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View Full Version : Metronome & Meaning of 9th's Adagio.


euphony131
02-17-2001, 07:54 AM
The 9th Symphony's Adagio molto e cantabile -- Andante moderato:


An amazing piece, soft, lilting, a near lullaby in the eye of the tempest -- coming as it does after a ferocious Scherzo and right before the eruptive 4th; it reminds me of a parent nursing a child: "Shhhh...it's ok...everything's going to alright...don't worry baby...." A safe place. And those fanfare-like climaxes towards the end are like portends of what's going to come -- the FULL RUSH. It's like, for me, this movement tells us: "Don't be afraid. Beauty -- the Truth up close and in your face can be scarey, overwhelming, but don't fear, it's a Good thing...I'm here with you. Relax."

Ok, I've laid myself out for possible execution. No doubt many musicologists or what have you will laugh at my "analysis" -- if you wanta' call it that -- but then I don't claim to be any kinda' "expert." That's just what I feel. What do the rest of you feel? Just curious.

Now about the metronome controversy surrounding this movt. Micheal Steinberg, author of "The Symphony: A Listener's Guide" says:

"The metronome mark in the score of 60 to the beat for the Adagio is worth observing; however, conductors are so much in thrall to tradition, one based on a language of solemnity from much later in the nineteenth century, that the tempo we most often hear is likely to something like two-thirds of the one Beethoven indicates."

And Sir Charles MacKerras in his linear notes takes it even further:

"... the German tradition, stretching back from Karajan through Kemperer, Mahler and Richter to Wagner, dictated that the third and fourth movements be played more than twice as slow as Beethoven marked."

Well, comparing my Zinman and Mackerras versions to Karajan's '61/'62 (part of DG complete Edition), I do hear Karajan being slower -- though admittedly it was not easy to pick up at first. In fact, the time notes indicate both Zinman & MacKerras are nearly 5 whole minutes faster in the Adagio. Whoa! Personally I like it a bit faster and am quite surprised that of all people it was the Germans who took such liberties with what B. wanted. Can anyone else address this?

As for "meanings" behind pieces, I'd love to hear what other actually FEEL in certain works, instead of just the technical aspects.

Peter
02-17-2001, 02:00 PM
It's like a vision of heaven ! This movement inspired many of the adagios of Bruckner and Mahler (sorry to mention these two Rod!).

I agree that it is usually taken at far too slow a pace.

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'Man know thyself'

Rod
02-17-2001, 03:55 PM
Originally posted by euphony131:
Whoa! Personally I like it a bit faster and am quite surprised that of all people it was the Germans who took such liberties with what B. wanted. Can anyone else address this?


I bet Mahler took a few liberties with it!

But you don't need to be a scholar to work out that the adagio is played in a totally incorrect manner. I've been saying so for years, but all I get is grief for, apparently, trying to be provocative! The quickest interpretation I have heard was a recording conducted by Hogwood, it lasted under 11 mins if my memory serves me right, and it didn't even sound rushed!

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"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

chrisg
02-17-2001, 05:27 PM
As much as I like the Mackerras set, and to a lesser degree Gardiner's, neither of their Ninths does anything for me, mainly for the lack of passion in the finales. For some reason, I just prefer it with huge forces, and larger than life. Both bring in the Adagio at right about 12:00, which I assume in at or near the metronome markings. Yes, there is much gained at this speed, but for me, also much lost vs. what we now call a traditional tempo.

My favorite "traditional" Ninth is Karl Bohm / VPO from 1970. 16:38 in the Adagio, slower than HvK I believe, and absolutely beautiful. Up to speed, the Adagio develops a wonderful swing to it that traditional tempos
can't bring out. The character of the piece changes completely, but the music can take it.

e131, you should try one that's really slow. In Furtwangler's magnificent 1954 Lucerne performance, the Adagio (after a rousing scherzo) takes a time stopping 19:32. Even from what would be considered a traditional tempo, this is beyond slow. My initial reaction was not good at all, but went in minutes from "this can't work" to "that's interesting" to not thinking at all, completely lost inside the thing. Only a great conductor leading committed musicians could pull this off. It's all in the phrasing, not possible up to speed. Entrances don't start, they materialize out of nothing, every phrase sings in a way no other does, the climaxes, set against this sublime beauty, explode in the mind - and set up the finale perfectly logically.

At 19:32, it's all over in what seems like half the time. This is the kind of thing a listener either loves or hates. A friend of mine who thinks 75% of Furt's Ninth is great, called the Adagio comatose. I call it ethereal. His loss, I like being carried away.

cg

Michael
02-17-2001, 05:48 PM
Originally posted by chrisg:
My favorite "traditional" Ninth is Karl Bohm / VPO from 1970. 16:38 in the Adagio, slower than HvK I believe, and absolutely beautiful. Up to speed, the Adagio develops a wonderful swing to it that traditional tempos
can't bring out. The character of the piece changes completely, but the music can take it.

[/B]

One of my very favourite Ninths is Bohm's 1981 version - a view that is definately not shared by Rod or Suzie. The first two movements are taken very slowly - and I mean SLOWLY! (First Movement: 18.38 and the Second Movement 10.50 - without repeats - and the trio only comes once).
This can be disconcerting when you hear it first but it has certain advantages.
The first movement of the Ninth contains a universe of concentrated high-pressure material. A swift performance gives you excitement but (and this is purely a personal opinion) you barely have time to take in what's happening before it all whizzes by like an express train. Perhaps this doesn't apply to people lucky enough to be able to read scores, but with a version like Bohm's, you can enjoy the scenery, so to speak, on this tremendous journey.
Bohm's adagio clocks in at 18.15 - but the strings of the VPO have to be heard to be believed.
Suzie was offering to give away her copy a few months back! Any takers and any opinions? Hope you changed your mind, Suzie.
I wouldn't advocate it as a first choice but it's well worth having. I am not familiar with the 1970 recording, Chrisg, but from what I can gather, it doesn't seem to be as slow. Maybe old age was setting in for Bohm.
(and me!)

Michael

[This message has been edited by Michael (edited 02-17-2001).]

euphony131
02-17-2001, 07:00 PM
Originally posted by Rod:
-- The quickest interpretation I have heard was a recording conducted by Hogwood, it lasted under 11 mins if my memory serves me right, and it didn't even sound rushed!


Exactly! That's way it was so hard for me to notice at first: "Hmmm...this is supposed to be faster?" If anything, when taken at Beethoven's tempo, the mvt. seems to have even more of a lilting, lullabye quality. It's like you have to play it faster in order to sound "slower." Extraordinary! My respect for the Master has grown another notch -- if that is even at all possible.

Suzie
02-18-2001, 01:51 AM
[QUOTE]Originally posted by Michael:
[B] One of my very favourite Ninths is Bohm's 1981 version - a view that is definately not shared by Rod or Suzie.

That's right mister!

Suzie was offering to give away her copy a few months back! Any takers and any opinions? Hope you changed your mind, Suzie.

I foisted it upon my girlfriend and she loves it. I tried to listen but it aggravated me.

I wouldn't advocate it as a first choice but it's well worth having. I am not familiar with the 1970 recording, Chrisg, but from what I can gather, it doesn't seem to be as slow. Maybe old age was setting in for Bohm.
(and me!)

Michael

Speaking of old age, I wish I could read the back of my favorite 9th CD. I think it's 1972. It rocks my world. The first movement is 16'46, just fast enough to go somewhere. The 3rd movement 16'38, just slow enough not to get there too quickly. For some reason I am just slain by the flutes in the 2nd movement. All this followed closley by the Hanover Band. The warmth of thier sound is almost too much to handle sometimes so long as the brass doesn't explode. I think I have to listen to it right now http://www.gyrix.com/~cgraye/ubb/smile.gif

Rod
02-18-2001, 06:33 PM
Originally posted by chrisg:
As much as I like the Mackerras set, and to a lesser degree Gardiner's, neither of their Ninths does anything for me, mainly for the lack of passion in the finales. For some reason, I just prefer it with huge forces, and larger than life. Both bring in the Adagio at right about 12:00, which I assume in at or near the metronome markings.


With Gardiners 9th I think the adagio is very lack-lustre, it's neither one thing nor another. I could say the same for the Scherzo which is also rather lame in this recording. The Hogwood/Orch of the 18th Century and the Hanover Band do a better job on period instruments, the latter with even smaller forces. But the Gardiners Finale is OK for me.

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"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin

Rod
02-19-2001, 11:51 AM
Originally posted by euphony131:
Exactly! That's way it was so hard for me to notice at first: "Hmmm...this is supposed to be faster?" If anything, when taken at Beethoven's tempo, the mvt. seems to have even more of a lilting, lullabye quality. It's like you have to play it faster in order to sound "slower." Extraordinary! My respect for the Master has grown another notch -- if that is even at all possible.

This is the essence of the whole situation regarding Beethoven tempi, if carefull attention is paid the the phrasing and shading, his tempo indications (both metronome and Italian) are realistic and fully realisable. I don't say that a traditional lengthy interpretation should always be simply 'compressed', in which case it could sound rushed - sometimes you need to look at the piece from a wholely different musical angle.

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"If I were but of noble birth..." - Rod Corkin