The Music Plays On — Beethoven Symphony №1

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Beethoven, 1804

On this day, April 2, 1800, Beethoven’s Symphony №1 was premiered in the original Burgtheater in Vienna. There is some disagreement to what else was on the program but most agree that his Septet, a Mozart symphony, excerpts from either Haydn’s The Creation or The Seasons and his Piano Concerto №1 or his Piano Concerto №2. In other words, no one really knows what the heck was on that program except for this first symphony! What this concert did do, however, was introduce Beethoven to the Viennese public.

We are lucky to have a short introduction by Leonard Bernstein.

Watch this great, quick guide to Beethoven’s Symphony №1, by Inside The Score.

And another short, but fun guide to the very beginning of this symphony.

For the very first chord of his very first symphony, for the most important musical audience in Europe, Beethoven intentionally begins with what is essentially a wrong chord. It was a bold move, certainly meant to grab attention and pique interest, but it was also a risk. Afterall, this Akademie or Benefit concert was organized by Beethoven himself, and any profits or losses were incurred by him. Also, there was probably only one rehearsal, which meant that there was a strong possibility that it would not be played well. However, it did seem to be favorably reviewed — music criticism was also in its infancy — and within three or four years this symphony would gather much praise.

Here is a great video of Bernstein with the Vienna Philharmonic.

And another great performance with Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century.

And a wonderfully engaging performance with Mariss Janson and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

These films of the complete symphonies by Beethoven that Herbert von Karajan made are particularly interesting to watch. His goal was to create a new cinematic approach to filming a symphony orchestra. In some ways, they are absolutely beautiful, but I’m not sure if the end product is entirely successful. You be the judge!

One of the great Beethoven interpreters, especially later in life was the conductor and music director of the Berlin Philharmonic after von Karajan, Claudio Abbado. Here is a fantastic performance.

And, finally, I leave you with another exciting performance with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic from 2015.

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Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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