[Smt-talk] Beethoven 4th (was Ranking Ludwig's symphonies)

Michael Luxner mluxner at mail.millikin.edu
Fri Dec 20 08:54:57 PST 2013

>From Grove's Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies:
"There is something extraordinarily entrainant about it throughout; a more consistent and attractive whole
there cannot be.  In the Eroica some have complained of the Funeral March as too long, some of the Scherzo as inappropriate, or of the Finale as trivial; but on the No. 4 no such criticisms are possible; the movements fit to their places like the limbs and features of a lovely statue; and, full of fire and invention as they are, all is subordinated to conciseness, grace, and beauty."
They sure don't write 'em like that anymore...symphonies or criticism!  
Happy holiday, everyone.
Michael Luxner
Millikin University

>>> Larry Barnes <lbarnes at transy.edu> 12/18/2013 10:03 PM >>>
I'm listening to #4 right now, and love it. It turns my head toward beauty unexpectedly, precisely because it doesn't demand my constant attention. And I don't always need dangerous places. 
It's nice to just come home and rest sometimes between adventures.
Larry Barnes
Transylvania University

Sent from my iPad

On Dec 18, 2013, at 3:57 PM, Stephen Jablonsky <jablonsky at optimum.net> wrote:


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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