[Smt-talk] Ranking Ludwig's symphonies (was: Happy Birthday)

Stephen Jablonsky jablonsky at optimum.net
Wed Dec 18 12:57:27 PST 2013


Thanks for your contribution. I read it with a smile on my face from beginning to end.

I listened to 4 again last night and it is "nice but no cigar." It never goes to the kind of dangerous places that 3 does, so the ride is not as interesting. 3 is in trouble in the first phrase and the climax of the first movement still scares the hell out of me.

What I do find interesting is how different each of the symphonies is and how they challenge us in different ways. I know very well there is no truth in matters of taste. My primary question (How do we measure greatness in music?) was meant to provoke thought, not to provide answers.

Here is the five-level metric you need: 24k, 18k, 14k, 10k gold plated, and pyrite.


Bonus: If you use my metric for the Mahler symphonies what do you come up with? Don't we all have a problem with 6, 7, and especially 8. Like Beethoven 9, Mahler 9 is in a world by itself. And, yes, it is puzzling why a composer as great as Beethoven would write four overtures for the same opera.


Dr. Stephen Jablonsky, Ph.D.
Music Department Chair
The City College of New York
Shepard Hall Room 72
New York NY 10031
(212) 650-7663
music at ccny.cuny.edu

America's Greatest Chair 
in the low-priced field

On Dec 18, 2013, at 10:33 AM, art samplaski <agsvtp at hotmail.com> wrote:

> Stephen Jablonsky wondered why LvB's 4th seems to live in "a quiet
> oblivion" compared to its temporally closest siblings. My opinion: it's
> simply like one of those traffic jams one hits upon for which there is
> no visible cause--everyone grinds to a halt, you inch along for a while,
> then everyone speeds up again. In other words, it's a traffic jam just
> for the sake of being a traffic jam; and like Jupiter's Great Red Spot,
> has no reason ever to stop (other than, by 3am there's usually too
> little traffic to sustain it). Likewise, the 4th doesn't get programmed
> simply because nobody programs it. I'm pretty sure that anyone
> programming _any_ Beethoven symphony will get noticeably higher
> ticket sales than for, say, _Miraculous Mandarin_... and CERtainly
> higher than anything by Ahnald.:)
> >Just for the fun of it, can you put Beethoven's symphonies in
> >order [of] greatness (if that is even possible)?
> The radio show _Performance Today_ about 10-11 years ago did a week
> devoted to the things; and their guest conductor playing tour guide (I
> forget who) said something to the effect of, "There are 8 Beethoven
> symphonies... and then there's The Ninth."
> I personally don't believe you can do a meaningful ranking of them
> individually, but you can perhaps separate them akin to geological
> strata: 1-2 are journeyman works--competent, nicely crafted, but Not
> Noticeably Above(tm) the best mature works of Haydn or Mozart. At
> the other end is The Ninth, off by itself--and I'm not sure that _that_
> designation is more than retrospective accumulated cultural baggage.
> (Read Slonimsky's _Lexicon of Musical Invective_ for, ahh, opinions
> contemporary to its premiere.:) For 3-8, I very strongly doubt that you
> could get any statistically significant differences, even if you *could*
> devise some metric for "greatness."
> >What do you say about 8?
> For the record, 8 is one of my favorites. More user-friendly than 3, and
> waaay less cloying than 6--although that last may be due to having
> watched _Fantasia_ too often years ago. (And I'm pretty sure I'd like
> 4 more if I could hear it more...:)
> Art Samplaski
> Ithaca, NY
> q.t.: If on the other hand you want to hear a truly -terrible- Beethoven
> piece, make yourself sit through _Leonora #2_. It's exactly the same
> as L3--save that, like Lennie's rewriting the 1st mvt. of K550 for one
> of his Norton Lectures to be utterly 4+4+4+..., it is SO pathetically
> square re phrase rhythm as to border on torture and/or parody. The
> two of them would make a textbook case re shaping phrases for a
> form/analysis class, save that some lawyer might argue it constituted
> student abuse--and definitely *teacher* abuse to have to go through
> it year after year!
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