The First Book of the Gramophone Record (pub 1924)
by Percy A Scholes
Symphony No. 5, in C minor Beethoven
THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL ORCHESTRA (Conducted by Sir Landon Ronald)
The recording in full of Beethoven’s most popular (and in many respects, finest) symphony is indeed a boon, and one rejoices that at last every one of his nine Symphonies is similarly available for home study.1
The best way of becoming thoroughly acquainted with this great work is to go carefully through the Records again and again, with either the orchestral score or a piano ‘arrangement’, or (not at all a bad plan) first with the piano ‘arrangement’ and then with orchestral score.
A detailed book on Beethoven’s Symphonies, and one which is valuable not only for the biographical, historical, and technical particulars it supplies, but also for the enthusiasm it communicates, is the late Sir George Grove’s Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies (Novello, 9s. net). The description which here follows will, however, probably be thought sufficient by many Gramophonists.
The Symphony was composed at intervals from 1805 to 1808, when Beethoven was 35 to 38 years of age. It represents a very great advance in many ways upon his previous symphonies.
A close examination of the Symphony will reveal to the student, perhaps to his surprise, the small amount of material out of which a great work can be constructed.
The score of this Symphony contains 1,565 bars (not counting the many ‘repeats’). Yet the whole material out of which it is organized amounts, on a careful computation, to under 35 bars.
1 All Beethoven’s Symphonies are now issued by the Parlophone and Polydor Companies, and some besides the Fifth by some English Companies.
Of the economy of the composer the First Movement offers an especially striking example. Its 502 bars are entirely constructed from the material contained in six bars of its early pages, the rhythmic call to attention with which it opens:
and the flowing melody which afterwards creeps in:
Out of the first of these little motifs the whole of the First Subject is evolved, in this sort of way: 1
1 The extracts here given in pianoforte ‘ arrangement’ are from the edition by E. Pauer, published by Messrs. Augener & Co., mentioned under ‘Printed Music’ (on p. 144).
Out of the second little motif the whole Second Subject is evolved, a pervading touch of the first motif being also ever present in the bass:
The First Movement of this Symphony (as of most of the Sonatas and Symphonies of the classical period) is in what we call ‘Sonata Form’ or ‘First Movement Form’, i.e. it consists of:
(a) A section (technically called the Enunciation) giving the subject-matter as above, and coming to a sort of semi-colon or colon, after which the section is generally repeated.
(b) A section (technically called the Development) in which this subject-matter is ‘developed’, i.e. treated in a variety of interesting ways in a variety of keys.
(c) A section (technically called the Recapitulation) which is almost a duplicate of section (a) save that the two Subjects, which were in different keys before, have now the same key-note, and that a good long ‘Coda’ or tail-piece is added to make an effective ending.
It seems better to call this ‘First-Movement Form’, for ‘Sonata Form’ should surely denote the form of a whole work in the Sonata class.
Try first Section I (the Enunciation) which (when it has been repeated) takes you about two-thirds through the first side of the first Record. Go through it several times, and listen keenly to the matter and the composer’s treatment of it. If you are inclined to think that any passage introduces matter other than what is evolved from the two little motifs mentioned, listen again keenly, and you will find that you are wrong.
Little need be told you about the orchestration of this section. The strings are the dominant factor, but there are some lovely wood-wind bits—see the names of instruments that have been inserted in the Second Subject as given above, and note also that the Second Subject is introduced by a bold Horn call, made from the first motif:
Now proceed to the Second Section (the Development), which opens:
Notice one famous passage where first alternate two-chords, and then alternate one-chords, are given to Wood-wind and Strings, in a sort of echo. This, with the harmonies chosen, produces an effect of expectancy, and, as a matter of fact, is (considered formally) intended to draw the attention of our (conscious or subconscious) mind to the beginning of the Third Section.
This Third Section (or Recapitulation) opens as did the First Section, save that the initial call is now given to the Full Orchestra in all its violence (Strings, Wood-wind, Horns, Trumpets, and Timpani). Immediately after this call this side of the Record ends, and we have to turn over—a rather unfortunate break.
In his treatment of the First-Subject material this time, Beethoven has introduced a very effective and beautiful Oboe cadenza, providing an entrancing moment of repose:
Then he proceeds, and shortly afterwards we have the Second Subject, ushered in as before.
Much of the Coda is strenuous; emotionally this is, perhaps, the climax of the Movement.
Now go a good many times through this Movement, learning to recognize all its beauties, and becoming as familiar with it as you are with your favourite poem or novel.
This is a very lovely slow Air with Variations, or rather, as we may say, if we like, ‘ Double Air with Double Variations’, for we may regard it as made out of two tunes.
The first tune begins thus :
And its Variations begin in these several ways:
Sandwiched in with these varying treatments of the First Air is a Second Air, in varying treatments:
(Beethoven has simply taken over this double-air-double-variation idea, lock, stock, and barrel, from Haydn—see the slow movement of Haydn’s first symphony of the well-known set of twelve.)
Orchestrally a good deal of the interest of this lovely Movement lies in certain passages for Wood-wind alone, and also certain passages where some tiny touch of a Flute or other Wood-wind instrument has been added above a theme. The Trumpets and Horns, where they enter, as they several times do on one of the appearances of Air II, are impressive. This is a Movement that will pay for studying with the Orchestral score.
The Record turns over in the middle of the Movement. Immediately after the turn is a beautiful passage of scaly-bits, in Flute and Oboe, with two Clarinets playing simultaneously similar scaly-bits always in the contrary direction.
The Bassoon has a bit of Air I as an effective little solo about 1¼ inches before the end of the Record.
Pursuing our idea of ‘economy’ in composition, it will be found on examination that the whole of this 247-bar Movement is wrought out of two motifs of a couple of bars apiece.
This (though not so called) is a Scherzo, and one of Beethoven’s most daring efforts in this direction. It is a wonderful combination of mysticism and humour.
Its various germs are as follows:
(This has an obvious relation to the First Subject of the First Movement.)
Berlioz likened this to ‘the gambols of an elephant’: he ought to have said to a small herd of elephants, since it is for the most part fugally treated, one section of the String force after another taking it up.
The Movement falls into three clear parts:
(a) The Scherzo proper, made from the first two of the themes given above.
(b) The ‘Trio’, made from the third of the themes given above.
(c) The Scherzo, proper, again.
Interesting orchestral features are:
1. The frequent use of the Bass Strings alone, producing usually a very mysterious effect, but sometimes a half-comic one.
2. A lovely long high holding-note for Oboe about ¾ inch from the outer edge of first side of Record.
3. A beautiful passage for Wood-wind alone, about ½ inch from end of first side of Record: the solo Flute has the tune high up, and the Oboes, Clarinets, and Bassoons accompany it with slow chords. As this brief passage ends it comes down an arpeggio step-ladder, carried first for a few steps by Flute, then a few by Oboe, then a few more by Clarinet and Bassoon. (Play a passage like this many times and learn to recognize and delight in the contrasts of tone colour.) This passage is immediately followed by:
4. Pizzicato notes in ‘Cellos and Double-basses.
5. The First Theme treated as before.
6. Four bars of harmony by Clarinets, Bassoons, and Horns.
7. The First Theme very humorously, yet delicately, treated by solo Bassoon staccato, with ‘Cellos pizzicato, answered by other Strings pizzicato (here the first side of the Record ends).
8. (Beginning of other side of Record.) The Second Theme is taken for 4 bars by Clarinet (with soft String accompaniment) and then for 4 bars by First Violins pizzicato, then for 4 bars by Oboe, then by First Violins pizzicato again.
9. Almost immediately after this the Bassoon has some delicate bits (in which, on the H.M.V. Record, he sounds
exactly like a Banjo!). At first it alternates (in a little 2-note motif) with the Violins pizzicato, and then it follows this by taking up the First Theme staccato in unison with the ‘Cellos pizzicato as it did once before—see (7) above.
10. A lot of effective soft pizzicato String work follows, and then comes a remarkable passage,1 which has been thus eloquently described by Parry: ‘The whole of the Scherzo of the C minor Symphony is as near being miraculous as a human work can be; but one of its most absorbing moments is the part where, for fifteen bars, there is nothing going on but an insignificant chord continuously held by low strings and a pianissimo rhythmic beat of the drum. Taken out of its context it would be perfectly meaningless. As Beethoven has used it, it is infinitely more impressive than the greatest noise Meyerbeer and his followers ever succeeded in making.’
1 Compare Beethoven’s so-called ‘ Harp’ Quartet (Op. 74) at exactly the same place.
The allusion to the ‘greatest noises’ of music just quoted has an illustration at once, for the passage described passes (about 1¼ inches from outer edge of Record) straight into the following, with all the force of the Full Orchestra, with 3 Trombones, Double-Bassoon and Piccolo now added:
In some churches in small towns on the Continent, if you attend Mass on Corpus Christi day you will at the end hear the Blessing solemnly pronounced, and then, without a pause, the West doors are flung open, a brass band outside strikes up a rowdy march, and the congregation crowds out for dancing and jollity. The contrast is startling, and the transition here has much the same effect.
The last Movement is exhilarating, but in pure musical value most people would probably class it well below the three preceding Movements.
This Movement, like the First, is in ‘Sonata Form’. Its First Subject is the theme just quoted, its Second Subject falls into two parts, beginning as follows:
The treatment of these, in Enunciation, Development, and Recapitulation, is pretty normal, but note that with fine effect, immediately before the Recapitulation, a passage from the Scherzo is inserted, obviously in order to get the blessing-brass-band contrast once again, on the re-entry of the rowdy chief theme.
Towards the very end, as a part of the Coda, note how this brass-band theme is treated in canon, the Brass and Wood giving it out, overlapped (at a bar’s distance) by the String Basses.
The change to the new Record occurs between the Enunciation and Development. One or two orchestral points to note are:
(1) In the inserted allusion to the Scherzo, a lovely long holding-note by Oboe.
(2) Nearly 1½ inches from outer rim of last side of Record, a sort of hunting call:
first by Bassoons, then by Horns, then taken up and reiterated by more and more instruments—Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon, Oboe, and Piccolo (the Oboe is difficult to catch here), and afterwards by Strings.
(3) Shortly after this comes a long Piccolo shake. From this point onwards the music is nothing better than a ‘jolly good row’, and the village brass-band ending is rather cheap. But by this time everybody is thoroughly worked up and it will pass!
Four large H.M.V. Records. D. 665-6-7-8, each 6s. 6d.
Parlophone have also recorded this Symphony (Berlin State Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Weissmann—four large Records, E. 10284-7, each 4s. 6d., issued complete in Album), also Columbia (Weingartner and the London Symphony Orchestra—four large Records, L. 1640-3, each 6s. 6d., issued complete in Album with descriptive notes).
The H.M.V. Records were alone in their glory when this book first appeared, and are still, perhaps, the best all round. The playing is almost flawless, and the recording very fine and satisfying. Parlophone are superior on the interpretative side all through, but their recording is distinctly inferior, except in some of the Finale. Columbia are well recorded, and are excellent dynamically (H.M.V. underdo their pp, p, and ff) but unfortunately show a great deal of unsteadiness, raggedness and faulty intonation, so that their Records are probably the worst of the three issues.
Details in the above description apply to the H.M.V. Records. Changes of Record for Parlophone and Columbia which differ from H.M.V. are given below. Beyond this, any one who chooses the Parlophone or Columbia recording will, I think, find it easy to adapt for them the details of my description.
In the First Movement, Parlophone does not repeat the Enunciation, and Columbia turns over half-way through the Development Section. In the Second Movement Parlophone turns over shortly before my third music quotation, and, again just before the fifth. Columbia has the whole of the Scherzo and Finale labelled as ‘Finale’. On these two Columbia Records fresh sides begin, one at (7) in my description, next with the second part of the Second Subject (see p. 142), and the last soon after the beginning of the Recapitulation. Parlophone’s first turn-over comes with the ‘remarkable passage’ described under (10), the second with the return in the Finale of part of the Scherzo.
In the Scherzo, Parlophone does not repeat the first section of the Trio, and in the Finale none of the Records repeats the Enunciation.
Polydor have also recorded this Symphony (four large Records, 69638-41, 5s. 9d. each), but I have unfortunately not been able to hear these Records.
Printed Music. Miniature orchestral score, Goodwin & Tabb, 4s. Pianoforte Solo copy, Augener, No. 8036 e, 3s. (or the whole set of first five Symphonies, No. 8006 a, 7s.); Pianoforte Duet copy, Augener, No. 8517 e, 2s. 6d. (or the whole set of first five, No. 8516 a, 6s. 6d.).