusion of a choir and solo singers in the ninth (also the first time this had been done). It's as if the symphonic form was not large enough to contain Beethoven's vision, so he constantly had to stretch its boundaries. And the boundaries of his magnificent Choral Symphony became the edges of the universe, the very stars themselves as Beethoven gave musical form to Schiller's Ode To Joy, with its call for world peace, universal brotherhood and the unity of mankind (You millions, I embrace you. / This kiss is for all the world! / Brothers, above the starry canopy / There must dwell a loving father).

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The Weaver of Grass said...

Doubly inspirational when you know that he has a joint Israeli-Palestinian orchestra too. Agree about the roller coaster.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, I intended to mention the inspirational mix of his orchestra, Pat.

Rubye Jack said...

There is nothing like Beethoven's 9th to take away a foul mood.

George said...

Enjoyed this post immensely, Robert, especially the clip of Daniel Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra performing Beethoven's 9th. I love Barenboim's energy, commitment, and sense of immediacy, and, after spending a week with my sixteen year-old granddaughter, it's reassuring to see all of those young people using their talents to lift up the human spirit, rather than wasting precious hours with texting, twittering, and trying to add so-called "friends" to their Facebook pages.

Bouncing Bertie said...

I switched over from the Olympics and caught the Choral Symphony just started on the TV last night. I was en route back from Nottingham to Aberdeen, sat in the unpromising surroundings of the Penrith Travelodge. Instantly, I was enthralled, uplifted, and oblivious to my sterile and dowdy environment. Barenboim and Beethoven, thank you.

Vagabonde said...

I played the clip on your post while looking carefully at all the pictures your published. Looking at the Morecambe Bay with this beautiful music in the background was perfect. It is very hard for me to understand people who tell me they do not like classical music – how can one live fully without listening to Beethoven?

Goat said...

Unfortunately my enjoyment of the Ninth was tarnished slightly by my teenage exposure to it on the 'Clockwork Orange' soundtrack! But much earlier than that was my "discovery" of the man via Schroeder in 'Peanuts'.

I think you'll like this anecdote from Wikipedia: "Schulz often told a story wherein he visited the grave of Beethoven, and placed a Snoopy pin on it. A little girl looked at him and asked "Wo ist Schroeder?" ("Where's Schroeder?"). He went back to his car, found a Schroeder pin and placed it on the grave instead."

Dominic Rivron said...

I wish I had caught more of these concerts - both for the Beethoven and the Boulez.

Beethoven's innovative approach was very much in the spirit of Haydn - a composer who was also daring and varied in his approach to the symphony.

The Solitary Walker said...

I so agree, Rubye... and George, yes, what an inspiration to the whole contemporary world that wonderful youthful orchestra is.

That was a great musical 'escape' from the Penrith Travelodge, Gail — a place normally known for its muzak (Barenboim hates 'elevator music") rather than its music!

Vagabonde — glad you enjoyed the music and the pictures. Life without Beethoven is no life at all.

Goat, ha!

I do like Haydn, Dominic, and first discovered him him when I studied his Surprise Symphony in school music lessons.

Dominic Rivron said...

My favourite is his 6th, le Matin.