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Beethoven from the artist’s perspective

© 2020 by Wolf-Dieter Seiffert

Topic Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) explains and plays the 5th Symphony (with the NBC Orchestra) in the series “Omnibus Lecture”

Genre Lecture & performance

Language English

Book Leonard Bernstein

Publication 1954

Duration ca. 33 minutes

YouTube Film (also film with Spanish subtitles)

Commentary
Legendary, a “must see”. The young Bernstein analyses the first movement of the 5th Symphony in a live TV broadcast in his inimitably inspiring manner that is enthralling to this day. The highlight here is that Bernstein also draws on Beethoven’s sketches, examining and explaining the composer’s arduous compositional path to just the “inevitably” right solution. Bernstein plays it all live on the piano and even sometimes with the orchestra. A magical moment in Beethoven analysis. Then from 25:00 Bernstein conducts the “Symphony of the Air” in playing the first movement (see also the film below, Maximilian Schell, 1979).

 

 

 

Topic Leopold Stokowski rehearses and performs (excerpts of) the “Leonore Overture” no. 3 (with the “American Symphony Orchestra”)

Genre Public rehearsal

Language English

Director Tom Slevin

Book Peter Moseley

Publication 1970

Duration ca. 11 minutes

YouTube Film 

Commentary
In 1968 Stokowski at age 86 is rehearsing in New York’s Madison Square Gardens with the “American Symphony” that he founded in 1962. Strict and unrelenting, he keeps pounding on the podium. Not many words. Suddenly at 9:25ff., a speaker (Michael Kane) comments off-screen, for the Beethoven rehearsal is merely an excerpt of a more extensive 1970 TV production “Stokowski at 88”. The sound is a bit dull, but definitely worth listening to and viewing.

 

 

Topic Bernstein performs, rehearses and explains: Piano Concerto no. 1, Fidelio, and Finale of the 9th Symphony – in a movie called “Beethoven's Birthday: A Celebration in Vienna with Leonard Bernstein”

Genre Brief biography, rehearsal, performances, commentaries

Language English

Director Humphrey Burton

Book Leonard Bernstein and Humphrey Burton

Publication 1970

Duration 80 minutes

YouTube Film 

DVD Beethoven, 9th Symphony

IMDb Film details

Commentary
“Beethoven: The greatest composer, let’s face it, who ever lived” (Bernstein). Lavishly produced TV show (CBS, Amberson Production and ORF) on the anniversary of Beethoven’s 200th birthday. Bernstein reports off-screen about Beethoven’s (unhappy) life, supporting it with numerous (more or less suitable) excerpts and profusely illustrated with portraits, city maps, landscapes, manuscripts, etc. – and, of course, there are also plenty of excerpts of his conducting and piano playing (including the 9th Symphony; Fidelio, Piano Concerto no. 1). 40 minutes of excerpts from rehearsals of the Vienna “Fidelio” production (13:10 – 53:20) – this could have been a bit shorter, but certainly gives wonderful insights into Bernstein’s highly professional and often ecstatic work, together with insights into Beethoven’s only and “problematic” opera; then, from 53:25, comes the focus of the film, the 9th Symphony (Finale), initially with Bernstein’s marvellous words about the universal meaning of Beethoven’s music, followed by the magnificent live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna State Opera chorus, and soloists Martti Talvela, Plácido Domingo, Shirley Verrett and Gwyneth Jones.

 

 

Topic Yvonne Lefébure [1898–1986] teaches and plays (excerpts) of op. 110.

Genre Master class

Language French (with English subtitles)

Publication 1974

Duration ca. 15 minutes

YouTube Film

DVD Une leçon de vie ('A Lesson in Life')

Commentary
This is an excerpt from the detailed documentary 'Une leçon de vie' on the great French pianist and teacher Yvonne Lefébure. With incredible intensity and dedication, the pianist plays and speaks in various public master classes and interviews about Beethoven’s music and what she thinks is an appropriate interpretation. Rather exhausting to endure this emphasis in the long run, but without a doubt worthwhile.

 

 

Topic Leonard Bernstein conducts the 5th Symphony (with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), introduced by Maximilian Schell

Language English (with Japanese subtitles)

Publication 1979

Duration ca. 50 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
The Austrian actor Maximilian Schell (1930–2014) introduces the symphony’s genesis in an exceptionally sympathetic conversational tone, intelligent and charming. From 4:50 – 11:38 he then plays excerpts of Bernstein’s legendary analysis and interpretation from 1954 (see above), before the complete symphony is then heard in a live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic from the Grosse Musikvereinssaal (1977).

 

 

Topic Leonard Bernstein conducts the 6th Symphony (with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), introduced by Maximilian Schell and Bernstein himself

Language English (with Japanese subtitles)

Publication 1979

Duration ca. 60 minutes

YouTube Film
11:15 1 - Allegro ma non troppo
23:13 2 - Andante molto mosso
36:58 3 - Allegro
42:43 4 - Allegro
46:28 5 – Allegretto

Commentary
Before the complete symphony is heard in a live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic from the Grosse Musikvereinssaal (1978) as of 10:30ff., it is preceded in the film with two introductions of the work, produced ca. 1985?: Bernstein at the piano in a 5-minute conversation with Maximilian Schell, together with Bernstein’s brief “private” introduction (see both below, separately).

 

 

Topic Bernstein performs the 7th Symphony and gives a brief biographical introduction to Beethoven; commentary/recitation by Maximilian Schell

Genre Brief Beethoven biography, live performance, historical introduction

Language English (with Japanese subtitles)

Publication ca. 1970

Duration 60 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
The introductory words to Beethoven’s biography are taken, including the superimposed documents, etc., from the 1970 large-scale Beethoven film (see above). The live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (1978) from the Grosse Musikvereinssaal as of 7:10ff.
From 49:30ff., the actor Maximilian Schell in a museum demonstrates for us Beethoven’s Erard grand piano of 1803, playing something also from the “Appassionata” and the “Moonlight” sonatas. Schell relates a bit about Beethoven’s life in Vienna and recites from the “Heiligenstadt Testament” in English (together with his wonderful dialogue partner Marianne Nentwig).

 

 

Topic Bernstein conducts the 9th Symphony (with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra), introduced by Maximilian Schell

Genre Live performance plus 2 introductions (Schell quoting Rossini; and Bernstein)

Language English (with Japanese subtitles)

Publication 1980

Duration 90 minutes

YouTube Film 

Commentary
The Austrian actor Maximilian Schell (1930–2014) – definitely worth viewing and hearing – slips into the person of Rossini and recites from his vivid memories of his erstwhile encounter in 1822 with Beethoven in the latter’s Vienna apartment. As of 7:50 Leonard Bernstein has his say with his very personal introductory words to the 9th Symphony (also separately on Youtube), before the complete symphony is then heard in a (1979?) live recording with the Vienna Philharmonic from the Vienna Musikverein (from 14:10ff.).

 

 

Topic Leonard Bernstein talks briefly in a private home about all Beethoven’s symphonies (except for nos. 5 and 9)

Genre Lecture

Language English

Publication ca. 1985 (?)

Duration 1–9 minutes

YouTube
Symphony 1 (ca. 3 minutes)
Symphony 2 (ca. 3 minutes)
Symphony 3 (ca. 3 minutes)
Symphony 4 (ca. 2 minutes)
Symphony 6 (ca. 1 minutes)
Symphonies 6 & 7 (ca. 9 minutes, at the piano together with Maximilian Schell)
Symphony 8 (ca. 3 minutes)

Commentary
Brief interpretation “at home”, always from the old, great Beethoven conductor’s personal perspective. His conversation with Maximilian Schell about the 6th and 7th Symphonies is perhaps most worth viewing.
Additionally: On YouTube there is also a radio broadcast of around 30 minutes with Bernstein’s analysis of the 3rd Symphony:
part 1, part 2part 3

 

 

Topic Sergiu Celibidache rehearses the 9th Symphony, 2nd movement (Scherzo)

Genre Public rehearsal

Language German (with English subtitles)

Director Jan Schmidt-Garre

Publication 1991

Duration ca. 7 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
It is a singular pleasure to experience this brilliant conductor during intensive rehearsals with the Munich Philharmonic. This extremely brief excerpt is from the approx. 100-minute Celibidache homage that is definitely worth viewing, and marks the opening of the Scherzo from the 9th Symphony on the programme – you will never have heard a slower tempo. Though in return we experience every single entrance of the instruments, highlighted with significance and impact, a crescendo of the superlative: ‘This incredibly brilliant freshness from Beethoven,’ says Celibidache at one point – and just so this Scherzo sounds in his interpretation, as if we had never before heard it.

 

 

Topic “In Search of Beethoven.” Approach of various famous conductors to Beethoven’s music

Genre Public rehearsal, interviews, concert excerpts

Language English, German, Italian, French, Russian (with French subtitles)

Director Andy Sommer

Book Andy Sommer and Gaia Varon

Publication 1996

Duration ca. 60 minutes (2 x 30 minutes)

YouTube
Film 1, Film 2

Commentary
The framework of the first part of this wonderful TV production by the channel “Mezzo” is provided by rehearsal excerpts of all four movements of the 2nd Symphony with Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic in the Great Hall of the Salzburg Mozarteum. His concern is often with tempo issues in conjunction with Beethoven’s very fast metronome markings. Highly interesting is the assimilated comparison of recordings (also for the 7th Symphony, 1st movement) by Furtwängler, Giulini, Norrington, Kleiber, Karajan, Toscanini, Walter. Commenting on tempo issues in interviews are also Gardiner, Boulez, Liebermann, Abbado, Muti, from the Vienna Philharmonic (Herzer and Schulz) and Mikhail Kopelman (formerly of the Borodin Quartet).
1st movement: as of 4:25; 2nd mvt.: as of 14:38; 3rd +4th movements: as of 23:11.
Riccardo Muti’s rehearsal with the Vienna Philharmonic of all the 5th Symphony’s movements forms the framework of the second part (which is somewhat grandiosely headed “The Eagle’s Fervour. The Roots of Interpretation”). As in the first part, having their say about questions of interpretation are besides Muti himself: Maazel (in perfect Italian), Solti, Abbado, from the Vienna Philharmonic (Herzer and Resel), Liebermann; interpolated are comparison recordings by Karajan (1966 and 1971), Harnoncourt (1990), Bernstein (1983), Toscanini (1952), Furtwängler (1943 and 1954), Strauss. A special treat is the sequentially spliced-in comparison of the mysterious transition to the Finale as of 23:23ff.
1st movement: as of 2:45; 2nd mvt.: as of 14:48; 3rd mvt.: as of 21:40; 4th mvt.: as of 24:50.

 

 

Topic/Title “Anne-Sophie Mutter. A Life with Beethoven”

Genre Public rehearsals, interviews, concert excerpts

Language English

Director Reiner E. Moritz

Publication 1999

Duration ca. 60 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
A highlight for all fans of violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. In a long interview she talks about her relationship to Beethoven’s music and her “lifelong” engagement with his works. Shown are both extensive excerpts from her 1998 Paris Beethoven cycle, performed together with the pianist Lambert Orkis (opp. 12, 23, 24, 30, 47, 96), also rehearsal excerpts. Admirers of Mutter such as Paul Sacher and Etienne Vatelot have their say. The very young Anne-Sophie can be seen at the beginning of the film playing excerpts from the Beethoven violin concerto together with Herbert von Karajan, or she is accompanied by a camera and microphone when she visits the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn.

 

 

Topic Claudio Abbado talks about Beethoven

Genre Interview, concert excerpts

Language Italian (with English subtitles)

Director Paul Smaczny

Publication 2002

Duration ca. 26 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
In a Munich hotel room in August 2002, the great Italian conductor and musician Claudio Abbado (1933–2014) spoke about the essential prerequisites for making music and conducting. Many aspects very intelligently came up: dynamics, tempo, language, variation, repetition, form, etc. Shorter concert excerpts are repeatedly spliced in: from the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 8th Symphonies. Wonderfully worded, he compares, for example, musical form with a body (12:20ff.). “Not doing a prescribed repetition is like amputating an arm” or the strictly necessary textual loyalty of the interpreter (17:22 ff.): “We must keep interpreting what the composer says. … He is our ultimate resource. The composer knows best. We can always discover something new in his statements.”

 

 

Topic “Daniel Barenboim on the Beethoven Piano Sonatas” (Chicago/Symphony Hall).

Genre Master course

Language English

Director Allan Miller

Publication 2005

Duration 7 x ca. 60 minutes

YouTube
1 Lang Lang: op. 57/1
2 David Kadouch: op. 31/1/1
3 Jonathan Biss: op. 109/3
4 Alessio Bax: op. 106/4
5 Javier Perianes: op. 110/1
6 Saleem Abboud Ashkar: op. 53/1
7 Shai Wosner: op. 31/2/1
Montage

DVD Film

Commentary
Daniel Barenboim held public piano master classes in Chicago in January 2005. Seven highly talented pianists performed for him and the public, each playing a Beethoven movement, including Lang Lang, Jonathan Biss, David Kadouch.
These almost 60-minute lessons are amongst the best ever pertaining to Beethoven piano playing. Barenboim is very focussed and totally involved. What he kindly criticises is for the “student” extremely inspiring, as for all listeners. He has an inexhaustible knowledge, an almost frighteningly profound look into Beethoven’s cosmos. He speaks from his lifelong, intellectual and manual engagement with every Beethoven measure.
Even as a non-pianist you can benefit from his insights and reflections; listening to him is exhilarating. No handbook on Beethoven’s piano sonatas could be anywhere close to being as informative and convincing. In addition, Barenboim himself plays a lot (is still at the peak of his pianistic skills in 2005) to underline his intention and criticism. If you, as an aspiring professional pianist, do not know these great moments in piano lessons, you should quickly take a look at them (there are master classes on 2 DVDs, but oddly enough, without the pianist Javier Perianes). The course reflects something special in that the public is permitted to ask questions and Barenboim answers all so personally and intelligently that it is a pure joy. One of the many highlights for me is Barenboim’s answer to a young man’s question about the “most important aspects in Beethoven sonatas” (Lang Lang, in the master class, from 39:15ff.).

 

 

Topic “Keeping Score: Beethoven's Eroica”. Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra explaining, rehearsing, and performing the 3rd Symphony

Genre Lecture, rehearsals, interviews, concert excerpts, concert

Language English

Directors David Kennard and Joan Saffa

Book Michael Tilson Thomas

Publication 2006

Duration ca. 55 minutes (in conjunction with a live concert of the 3rd Symphony)

YouTube Film 

DVD Film 

Commentary
The great American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas introduces us to Beethoven’s “Eroica” in an easy-going American style though serious enough in content. He observes that much of it is not “heroic” at all. You can view Tilson Thomas, who is clearly impassioned about the matter, rehearsing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but also playing and explaining at the piano, together with spliced-in excerpts from the complete live concert (which then follows from ca. 57:00ff.). Orchestra musicians also have their say.
When considering the music, Tilson Thomas often refers specifically to Beethoven’s life at the period when the 3rd Symphony was composed (1803/4) and falls sometimes in the process a bit short, unfortunately, not even in fact mentioning actual musical aspects at all. Nevertheless, his keywords for the individual movements can provide, especially for interested laypeople, a very good entry point in dealing with this extraordinary symphony; in his words, the 1st movement is “about life, youth, joy, frustration, …”; the 2nd movement “concerns death”; the 3rd movement “is the joy of creativity” (strikingly characterised correctly by the San Francisco Symphony’s first flute as “the best day of your life”); the 4th movement “is a shameless show-off piece”.
The exceedingly sympathetic and intelligent conductor visits various Austrian locales such as Heiligenstadt and the “Eroica” hall of the Vienna Palais Lobkowitz. Biographical backgrounds are discussed more or less in detail: the onset of deafness (aptly observed: less of a problem for Beethoven the composer than much more for the man as the start of social isolation), the competition with the super virtuoso Daniel Steibelt, and Napoleon as original dedicatee of the 3rd Symphony.
Steibelt, in particular, gains in profile from Tilson Thomas, not only because of the fruitful consequences of his passing review of Steibelt’s life, including the allusion to his piano quintet, but drawn above all from the famous event with the upside-down music-score leaf: the inverted bass notes on which Beethoven extemporised impromptu, ultimately to form the banal theme of the Finale to the “Eroica”, varying above the recurring bass-note sequence in his 3rd Symphony the triumphant demonstration of his colossal compositional mastery. Not coincidentally, the “Eroica” is the decisive turning point in symphonic history.
1st movement: 7:21ff.; 2nd movement: 23:00ff.; 3rd movement: 34:30ff.; 4th movement: 41:51ff.

 

 

Topic Nikolaus Harnoncourt rehearses the 5th Symphony with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (Graz/ Styriarte Festival)

Genre Rehearsal

Language English and German

Publication 2007

Duration ca. 68 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
Harnoncourt is rehearsing the 5th Symphony with the excellent “Chamber Orchestra of Europe”. He mostly lets the music take its course, calling out, praising, instructing, explaining (in middling English), singing along, grumbling, and above all: He does not conduct with an ordinary beat, but in his peculiarly suggestive manner, reproducing the music with his whole body impelling the tempo (in the outer movements). As a result, the orchestra is sometimes not really audibly together, especially in the very fast first movement. Harnoncourt also has his say in very brief interview excerpts, speaking German there (subtitled in English).
A priceless passage (half in German) is the question for the double-bass players as to why “modern” orchestra contrabasses (unlike those rehearsing here) are played with steel strings (which, in his opinion, sound awful, especially pizzicato): 20:40ff. Harnoncourt really gets to me when he rejects the almost naïve paralleling of biography and composition often found in Anglo-Saxon countries (29:42 ff.); magnificent is the clear improvement of the opening of the trio: “that‘s dance music … that must absolutely sound Austrian” – and suddenly the basses, violas, etc., strike up, virtually “swinging”: from 42:20ff. And then of course the famous transition to the Finale, from 45:45ff.: Harnoncourt asks the timpanist for a more “woody”, “more dangerous” sound, and the timpanist then uses other mallets and a silk scarf. Then the transition once again, in 53:52ff. And what a (brass) sound in the Finale…
2nd movement: from 17:21ff.; 3rd movement: 36:46ff; 4th movement: 48:29ff.

 

 

Topic “Beethoven Bootcamp”. Master class with John O’Conor (in Positano/Italy)

Genre Master class

Language English

Director Bill Hughes

Publication 2007

Duration ca. 53 minutes

YouTube Film 

Commentary
In 1957 Wilhelm Kempff founded a Beethoven master class that is still held annually in his summer villa in Positano/Amalfi coast (southern Italy). It has since then been in great demand amongst aspiring pianists from all over the world, for the invited participants are handpicked. Teaching there between 1997–2011 was the Irish pianist and piano pedagogue John O’Conor, himself a Kempff student.
This film, barely an hour long, offers us excerpts of the two-week 2007 “Beethoven Bootcamp” in a magical setting. Participating from 4–14 September 2007 were the following pianists: Yoahn John Kwon, Korea/USA; Peter Ovtcharov, Russia; Marie-Charline Foccroulle, Canada; Amanda Gessler, USA; Kevin Kaukl, USA; William Hong-Chun Youn, Korea; Dharshini Tambiah, England. The film first introduces the teacher, then most of the students, one after the other, in the actual teaching situations at the piano. O’Conor has a very direct, almost coarse manner of teaching, repeatedly drawing attention to the importance of the physical, hands, arms, shoulders, back, etc., in words and deeds, more than once calling for greater emotionality in playing.
Brief excerpts from the lessons (exclusively Beethoven sonatas and piano concertos) alternate skilfully with short student interviews. O’Conor is also interviewed time and again, reflecting on the meaning of his work as teacher. Particularly impressive is his confident assessment of the pianistic, musical and personal qualities of specific students from 2007, when he is shown in front of the television in his living room, looking back on the master-class participants in a video. The only participant at the time whom O’Conor believes has a veritable career ahead as a concert pianist is William Youn, who has meantime actually made it (and he is now on the management team of the Beethoven master class in Positano): we view him – appearing somewhat shy, but playing well – from 17:06ff. and then in a concert excerpt from a church in Positano (the close of the “Moonlight” sonata). A film more for aspiring pianists than for the mere Beethoven fan.

 

 

Topic “Beethoven Discovered. The 9 Symphonies”. Joachim Kaiser and Christian Thielemann in Expert Talks”. Excerpts from live performances with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Thielemann (“Beethoven 9 – The Complete Symphonies”)

Language German

Director Christoph Engel

Publication 2010

Duration ca. 9 x 90 minutes

YouTube
Full Playlist, Film 1, Film 2, Film 3, Film 4, Film 5, Film 6, Film 7, Film 8, Film 9

DVD Film (= complete live-footage [films] of the symphonies, plus Missa solemnis, plus all 9 conversations with Joachim Kaiser)

IMDb Film details 

Commentary
This is, strictly speaking, a concert guide to be listened to on a conversational level, with every now and then dialogues displaying fascinating aspects of Thielemann’s approach in interpreting Beethoven scores. Often it is the form and structure, especially the large arch that is particularly important to him. He draws parallels to other composers and works, repeatedly to Wagner, occasionally finding wonderful, because simple, images to illustrate his point of view. Joachim Kaiser, on the other hand, once so eloquently and prolifically grandmaster of the German bourgeois feuilleton, now probably already marked by ill health, unfortunately does not rise to the heights he previously reached. They sit opposite each other in genteel spaciousness and respond to keywords, though the focus is clearly on promoting Thielemann’s entire recording of all the Beethoven symphonies live with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in the great hall of the Vienna Konzertverein.

Repeatedly, excerpts from filmed rehearsals can be viewed for our admiration of the sometimes fencing foil-like elegant, often robustly highly energetic, then intently-gazing conductor, Thielemann, contrasting with an orchestra having a softly-contoured sound at the highest level.

The concert-guide style is emphasised by the fact that the two protagonists go through the 4 movements of each symphony “chronologically” and that visual displays of the ongoing formal sections are even superimposed during the performance excerpts sometimes lasting for minutes (e.g., “2nd theme” or development”). Stimulating are interposed film footages of other conductors, for example, Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic (1971), but also Furtwängler (1944) and Bernstein (1978) with the Vienna Philharmonic, etc.

The episode on the 3rd Symphony, “Eroica”, is recommended as giving an example of the style and orientation of these films. Emphasised using just one example to demonstrate the exceptional level of Thielemann’s performances (see the DVD above) with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, is a single passage, not even a spectacular one: the Trio of the 8th Symphony (from 32:45ff.). We don’t often experience such an exciting orchestral sound live. Every open-minded and interested concert goer will profitably take in these nine impressively produced films, for example, in preparation for an upcoming Beethoven symphony concert.

 

 

Topic Iván Fischer, Beethoven interview

Genre Interview

Language English

Publication 2012?

Duration ca. 15 minutes

YouTube Film 

DVD Film (Symphonies 19)

Commentary
On the occasion of a concert by the Concertgebouw Orchestra with the Hungarian conductor Iván Fischer (3rd and 4th Symphonies), presumably before 2018, Fischer gives a rather inexperienced reporter for the Dutch music channel “VPRO vrije geluiden” a 15-minute interview, speaking with infectious enthusiasm and exhilaration about Beethoven’s music as only a very great artist and educator can do. If you are looking for something profound and valid about Beethoven’s music, don’t miss this interview. Fischer’s credo: “Beethoven is always extraordinary.” Using two specific examples, Fischer reveals his understanding of the depths of Beethoven’s music, but also his incredible gift of being able to put these insights into comprehensible words: 9:45ff. for the 5th Symphony’s mysterious transition to the jubilation of the Finale, and from 13:00ff. for the searching motion within the middle of the 4th Symphony’s first movement.

 

 

Topic Sir András Schiff’s master class on Beethoven sonatas (London/Royal College of Music).

Language English

Publication 2013

Duration 3 x ca. 60 minutes

YouTube Film
1) Pavel Kolesnikov, Beethoven Sonata in C sharp minor, “Moonlight” op. 27/2 (Schiff, from 15:30ff.)
2) Kausikan Rajeshkumar, Beethoven Sonata in E flat op. 31/3 (1:01:31) (Schiff, from 1:24:50ff.)
3) Anna Fedorova, Beethoven Sonata in f minor op. 57, “Appassionata” (2:10:09) (Schiff, from 2:21:00)

Commentary
In March 2013, three without exception, highly gifted piano students – perhaps the first of them the most talented – of the London Royal College of Music had the privilege of working with the exceptional artist Sir András Schiff in a private lesson on a prepared Beethoven sonata. The recording initially offers the student’s concert performance, followed then by Schiff’s instruction.
Schiff responds to what is heard – speaking wonderfully in English and also playing (much) himself –with his immense knowledge and ability, especially with an extremely alert mind, cordially inclined towards young people and with incorruptible ears. Over and over again Schiff insists on being true to the text: “This is the minimum I have the right to ask of you.” Then, he goes into interpretive and (less) purely technical discussions of various sections of the sonatas. Analytical considerations are also not neglected. Why does everything that Schiff himself plays just sound so infinitely more touching, more profound, truer? A rhetorical question, of course, but the longer you delve into these 3 hours of film, the clearer it is what a long road these young pianists might still have ahead of them.
Additionally: Lectures by Sir András Schiff for each individual Beethoven sonata are to be found on YouTube: “The Lectures on Beethoven Sonatas. Wigmore Hall from 2004 – 2006”.

 

 

Topic Gerard Schwarz, analysis and performance of excerpts of the 5th Symphony (with the “All Star Orchestra”)

Language English

Publication 2013

Duration ca. 30 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
The American conductor Gerard Schwarz, with an enormous discography, manages in ca. 30 minutes to give the interested listener a deeper insight into the extraordinary composition of the famous 5th Symphony. He obviously draws on a great deal of musico-analytical knowledge, which he lucidly unfolds at the piano and in front of the orchestra that is playing fairly well. Some things come across just a bit naively (thus, ca. 15:00ff: “Beethoven’s checklist” or 25:00ff., where he only comes up with the usual talk of “from dark to light” about the famous transition to the Finale as being “remarkable”).

 

 

Topic “Beethoven for Kids” with Sarah Willis

Genre Children’s concert and explanations

Language English and German (with English subtitles)

Director Simone Lauenstein

Book Sarah Willis

Publication 2015

Duration ca. 12 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
The wonderful hornist of the Berlin Philharmonic, Sarah Willis, thrills her audience at a “family concert” with the Dresden Philharmonic (under Michael Sanderling) during the performance and explanation of the 6th Symphony. But she also visits (with three children interested in music) the Bonn Beethoven-Haus (museum) and easily strikes the right chord. Recommendation: Sarah Willis “Horn Hangouts

 

 

Topic “Living with Nature”. François-Xavier Roth and the Gürzenich Orchester rehearsing the 6th Symphony

Genre Rehearsal, interviews

Language German

Director Michael Ciniselli. Production: Johannes Wunderlich

Publication 2016

Duration ca. 10 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
It is fun to watch this charming conductor briefly at work and to listen to his non-academic explanations. This documentation is particularly worth viewing because of the explanations (from 5:35ff.) by the then curator of the Bonn Beethoven-Haus, Michael Ladenburger, on the 6th Symphony’s original manuscript.

 

 

Topic Master class with Miriam Fried and Jonathan Biss on the Violin Sonata no. 7, c minor, op. 30/2

Genre Rehearsal

Language English

Publication 2016

Edited by Tommy Padan

Duration ca. 54 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
This intensive public master class took place on 20 May 2016 at the “Jerusalem Music Centre”, with the students Noga Saham and Alon Kariv playing violin and piano, respectively. But the inspiring teachers Fried and Biss also repeatedly took up the bow and/or turned to the piano – even with perhaps a bit too much interrupting and talking.

 

 

Topic Sir András Schiff, master class on Beethoven, Piano Concerto no. 4, op. 58 (Clairmont Hall (Israel); student: Itai Navon

Genre Master Class

Language English

Publication 2016

Duration ca. 60 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
In a master class on 11 December 2016, András Schiff taught the unquestionably promising Israeli pianist Itai Navon, then 20 years old, in a public master class, the two of them playing and working out together the first movement of the Beethoven 4th piano concerto, op. 58, using a second piano “as an orchestra”. The film footage documents (from 16:35ff.) the astonishingly effective influence that the supervising yet ever critical András Schiff has. He occasionally plays what he wants on the piano if the student cannot immediately adequately implement Schiff’s suggestions. His key concern is how virtually to outwit the piano’s mechanical side by allowing the pianist to be guided by imagining the sound of specific orchestral instruments in certain passages. One lesson here is, for example, Schiff’s persistent work on the trills in measures 294ff., which he does not want to sound like simple piano trills, but like sustained notes such as by a wind instrument.
A master class documentation going very deeply into pianistic details, whose reception represents a great moment for aspiring pianists (and their teachers) but is probably of less interest to mere Beethoven concertgoers.

 

 

Topic Herbert Blomstedt rehearses the 4th Symphony (with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra)

Genre Rehearsal

Language German

Director and Book Eckhart Querner

Publication 2015

Duration ca. 45 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
It is a singular pleasure to accompany this great Swedish-American conductor, Herbert Blomstedt, here (2015) at age 87, on three 4th Symphony rehearsal days with the fabulously performing Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Munich Residenz “Hercules Hall”. He sings a lot, insists on being faithful to the text and has very precise ideas that he knows how to carry through in a usually kind manner. Besides in his own interview and in front of the orchestra, some of the orchestra’s musicians also have their say. They love and admire him, know that without any “antics” he is one of the greatest. We hear the speaker off-screen: Strictly speaking, here is a singular tribute to this great artist who is ever and only concerned with the matter of the music itself.

 

 

Topic Murray Perahia’s public master class on the “Hammerklavier” Sonata op. 106 at The Juilliard School, New York

Genre Master class

Language English

Publication 2017

Duration ca. 46 minutes

YouTube Film 

Commentary
On 12 October 2017 at the Juilliard School, Perahia taught the first movement of the “Hammerklavier” Sonata (as of 9:20ff.). The Chinese student Qi Xu is exceptionally talented, well prepared and can immediately implement many instructions by Perahia, who first unfolds his impressively deep analytical knowledge, referring to the fugato’s inner relationships. Just in time before the master class turns into an analysis session without any students, Perahia has Qi Xu play (from 24:20ff.). Perahia works very intensively and with an extreme textual analysis. “I don’t want it to be fingerwork”, “I hear accents all over the place. But I wanna hear e flat – f – g”. He is constantly correcting, also playing a lot himself, conducting, singing, and finding wonderful images to improve the student’s sound concept (e.g., “fountain”, “heaven”, “for a moment he looks at the dark side”).

 

 

Topic Mitsuko Uchida gives a public lecture about the 4th Piano Concerto and Mozart’s Piano Concerto, K 503.

Genre Lecture

Language English

Publication ca. 2017

Duration ca. 90 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
There is probably no one amongst all the great musicians of our time who speaks about (and plays) music with such vehement enthusiasm, such glowing admiration and such captivating charm as Mitsuko Uchida. In this absolutely remarkable recording of her “public lecture” as part of the “Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme” (Oxford), she talks about two important piano concertos of the “Viennese Classics”: Beethoven’s G-major concerto (op. 58) and Mozart’s C-major concerto (K 503), the latter, from 41:40ff.
No, she’s not just “speaking” but taking us on her various journeys to the secrets of this music. Her knowledge of these secrets is not academic, but fuelled by her uninhibited, almost childlike love of music. Her knowledge is based, though, on a thorough analytical penetration of countless compositional details (not to speak of her lifelong experience on stage with these works). In her many striking images and analogies, she therefore does not shy away from pathos and ecstasy. This unique lecture, which is not really a “lecture”: but improvised – “quasi una fantasia” –, lives from the authentic personality of the artist Uchida; a transcript of the speech would hardly be as convincing as this appearance.
Only one of “hundreds” examples is given here to illustrate Uchida’s approach: In presenting the development of the Beethoven concerto’s first movement (from 32:50ff.), she sees the “key moment” of the whole movement at the end of the development, where after wild ecstasy the soloist ends in despair (c-sharp minor). For her, the modulation point in measure 233, where the double basses descend a whole tone to the B (dominant to E major), is like: “from [a] hopeless abyss you look up and you saw light”. A short time later, the piano then liberatingly triumphs “gloriously” with the opening G-major chords that at the movement’s outset were still sounding reserved and quiet. Uchida’s playing and explaining at the piano have to be experienced in order for us fully to understand the whole tragedy and liberation of this passage that Uchida finally parallels with Einstein’s theory of relativity. Unforgettable!
Then, from 1:20:20ff., the audience, hanging on her very lips, may ask questions. The very first gives Uchida the opportunity to emphasise how crucial it is that an artist play not “only” the notes “correctly” (that’s worth nothing), but that he/she try – subjectively – to understand “what is behind the notes”, that he/she feel every note and phrase (“through my body”); only then is his/her actions justified and only then will he/she reach the audience. “What remains is what is written”.

 

 

Topic Frederic Chiu, pianist, analyses the 7th Symphony in the piano version by Franz Liszt

Genre Lecture

Language English

Publication ca. 2018

Duration ca. 48 minutes

YouTube Film

Commentary
Sitting at the piano, playing and explaining, Frederic Chiu draws performance-related and analytical conclusions from Franz Liszt’s piano arrangement of the 7th Symphony.

 

 

Topic Chairat Chongvattanakij thoroughly analyses the 3rd Symphony score

Genre Analysis

Language English

Publication ca. 2018

Duration ca. 33 minutes

YouTube Film 

Commentary
An illuminating, but unfortunately rather dry, measure-by-measure, analysis of the 3rd Symphony, requiring considerable prior analytical knowledge. Its author, Chairat Chongvattanakij, speaks off-screen, so we see only the score throughout, mostly with the colour-coded passages being discussed. Of course, the corresponding music is also heard, using various recordings (listed on YouTube below this post).